As we come upon the two year anniversary of Hurricane Irma’s landfall along the Florida coast, I think back on one of the experiences that will forever hold a special place in my heart. Ken Knight Drive in Jacksonville Florida is a story of perseverance in the face of the greatest adversity. As we arrived in town, we witnessed families living in tents in their yards. There were few amenities; some without electricity or running water, it was an area, like many others, still waiting for help. The manner in which this neighborhood came together and supported each other exemplifies the true meaning of community. It taught me a great deal of how strong people are post-disaster, in the midst of losing everything, they brought out the best in each other. One person, in particular, stood out.
We were introduced to the Ken Knight Drive area by Hope McMath, a community leader in Jacksonville looking to fill resource gaps for those affected by Hurricane Irma. Our first stop was to meet Alton, the unofficial mayor or Ken Knight Drive. He welcomed us with a huge smile, and gave us all hugs “I’m a hugger,” he said, “you’ll get used to it.” When Irma hit, he went door to door on his boat helping people evacuate. Those days you can find him out in his front yard cooking for the people of his neighborhood.
During NECHAMA’s first week on the ground, Alton had to personally introduce us to each resident. This was the only way they would consider accepting our assistance. He was the ambassador to his neighborhood. In a short period of time, the community accepted us as their own community, warmly greeting us as part of the neighborhood, all thanks to Alton’s efforts.
Thanks to the determination of people looking to work together were able to tarp and gut a number of the homes in the neighborhood. We worked by this example and left the residents of Ken Knight in the best position possible as they prepared to rebuild. If only we could all be so lucky to live in a community that sticks together and watches out for one another during these extreme and difficult times, as we witness in Ken Night Drive.
Your donation to NECHAMA gives us the resources to make this work happen – to enter communities and provide the help needed to move people out of tents in their front yards, and back into their homes. What can be more important after a storm than providing safety and a sense of security to a child who is forced to sleep in a tent in front of their home with no water and no electricity.