Not a board nor a beam; not an eave nor a trestle — not even the foundation — stands where the Montez family long made their home on Apple Street, in Immokalee, Fla. For years, Jesus and Maria Montez struggled with health issues, yet they were determined to bring up their granddaughters, who they were raising, in a safe, secure, stable and loving home — their home.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma wiped out that home, ripping off the roof and swamping the walls and furnishings inside. Flood levels rose so high that parts of the foundation were swept away. When the Montez’s returned home in the days after the storm, they found that walls were crumbling, floorboards bowed and splintering, and that all the appliances were beyond repair. Though they tried to remain in the house while they applied for FEMA aid, the smell of mold finally drove the Montez family out. Then, came Team Rubicon. For nearly a year now, Team Rubicon and its Greyshirts have been rehabbing homes in Collier County, Fla., replacing roofs and shingles, ripping out rotted drywall and expanding doorways and halls as they repair the interiors of homes damaged in Hurricane Irma. And yet, staff members like Clay Hunt Fellow Elliot Rios, project manager for Team Rubicon in Collier County, have wanted to do more.
And so they decided to rebuild a home — the Montez’s home — from foundation to shingles. While the organization had the opportunity to completely rebuild three homes in Puerto Rico, the Montez home will be the first rebuild in the continental United States. Part of the Montez project’s goal is to prove that TR can do this work and to test out processes to conduct rebuilds most effectively in the future. This will include learning how to best acquire and transport materials and then designing a process that Team Rubicon can replicate in other disaster-stricken areas.
“Taking into consideration that not every location may have a local hardware, the question becomes how do we meet the needs?” says Rios. “How do we move the materials to the homeowner? That’s something that, over the last 18 months [while conducting home rehabs] we’ve been able to nail down and come up with solutions for.”
Team Rubicon broke ground on the Montez home on May 31, 2019, and expect to have it completed by summer’s end.
“What I can tell you is there is no shortage of survivors of our natural disasters,” Rios says. With the rehabs in Houston and Collier County under its belt and, soon, with the Montez total rebuild soon to serve as an example, Rios feels confident that Team Rubicon will be able to apply the lessons learned wherever disaster has hit. “It’s just a beautiful testament to our efforts to make sure that we reach all homes affected by natural disaster, whether it was a small tornado that affected only 10 homes, or a Category 1 hurricane that affected 10,000.”
That testimony should be on full display come August, when the Montez family will finally get to return home — or, in this case, move into a brand new three-bedroom, two–bathroom house on Apple Street.