Story written by Nancy Stubbs, Development Director of The Arc Nature Coast, and photos contributed by Mark Barry, Executive Director of The Arc Nature Coast (reprinted with permission)
We have been fortunate that since we opened our Education Center & Hurricane Evacuation Shelter in 2012, we haven’t had to activate the Hurricane Shelter. That is, until Irma began making her way in our direction last month.
We made the decision to evacuate all our group homes and later lost power at those homes; one home ended up being without power for more than a week. Downed trees and power lines would have made for some dangerous situations had we not evacuated those homes.
On Sunday, September 10th, we activated the shelter and opened our doors at 6:00 AM. Our first priority was, of course to those with intellectual/developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers.
By mid-afternoon, we had about 85 group home residents, direct care staff and some individuals served by The Arc, whom arrived with their family members.
Having our own facility was a huge asset; those served by The Arc were already familiar with the facility, so for most, arriving at the shelter was just like any other day; except we were there for a big, long slumber party! Everyone seemed calm and relaxed.
Imagine what evacuating to a large shelter with thousands of strangers might have been like for some of our folks-especially those who have difficulty adjusting to change in an unfamiliar environment.
Our staff were truly amazing! All hands were on deck and every single person pitched in to help cook, serve, clean and lend a hand wherever needed.
We welcomed a family of six with a young boy with Down Syndrome who had just been released from the hospital & had to be quarantined due to a contagious condition. We were able to provide a secure space for the entire family in a separate room at the shelter.
We stayed busy playing games, singing, watching movies and just hanging out.
Most of our group home residents were able to go home by Wednesday, as power was restored to their homes.
After the storm passed through, we received approximately 50 additional individuals who had been displaced by the storm. We also assisted an additional 12 individuals who relocated from special needs shelters; these individuals were reliant on oxygen or had other medical complications that prevented them from returning to their residences.
All totaled, The Arc sheltered about 150 individuals in our hurricane shelter during that week.
One by one, everyone found alternatives to staying at the shelter and on Friday afternoon, six days after opening the shelter, we transported our last evacuee (a veteran who is an amputee) to a facility in Hudson.
We learned a lot from our first experience as a Certified Red Cross Shelter, and hope we don’t have to do it again any time soon!
In the end, what we are most grateful for is that we all came together as a team and as a community and were there to support each other!
Are you familiar with The Arc in eastern Hernando County?
The Arc Nature Coast was established in 1972 on 30 acres of naturally wooded land on Neff Lake Road. This 501 c3 charitable organization has provided services and activities for adults with developmental disabilities in Pasco and Hernado Counties from that location since. By utilizing a unique community support team approach, The Arc Nature Coast is able to provide highly individualized supports to achieve optimum personal outcomes.
For more information on The Arc Nature Coast and their services, visit their website at http://www.thearc-naturecoast.org or call them at 352-544-2322.
Also published on Medium.