Six months ago, Hurricane Ian made landfall. It was a catastrophic storm that devastated our beloved community.
I’m so sorry.
I’m sorry our community has had to go through this. I’m sorry all of us have had to go through this. I’m sorry YOU have had to go through this.
So much was lost. Some lost everything. Everyone lost something. Lives were lost. And we all lost our sense of safety and security.
We’ve learned more than we ever wanted to know about insurance adjusters, the differences between wind and water damage, the 50% rule, FEMA, and separating our debris.
We’ve had to say goodbye to landmarks, homes, cars, and cherished mementos.
Some have had to learn to live with other families and friends or how to live in tents, trailers, or hotels.
Right now, we don’t have what we had before. Some of us feel guilty for just needing a roof or a pool cage. Others feel desperate because they have nowhere to go months after a weather event took everything away from them.
I am so sorry.
I also want to say Thank You.
Our Emergency Management teams, and first responders have been heroic. The work that our county, cities, municipalities, and state have accomplished in just six months has been amazing.
Our school district and teachers welcomed our students back in record time, offering some normalcy for our students and giving parents an opportunity to work on their homes and businesses.
An army of workers helped get our power, water, and roads online.
Our local nonprofits have provided resources to so many in need in a variety of ways.
So, this morning I decided to look at my day through the lens of gratitude.
I thought about the thousands of people who had a restful night’s sleep on their new mattress from our Gifts In Kind Program. I thought about the thousands of school children who were getting dressed in brand new clothes and shoes from our United Way School Resource Center.
I reflected on our United Way partners and staff that were getting ready for a day ahead that would provide much-needed services for our residents.
I sent praise to the thousands of donors, corporations, and volunteers both locally and nationally that have come to our community’s aid during our time of need. Because of generous donations of money, time, and goods, we have been able to respond to our community’s needs.
There is so much to be thankful for, yet I know that there is still so much desperation for many, and a mountain of work to be done.
We’ve all been going forward: non-stop, selflessly, and without regard to our own well-being. It’s been exhausting. Yet, we all keep going.
Everyone is tired. We’re spent. We’ve reached our limit.
And that is okay.
Trying to help our community, our employees, our friends, our families, and ourselves is so exceptionally exhausting.
It’s okay to not feel okay. You are not alone.
Some of us have not taken time to grieve… grieve for ourselves and own what we lost, even if some lost more. Even if some lost everything. We are allowed to feel sad and frustrated at what Hurricane Ian did to us.
On this six-month anniversary, I want to remind you to be kind to others, but more importantly, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to own and grieve your personal loss. I think that when we allow that acceptance, we will be able to truly help ourselves and others.
If you are feeling desperate or suicidal, there is help available. Simply dial 988 or go to 988lifeline.org. You can also reach out to our United Way 211 Helpline to find local health and human services available in our community. Simply dial 211 or 239-433-3900.
It’s been six months since we all went through one of the most terrifying experiences of our lives. As we move forward through our long-term recovery, I hope we can do so with grace and gratitude. SWFL is United More Than Ever and our United Way is committed to the hard work that lies ahead to help rebuild and recover.
If you would like to volunteer, search our database of services, or donate, please visit UnitedWayLee.org.