PASSION PROJECT TO PHOTO STUDIO
Toquell Major is a passionate photographer and graphic designer and started her business out of her home on the island of Grand Bahama. Before Hurricane Dorian, she dreamed of expanding outside of her at-home business, but the storm damaged her home and business when it came through the Bahamas in September 2019.
Toquell evacuated before the storm hit and ended up living with her sister in Miami for several months and enrolled her two sons in school there. She tried hard to keep her business going online from Florida before returning home to Grand Bahama to start her life over again. It was a small business grant funded by the American Red Cross and Mercy Corps that propelled her forward after Dorian. The grants helped her get back in business with new equipment like lights, backdrops, batteries and other camera gear and operate at a higher level since she was able to move into an actual space instead of working out of her home, like she had before Dorian.
“Before Dorian I started finding ways to grow my business and I would’ve begun to outgrow that at home, being home based- and I wanted more. I didn’t want to stay at home, so this was the perfect opportunity to do it all,” she said.
Beyond the financial assistance provided by the grant, small business owners are given access to resources that connect them to a network of entrepreneurs and business mentors to develop their professional skills and expand on their business resulting in stronger business more resilient to future crises or unexpected events.
“I learned a lot of things from then to now in terms of preparation and having backup plans,” she said thinking of how she used to operate compared to now. Toquell says receiving mentorship and access to online business classes helped her manage some of the necessary elements to running a business, like updating a business license, having insurance and planning for crises. The latter will hopefully help her and other business owners avoid ever starting from scratch again in the event of another disaster like Dorian and managing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It feels so good, when I walk in here,” she said, looking around her new photography studio space that her grant helped to secure. “It feels great to know that I had this opportunity. It makes me want to keep going; it definitely was the base for it all.”
STOREFRONT TO SOLO
On the island of Abaco, the American Red Cross is working with Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) to support small business owners as they strive to maintain their livelihoods between the lasting effects of Dorian while incorporating higher safety standards to continually adapt to the new world we’re in due to COVID-19.
Johnell Curry-Russell is one of those entrepreneurs working to fully adapt to stay in business. As a lifelong resident of Abaco with knowledge of computers and computer repair, she got into the computer business in 2005, and shifted into a management and owner role in 2011. But in 2019 Hurricane Dorian swept through the area and the business she had worked to build for over 10 years was gone in an instant.
She says starting from scratch has been difficult, but the financial grant from the American Red Cross and CORE has helped tremendously as she transitioned the business into a mobile trailer and is now the sole owner and employee. The mobile one-stop-technology shop proved to be an important resource on the island as soon after Dorian, many students were moved to online schooling and parents were seeking devices to help them stay connected in a remote school setting.
“Without the grant I would not have been able to purchase bulk to be able to help parents once they had the funding so I would not have been able to meet the need of the students in Abaco without the grant, trust me.”
She says recovering from Dorian has been a mix of emotions from feeling hopeless to feeling hopeful as she said goodbye to the traditional business model of a storefront and became a one-woman mobile computer company, including purchasing the trailer and a vehicle to tow it around.
DINING ROOM TO TEMPORARY TRAILER
About 20 miles south of Johnell’s computer trailer sits another trailer but instead of tablets and printers, it is filled with grills and fryers serving up burgers, cheesy fries, seafood and homemade ice cream.
Joshua Malone may be better known as the force behind the popular restaurant “Jake’s” in Abaco, named after his little brother. Originally in Marsh Harbour, this family business was a favorite spot for comforting foods but the restaurant and everything in it was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, and the roof of his home was torn off as well. Joshua and his family left the islands for a while to figure out how to get back in business.
With the support of the community and a business grant funded by the American Red Cross, Joshua transformed “Jake’s” into a food-truck style 20-foot trailer still frying up delicious burgers and more. He says seeing the support from his community helped fuel his motivation to get back in business and the grant money arrived just when they needed it.
“It was amazing because it came at the right time. We were buying all the equipment, the pots the pans, and the shipping costs- it came at the perfect time,” he said.
Though his business is in a trailer for now, he has hopes of getting back into a brick and mortar building. Joshua is just one of many business owners and operators getting back into operations and helping the island as a whole recover from that devastating storm.
“It’s good to see, every day you can see another building being worked on…it’s great to see the progress being made. Abaco will be back. It’ll take a little time, but it’ll be back bigger and better,” he said while reflecting on the island’s progress. He says it took personal motivation and a lot of outside help, but the people of Abaco are resilient and open to the help.
“It’s very heartwarming to know the other countries reached out - the American people especially, the NGOs that reached out and came to our aid in a time of such need, so we’re very thankful for it.”
AMERICAN RED CROSS RESPONSE
Thanks to the incredible generosity of the American public, the Red Cross has been able to directly support the people whose lives were most deeply disrupted by Dorian. Nearly two years later, the American Red Cross has never stopped working in the Bahamas. Donations to the Red Cross allowed us to put cash right back into the hands of local people so they could choose exactly what they needed for themselves. We gave out emergency supplies, food and clean water to thousands of families and are helping with long term recovery by providing cash grants to repair homes and businesses. Together with partners, the Red Cross is helping to be the bridge to comfort and hope following a life-changing disaster.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.
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