Years ago, when our great (great) grandparents farmed fertile soil and rode horse and buggy into town, the weather forecast leaned toward a neighbor alerting someone of bad weather approaching.  This information was most likely based on the neighbor’s knee or shoulder aching. Similarly, a farmer might predict impending storms simply by a feeling in the air or the behavior of his cattle.  Today, we have radar and investigation patterns that hint at bad weather weeks before we actually see or feel any effects.

Irma’s impending visit was heralded weeks in advance of her arrival.  We had spaghetti models that depicted colorful strands of storms and air patterns streaming up the state of Florida.  We had models of storm pressure, wind current, and water movement.  Meteorologists spent weeks predicting one outcome and then changing their minds and coming up with another possibility. Lines began to form at grocery stores, lumber yards, and hardware stores.  Panic began to set in as forecasters predicted mayhem, destruction, and devastation.

At A Kid’s Place, our children became noticeably stressed by the news.  The house parents were urged to turn off the TV and downplay the forecasts, trying instead to focus on the fun of cancelled school. With our vans out of circulation in hopes of keeping full tanks of gas ready for any outcome, the children were becoming restless, bored, and out of sorts. The winds picked up, the skies turned gray, and stray toys began to skitter across campus.  Staff scheduled to work became unable to make the trip in safely, and staff ready to go home to their families weren’t able to leave.

We heeded the advice of professionals and turned off the media. Out came the board games, jigsaw puzzles, and family movies.  House parent Norm Cookson prepared lunch for the staff who gave up time with their families to support the 60 children on campus.  Youth Counselor Chloe Doss worked several back to back shifts to keep continuity in the house, stopping only to come up the to administration building and check on her pup, who rode out the storm in her crate in the classroom. When the skies further darkened, the house parents organized slumber parties, intent on creating a fun atmosphere as the storm picked up. Air mattresses began to fill offices and common areas as administrative staff settled in, intent on providing physical and moral support for the staff in the houses.  But we found that these people needed very little help; they had their routines down, and the children found comfort in that.

Imagine our surprise when two overnight staff made it in for their 11:00pm shift, hours before Irma made landfall in Tampa. Chiquitta Nash was one who braved the mighty winds and showed up early, and the following morning Monica Monahan appeared for her 7am shift, unaware of violating a mandatory curfew; “I was scheduled to be here,” she said simply.  It seems unfair to single out only a few employees because everyone worked together when it mattered the most, but it showed us that when the chips are down, we can work together and pull through stronger than ever.

The children were real champs through it all, and the staff became a tighter-knit family as they shared games, meals, and raincoats. Everyone seemed to take this massive storm in stride, which enabled our children to ride it out with little fear or stress.  What makes a family? Love.  Support.  Understanding.  A family is there for you when the whole world has gone out.  A family means curling up on the floor next to a four year old’s bed until he falls asleep.  “Are you still there?  The wind is so loud.”

“I’m here.  I’m not going anywhere.”

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