My wife and I have a house on No Name Key in the Florida Keys. We live in a very small neighborhood of about eight houses, surrounded by acres of state and federal wildlife preserve land.
No Name Key is at MM 32, directly east of Big Pine Key. You might recognize that name. It was Ground Zero when Hurricane Irma made landfall and destroyed our community. No Name Key used to be a paradise. Now it looks like war zone. The extent of the destruction is hard to believe.
Our good neighbor Bob Eaken lived at the end of our island. His home was perched on an incredible expanse of open bay and a view of the water and the small islands that dot the horizon. But that was before Hurricane Irma blew off Bob's roof and his entire top floor.
The possessions that Bob accumulated over 82 years are now spread in a giant debris field that fans out over a half mile into the “protected” mangroves behind what's left of his house. Bob has nowhere to sleep, nowhere to live, and doesn't even have a stairway to get up to the first floor that's precariously perched on concrete stilts 12 feet above the wreckage-strewn ground.
Imagine an 82-year old man climbing a ladder to even get into what little remains of his home. Funny thing is Bob knows all about ladders — he's a retired firefighter who dedicated his life to saving others in danger.
Luckily Bob evacuated to Miami to weather the storm with us. When we were permitted back on the island and returned with him last Sunday, we gathered up his entire life (or what's left of it) into five soggy garbage bags.
Why Bob's story is so interesting is that he single handedly built our “Island's End” community over 30 years ago. Bob was a Ft. Lauderdale firefighter at the time and would drive down on weekends to carve his dream out of the mangroves. Bob dredged the canal, cleared the roads, and built four or five of the houses in the neighborhood. Up until this disaster, Bob was still hoping on and off his boat, scampering up and down his stairs (now gone), and doing maintenance on his own house as well as all of his neighbors' homes. You and I should be lucky enough to be in the shape Bob's in when we're his age.
Now Bob is hoping for some FEMA money and a trailer so he has a place to live while he tries to rebuild his home from the sad and soggy wreck it is post-Irma. But I'm convinced that Bob is the kind of guy that everyone will want to help. Besides FEMA, firefighter organizations, and a generous public would want to help Bob too if they just knew his story. I'm also convinced that Bob's story is a great tale of American ingenuity, a can-do attitude, and the indomitable spirit that can inspire so many of us. Telling Bob's story and rebuilding his house will go a long way to help ease some of the pain people are feeling.
Estimates are that it will take between $100,000 and $200,000 to rebuild Bob's home. We already have a contractor who is working at below cost and scores of neighbors who are providing the labor to clear the wreckage from Bob's life. Now we need money for supplies, heavy equipment, and skilled craftspeople. Our plan is to have use the funds you donate to reimburse the tradespeople and to pay for the materials we purchase to repair Bob's home.
We've set up a Go Fund Me. At the time this article was published, we've raised $7,200 to help Bob. But we need more. If you'd like to help, please direct your browser HERE to see the site and donate. You can also help by sharing this story everywhere you can. Text and email it to your friends, post it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or anywhere else people can find it. Let your friends and family know that if they want to help a real person instead of simply donating to a nameless, faceless charity, this is a great opportunity to make a real difference.
Bob's story really illustrates the damage the storm did to our lives and our psyches. I believe your generoisty will go a long way to helping a very deserving neighbor rebuild his home AND his life.
I hope you do, too.