It takes an island… | News, Sports, Jobs

The remains of Robert McCall’s home and property destroyed by Hurricane Ian. PAULETTE LEBLANC

Since Hurricane Ian struck, Jody Franke, owner of Pine Island Wellness at Home, has been on a mission with one goal: to help every displaced islander re-establish a home in the community.

Until now, Franke had set her sights on building a company that would help seniors successfully age at home; an important goal, especially for those who cannot afford to move to an assisted living facility. Now, he said, those who have lost their homes, or whose houses have become uninhabitable, are simply shocked.

“They’ve lost everything, so when people ask, ‘Well, why didn’t you just leave?’ – to hell with that. This is your home, your community.” Franke said.

It’s not helpful, he said, for people to wonder aloud why those hardest hit weren’t better prepared for a disaster ahead of time. Just because people don’t want to leave their home and community doesn’t mean they don’t need help, she added.

Fully aware that some people have had it worse than others on the island, he explained that there is a difference between shelter and housing. The shelter, which is a compromise, in the style of a structured yurt, is very temporary and yet very expensive. Operation Tiny Home, which Franke is currently partnering with, he said, can offer temporary, transitional or long-term housing, depending on the individual situation.

Andre Bilodeau, 85, stands in front of his garage, where he keeps his collection tools, which he is now trying to organize. PAULETTE LEBLANC

“You may have a family that just needs to rebuild their house. They (Operation Tiny Home) have a transitional solution, built to code, not like an RV sitting in your driveway, although it is on wheels and can be moved, once and if the original home has been inspected and found habitable again.” Franke said.

The amount of funding needed for this project far exceeds traditional fundraising, he said, prompting Franke to scramble to find help and solutions, not just for his clients, but for all displaced islanders. Certain the state has funds, Franke said they should be sent to Pine Island, likening what is happening to the island’s displaced seniors to elder abuse.

“They have to do something, so we’re trying to get funding that’s already out there.” Franke said.

Pine Island Wellness at Home has become an organization bent on reaching a largely senior population, though Franke said young working families, many of whom have jobs on the island with children, should not be overlooked. who attend Pine Island Elementary School. According to Franke, the best course of action is a “all hands in deck” attitude of all the island institutions to help the displaced to find a home again.

“It is very important to understand that all local organizations and leaders must come together to achieve change in our community in the best way. If we don’t do that, we fail.” Franke said.

Water spills through the roof of Bokeelia resident Samantha Thomas’s home during the storm. PHOTO PROVIDED

Some of the people Franke is trying to qualify for a tiny house no doubt felt the brunt that Hurricane Ian took on Pine Island, like Leita May and Robert McCall, seniors from the city of St. James, who they were lucky enough to receive a loaner RV. to live next door to what is left of his house on Blueberry Street.

“After the hurricane we didn’t have a place to live, so we went and parked our car in the carport across the street and lived in the car for 36 days.” Leita May McCall said.

Still waiting for a response from their flood insurance company, they expect more than the paltry $50,000 they received from their homeowners insurance to repair or rebuild their home. Robert, who is a veteran, feels that the lack of response they have received is unnecessary.

“I’m waiting on my flood insurance and then we might demolish our house, due to the financial impact. At my stage in life, I will never recover. I’m sure we won’t rebuild. This is the end of people’s lives, in other words, you work your whole life, you retire, hopefully you are where you want to be, and this is where we wanted to be, but between Charley and this other one, the financial end is too difficult. to drive”, McCall said.

Likewise, Sharon Kershaw, an 80-year-old non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, who also lives in St. James City, is currently waiting for FEMA to help her. Her husband Bruce died just a week before Hurricane Ian and her son died the week before, so she finds herself trying to cry as she sits in her daytime home moldy from all the floodwater, which , he said, was thigh high during the storm.

The blighted contents of the home of 80-year-old St. James City resident Sharon Kershaw have been placed alongside the road for removal by debris collectors. PAULETTE LEBLANC

“I have finally succumbed to sleeping at my niece’s house in Cape Coral, with my 5 cats”, Kershaw said.

Kershaw, who weathered the hurricane alone at home, said fear is not a word she would use to describe her state during the storm.

“I would say I was more shocked than anything when I saw the roof blow off, and then I went to the back of the house and saw the water come out of the gutter. I saw my jacuzzi floating in the water and then I lay on our bed and fell asleep instantly. Meanwhile, the ceiling falls on the bed and I didn’t even hear it, because I was on the edge of the bed and the ceiling fell more in the middle of the bed. Kershaw said.

