A community in crisis

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, residents of the 55 and over manufactured home community, West Wind Estates, found themselves overwhelmed by the damage wrought by the storm. The community was hit hard, with yard debris, siding and twisted metal from roofs and carports littering the lawns of many of its homes. With numerous residents being retirees or seasonal residents, cleaning up the mess left by Irma was one that would take more manpower than they had available.

Adding insult to injury, several of the homes in the neighborhood were so badly impacted by the hurricane that they were labeled with “condemned” signs. Not only did these people have a mess to clean up, some of them couldn’t even return to their homes.

The call for help

Scott and Maryanne are one of the families who call West Wind Estates home. When they came back after the hurricane passed, they were crushed. Not only had their house been badly damaged, their community was ravaged. The mess left behind would take weeks to clean up. With many of their neighbors being elderly and living on fixed incomes, they knew they weren’t the only ones who would need a hand picking up the pieces. It was a conversation with her daughter that gave Maryanne some hope. After working with Habitat in another city, Maryanne’s daughter was familiar with the work and thought she would reach out to see if the Collier County affiliate could provide some relief.

With Habitat homes in relatively good shape and plenty of volunteers waiting to offer their time to help victims of Irma, Habitat Collier was ready to respond. The community happened to be located near two Habitat Collier neighborhoods, Charlee Estates and Regal Acres, so not only was helping out the right thing to do, it was the neighborly thing to do as well. Within days, a team of Habitat volunteers was on site and ready to work. Many of them were students from around the state that came as part of Us to US, a Voluntary Work Organization and affiliate of the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission. As the volunteers cleaned up around Scott and Maryanne’s home, more and more of their neighbors asked for help clearing the debris around their homes. By the end of the day, Habitat volunteers were able to help over a dozen families in the community.

We are all one people

One of those neighbors was Dale, a U.S. Army veteran and one of those hardest hit in the neighborhood. He was nearly in tears when he arrived back to his home to survey the damage. He looked around his property, clearly struggling to process the reality of the situation. The new roof was peeled away, the inside of their home exposed to the elements, their yard covered in debris.

As volunteers gathered to clear Dale’s yard, with the American and U.S. Army flags displayed proudly on the front lawn, we saw the true meaning of the American spirit in action.

“We are all one people. We’ve got to help each other out,” said volunteer Faisal Alshammari.

The work that volunteers did for Dale and all of the families is just a small dent in all that there still remains to be done, but every family shared their immense gratitude for the help they received in a time of such great need. Us to US Supervisor, Ammar Nahari, said the families they helped weren’t the only ones who were grateful.

“It isn’t just us who are helping these people. They are helping us, too– to give back to the community that has given us so much.”

Habitat for Humanity of Collier County is coordinating efforts in other parts of our community to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Irma. Visit our hurricane recovery page to learn how you can donate to our efforts or join us as a volunteer.