We are fortunate to meet some wonderful people along the road to recovery after a storm like Hurricane Irma. We won't soon forget the friendly faces at the Hidden River RV Park in Riverview.
Rita Owens arrived at the property as community manager in October of 2016. The quiet and friendly community along the Alafia River is home to an age-restricted population (55+), where neighbors feel more like family.
No stranger to hurricanes, Rita previously lived and worked in Mississippi when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. Now in Florida as Irma approached, she and two members of her team made plans to ride out the storm out at the property and “do what they needed to do,” including turning the clubhouse into a dormitory. She knew there would be big challenges – many of the residents were elderly with health issues.
She was wise to be concerned – 27 homes were destroyed (18 of those were primary residences). The complex also lost its pool and most of its community buildings -- all but the clubhouse. She was grateful for those she considers “community heroes” including volunteers from a neighborhood church that offered supplies and helping hands.
When the Red Cross appeared on her office doorstep, about a month after the storm, she quickly offered the clubhouse to a casework team and scheduled all 18 homeowners to meet with the team one-on-one to register for emergency financial assistance.
One of those homes belonged to Dan, "the guitar man," as friends call him. Dan and his wife Ann, whose mobile home was in the low-lying area of the community, lost almost everything. Through it all, neighbors say Dan stayed positive and kept strumming his guitar. "Music is good for the soul," he says. He even wrote a song called "Up and Down the Hill" about the aftermath of the storm. Dan came to play for Red Cross volunteers doing recovery casework in the community where he lived (and plans to stay).
The ability to help these 18 homeowners take a step toward their recovery meant the world to Red Cross casework supervisor Ed Scarborough and his three-member volunteer team. After long days in the field and reviewing paperwork every night, Ed said with a smile, “This is what everybody should be doing.”