Currently, almost everything Kershaw owns is sitting on his front lawn, while he tries to decide what can be saved. She admits that this has been a grieving tool for her as she goes through all of her things and remembers everything.

In every neighborhood in the city of St. James there is damage to inspect and countless houses clearly dilapidated by the storm.

Andre Bilodeau is an 85-year-old retired Navy veteran who slept in his car until he was able to get a small shed in his front yard and furnish it with a recliner where he can lounge. He said that his back hurt too much to sleep in a bed and that he was very happy to sleep in his car.

“Sleeping in a bed makes my back burn with pain, but sleeping in a recliner works fine,” Bilodeau said.

Bilodeau is currently waiting for the $37,000 he said FEMA promised him. He doesn’t count on the money coming anytime soon, he said, as the red tape seems unreal to him. Meanwhile, the tools he keeps in his garage provide a wonderful outlet for him as he tries to organize them with true marine pride.

“I am a boat builder. All my tools are rusting – there’s $20,000 in damage to my boat and no one is covering that.” Bilodeau said.

Tropic Star boat captain Joe Lanktree and his wife, Amber, live in Bokeelia with their three young children. They initially tried to weather Hurricane Ian at home, but quickly changed their minds when the winds picked up and they realized their home could be destroyed with the family inside.

“The only words I can use to describe how the hurricane hit our house is that the house was literally banging. The floor was shaking, the wind was blowing under the house, the house was vibrating and we tried to play board games with the children to try to distract them.” Lanktree said.

As the eye of the storm passed over them, Lanktree received a phone call from one of the other boat captains who was in Miami, which he found strange since there had been no service earlier during the storm. His friend, who could see the storm on the radar, told him that they were only halfway through and that they should probably go somewhere safer. Lanktree was able to call a neighbor who told him to bring the family immediately to his house, which was not far away.

“I left while the swell was still receding and went to check on our house. We lost our entire front porch railing, we lost about a third of our main roof. I walked into the house and my oldest son’s room had about 30 to 40 percent of its ceiling gone along with his ceiling. He lost 95 percent of the stuff in his room, which was hard for me to see, because he’s 13 years old. Lanktree said.

With the Lanktree family being in the midst of buying their rental home weeks before Hurricane Ian hit, they aren’t sure where exactly this leaves them in the buying process. What is actually a disaster, ended up being one of the biggest blessings Lanktree said she has received, as her neighbors are now like her family as a result of going through this together.

“The arrival of the people, the camaraderie: I love my neighborhood 10 times more than I did two months ago.” Lanktree said.

Samantha Thomas, a Bokeelia resident, survived the hurricane with her husband and 6-year-old daughter and a few other family members. When all the tar shingles and concrete panels on the roof of her apartment building began to fall, Thomas said, they realized half the roof was gone.

“Then the second half of the storm came and took what was left of the roof – the garage doors under our apartment collapsed so my daughter and I were hiding in the bathroom and we could hear everything hitting the floor below us. . ” said Thomas.

Eventually, water began entering the apartment through the roof, which was dropping tiles one after another, Thomas said, leaving them ankle-deep in water.

“Water began to fall from the electrical sockets and from the wall itself; Water was coming in from every place you can imagine.” said Thomas.

It wasn’t until the second half of the storm that Thomas said his daughter freaked out. In an attempt to comfort her, she set up a tent in her room where she had all of her pets around her, as well as a tablet to keep her occupied. Having lived in the same apartment for almost nine years, Thomas said they wanted to do what they could to help and tarped the roofs of all four apartments in the building. Thomas said his boss became his hero when he told him the family could stay in a place he has in LaBelle, however, having a job in North Captiva makes it a great walk to get to work or come to Pine Island to see how the apartment is.

“We hope we can have a small house and go back to the island, because that’s the only place I’ve ever lived. We hope it works out and we can come home that way, because we research the rentals and the only thing there is for rent is all these vacation homes that none of the locals can afford, that and houses for sale and if anything is in our range of prices are all hurricane damaged homes and they want cash offers. No one I know has that much cash on hand. said Thomas.

If you have been displaced and need assistance from Pine Island Wellness at Home, please call 941-202-4005 (leave your contact information) or visit

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