Co-authored by Alyssa Vinson and David Outerbridge
Wakeful in early morning, cool air, clear sky, what would the morning sun bring to light and sight? Intensification, quick turns, bundling up loved ones and properties. The day after Hurricane Ian landed and revealed all the questions that needed answering. It is impossible to capture in words the frenetic energy and depth of emotion experienced by our communities in the wake of a catastrophic hurricane. In Southwest Florida, we felt it all. Either rising to scenes of destruction reminiscent of a battle zone or finding relief as we recognized ourselves as spared, offering thanks, while contemplating ‘why?’.
Florida is no stranger to the devastation a hurricane can wreak on a community. For those of us in the area impacted, the unique and personal experience of rebuilding, and strengthening community bonds in the aftermath is new and joyful. As we began to piece together the whereabouts, and status of our nearest and dearest, we reached farther afield for the ones we care for in our community. In embracing the wider community, we began to recognize the strength of our connections, the support we could garner, and we did so in short order.
UF/IFAS Extension operates in every county in Florida, partnering with governments, nonprofits, community organizations, churches, and neighbors to provide myriad resources available to all.
Access to food, healthcare, housing, social interactions, healthy environments, and clean water all represent a small picture of the reach of UF/IFAS Extension. Following Hurricane Ian, the Extension community in Florida engaged this vast network of people and resources to provide support — first emotionally, as we reached out via phone, text, and social media to our volunteers
and to our partners. Master Gardener Volunteers in Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties called each other, as well as volunteers in other counties to check in and offer emotional support and a kind word. Similar volunteers in North Florida counties such as Marion, Alachua and Nassau pulled in resources to collect and transport supplies. In some counties, Extension agents dealt with shelter activations, housing crises, lack of electricity, internet, and other resources. As they coped with these issues, agents in nearby counties stepped in to provide support. Extension community members from across the state came together across multiple days, to clear debris, carry supplies and in some cases, provide an empathic ear or shoulder. Master Gardener volunteers in Manatee County sent the plants – which they had personally grown and cared for — from their plant sale to replenish the demonstrations gardens of the Lee County Master Gardener program.
Similar volunteers in North Florida counties such as Marion, Alachua, Nassau, and throughout the panhandle pulled in resources to collect and transport supplies. Many used their personal time and materials to assist their colleagues in cleanup and restoration efforts.
At a time when many had lost everything — this connection to something that can never be lost — our mutual humanity and empathy served as a salve for sadness and loss.
Resilience is nurtured in this fertile ground, for strong and lasting relationships. Meaningful connections help form community and build the social capital of new partnerships, and projects. Innovative ideas, and community collaboration blossom in the face of hardship. Volunteer communities reaching across county boundaries learn and establish the foundation of collaborative relationships. Extension agents gain insight into the vibrant ways their peers engage with the local community. As a result, they form deeper connections with colleagues and expand opportunities for reach, and collaboration.