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It All Started With a Hug

Stephanie Fronczak was gathering supplies at a general goods store in Marianna, Florida, when she heard cries of help. The Greyshirt looked outside to see a frail elderly man struggling to get heavy bags of animal food into his vehicle. 

“I’ll help.  I’ll do it!” Stephanie cried as she rushed over to the man.   

After loading the supplies, Johnny Hamilton, 82, tired and exhausted, began telling Stephanie the difficulties that he and his family have experienced since Hurricane Michael devasted the Florida Panhandle, including his home. Stephanie pulled Johnny into a hug. A rush of emotion swelled in him and he cried into her shoulder.  

“It all started with a hug,” explained Johnny. “That’s where it all started and then she offered help, and I accepted.” 

Hurricane Michael’s 155 miles-per-hour winds ravished the Hamilton’s quaint little home in the rural area of Marianna. The family had no choice but to hunker down when the hurricane slammed through their area. Johnny’s 80-year-old wife, Maxine, is confined to a wheelchair and their son, 51-year-old Robin, also suffers from severe physical limitations. 

“When I saw Johnny for the first time he looked completely exhausted and defeated,” expressed Stephanie. “He has a full-time job taking care of his family, and dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane, I thought he would truly work himself to death.” Ever since the hurricane they’ve had no electricity, tree branches are to their breaking point, and debris is scattered throughout their property. Johnny was left to slowly pick up the pieces as his family watched on through a window in their home. “I just felt overwhelmed that a complete stranger would offer help,” said Johnny. ”This was no coincidence that you were placed in my path that you offered to help.” 

 

 

After saying their goodbyes until the next time they meet, Stephanie shared her encounter to the rest of the Greyshirts during the debrief that same evening. 

“There were many different teams, and everyone came to me wanting to go and help this family,” said Stephanie. “Everybody from the incident commander and down said, ‘We want to go, we want you out there.'”  

A cavalry of Team Rubicon volunteers set out to the Hamilton’s home and time was of the essence.  Heavy rain was forecasted for the day so the work had to be done efficiently. To make it a successful mission, the work order allotted sawyers to cut down dangerous hanging branches, swampers to pile debris and to recover valuables swept by the hurricane, and heavy machine operators to move the debris curbside. 

“I couldn’t believe you all would come to our rescue,” expressed Johnny as he opened his door to more than 20 Greyshirts at his property.   

Stephanie, was there to help Johnny and his family as a liaison for Team Rubicon’s arrival at their home. 

“When I saw Johnny [again], he had a spring in his step,” said Stephanie. ”His wife told me that he finally had a good night’s sleep because he knew help was coming.” 

 

 

The Greyshirts put in a great few hours of hard work on helping Johnny and his family. Now, Johnny can focus on taking care of his family, especially his son, instead of worrying about how to clear the debris that was left on his property. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what you all have done for me,” said Johnny as he stares down. ”These two hands would have given out, so I’m greatly indebted to Team Rubicon for helping me and my family. You have lifted a great burden for us.” 

Before departing for the last time, Stephanie and Johnny exchanged contact information with each other to keep in touch.  

“He is a man of faith, and today, we definitely restored faith back to him,” expressed Stephanie. “This is why I’m with Team Rubicon; this is what we do — we are in the business of changing lives.” 

They said their goodbyes with joyful tears and a connection that began with a hug.

Jonathen E. Davis is a U.S. Navy Combat Camera veteran. He is currently the district coordinator for the Desert Tri-County Areas of Region IX. Jonathen has been supporting Team Rubicon as a photographer and videographer since 2012 in both domestic and international operations.