Operation: Sunshine Strong
Feb, 26, 2019: Under the bright Florida sun, a handful of former service members and their grey-shirted volunteer crew are hammering roofs on homes. Nails plunge into new wood and the song of hammers rings loud.
All may seem cheery now, but when Hurricane Irma came tearing ashore here in 2017, she took roofs across Collier County with her. At least 65 homes—including 44 mobile homes—were destroyed, and another 1,008 suffered damage that exceeded 60 percent of the home’s value. Which is why Team Rubicon and its new cohort of seven Clay Hunt Fellows is here: to help repair that damage. And to build new careers along the way.
Collier County, which stretches from Naples to Everglades City on the Gulf Coast, and inland to Immokalee and Big Cyprus National Preserve, is an economically diverse place. On the one hand, it’s where Larry Bird, Judge Judy, and Sean Hannity make their homes. On the other is the vast population of people who service those homes.
“The county has a huge wealth gap,” says David Venables, Deputy Director of Rebuild for Team Rubicon. “You’re either very wealthy, or you’re cutting grass for someone who is.”
In fact, the median household income in Immokalee, where the majority of the group’s work is underway, was $29,308 in 2017 and per capita income in the last 12 months of 2017 was $11,047. More than 43% of persons in Immokalee are living in poverty.
Those are, largely, the people Team Rubicon is trying to help. Which is why on any given Tuesday you’ll find a crew of Team Rubicon volunteers, staff members, and Clay Hunt fellows laboring under that Florida sunshine, and literally putting roofs over heads.
None of the homes Team Rubicon is assisting with are new construction. Rather, the team is repairing rooms and roofs. During Hurricane Irma, most of the damage came from wind, which tore off roofs and left interiors exposed to rain and water damage.
“The goal isn’t simply to build homes, but to build resilient homes,” says Venables.
Meanwhile, Clay Hunt Fellows are getting their own education in the trades. The objective is to provide the fellows with the kind of skills-based training that will allow them an entry-level supervisory job in the construction world upon graduation. “And also help fill the massive skills gap in this country between the needs of the trades and the availability of workers who actually want to work in the trades for a living,” says Venables.
And, to put some roofs over heads along the way.
Editor’s Note: When all was said and done, Team Rubicon, working in tandem with the Salvation Army, completed rebuild and restoration projects on 40 homes.