Crews repairing Ian-caused home damage get as good as they give
"This is unbelievable. This is unbelievable. I had no idea that this existed. It's really unbelievable."
Carla Gibson was returning from a small break with a sister she hadn't seen in five years when she arrived at her hurricane-damaged home Sunday to find a flood of workers in peach-colored t-shirts swarming her broken roof.
The crew at Gibson's Wall Drive home in Harlem Heights was one of more than a dozen brought in by Eight Days of Hope, a national faith-based and volunteer organization partnering locally with the Heights Foundation, Summit Church, Lee Builders Care, and others.
The Eight Day volunteers are spending the week in that community to repair homes damaged by the Category 5 Hurricane Ian.
While Gibson had applied for the help, she had no idea the extent of the work and how quickly the crew got down to business.
"My major issue was the roof," Gibson said. "I lost almost all the shingles. I didn't get any water damage, luckily, in my home, but I basically had to get the roof redone."
Gibson, along with her grandmother, weathered Ian in her home, and watched in fear as wind tore the roof to shreds and water creeped closer to her front door.
"I've been in all the storms since I was born here, but never anything like that," Gibson recounted. "The water is what scared me because I opened the door at one point and the water was all the way up. You couldn't see the mailbox. The mailbox is covered. That was scary. The worst part about it to me wasn't during the storm but after the storm, because we had water here on this street for eight days."
Gibson stood on her brick porch Monday soaking in the Southwest Florida sun and watching the Eight Days crew do their thing.
The Fort Myers native said she noticed the crew didn't have any Port-a-Potties. When asked where they were going to go, they said they were going to walk down to a store. Gibson put a stop to that right there and gave them new bathroom marching orders: They were to use the bathroom in her home or she was going to know why not. She said that is typical of what people in the Heights community do, they share and they help those who help them.
"I'm a lifelong Harlem Heights member. I am 56 years old. And I was born and raised here. My grandparents originally had a house on this property," she said. "That was a Jim Walter home. I don't know if you're familiar with that. That was built in 1960. And upon having a child of my own, I tore that house down in 2006 to build this house, to be more comfortable. And my grandmother who's here is 92-years-old. She lived down the street."
Kathryn Kelly, president, and CEO of The Heights Foundation/The Heights Center, said the Heights area, hammered by Ian, was experiencing a godsend with the Eight Days work crews.
"It's wonderful, actually. I mean, we've been working in the community for eight months now, helping to put homes back together, but for Eight Days to come with 1,000 people, eight days in a row, in the neighborhood doing work that's so needed. It's a big deal. It's a big, big shot in the arm for our families."
Kelly said the big hope is that, by the end of the week, the families who have been kept from homes by damage along with others who have had to live amid the carnage, can get back in their homes.
"That's our goal. We have a lot of families that have been displaced. Some are living with relatives. Some are in tents, sleeping in tents in their front yard. Some have moved out of the area waiting to come back," she said. "Then, we also have a lot of people in their homes that are bare walls and bare concrete floors and no cabinets and no appliances because they had no other place to go."
One of those people is Edward Thurman. Monday morning found Thurman resting in bed inside his New Haven Drive home, with just four walls and bare studs inside, while an Eight Days crew buzzed around him replacing wood and starting up drywall work.
"I think (they) are doing a great job. I mean, you know, it's detail work. And they're on it and they're dealing it with," Thurman said, and pointed to a back door of his home. "Water was up to here, middle of this door."
The 1,000 or so volunteer Eight Days of Hope workers will be found salted among a dozen or so neighborhoods in the Heights through Saturday. At one home, crewmembers repainted trim, at another the backyard was straightened up and renewed, at a third the workers tried to replace shingles before the sun chased them off the roof, and at a fourth, well, you name it and the crew was working on it.
Nearby, at the Heights Foundation headquarters on Hagie Drive, a huge tent was erected to contain whatever building supplies were needed.
Kevin Schantz from Horton, Mich., was in his fourth deployment for Eight Days of Hope, and helping load those supplies.
"I've been with the organization almost two years now. And I've been on at least ten plus events. Three of those were rebuilds, just like what's happening right here in Fort Myers. The other events obviously, are the rapid responses," he said. "We get in there 42, I'd say 48, 72 hours after the event. That's a totally different animal altogether. But it's still a great event to be about be a part of now."
Still, he added, it came as a shock to him just what helping people in need did for those actually offering the help.
"The biggest surprise right there, okay, is that you don't see it coming. You come in here. You want to love and serve on people. You think you're giving them hope. And it's amazing to see what they do for us by their stories, what they've gone through, and just how much it's touching them, and how it speaks back into us," Schantz said. "We go through a long day of experiencing the heat, the labor and everything going on, and we're physically exhausted. And then we get to hear the stories from the families about what it means to them. And our tanks get refilled. And we're ready for the next day. So, it is a true blessing to us."
His were not the only similar sentiments.
Richard Taylor from Macomb, Mississippi, was perched on a ladder in a backyard, sweat from the Southwest Florida sun poured down his face. Yet he looked peaceful when he said what helping brought him:
"No matter what you give to others, God blesses us so much more. I mean, there's nothing we can give these people that we don't get more blessing for it. And that's not why we're doing it. We're doing it to serve. But we get blessed immensely."
Ryan Smith, from Francisville, Indiana, and crew leader at Gibson's home, has been doing the Eight Days trips for several years.
"We say all the time that you know we're here to bless the homeowners, but the end of the week, we tell the volunteers you know, you'll find out its you that's been blessed getting to know them, getting to talk to them, and the relationships you build," the tall, bearded worker recounted. "I still got homeowners I helped a couple years ago that we're still in contact, we still talk, we still text. It's truly just a blessing to come out and be able to help people with the stuff that you've learned over the years. I do construction at home so it's nice to put my skills to work somewhere."
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