My heart broke as I watched footage of Hurricane Michael devastate cities and towns throughout Northern Florida. Right away, I began calling and texting friends in the area.
Talking with friends reminded me of how Hurricane Irma roared through my hometown of Fort Myers last year. The destruction of the storm. The weeks without power. The empty gas stations and ATMs. Then I began thinking about how those moments of isolation and fear turned into a season of service and community.
That moment of togetherness and unity is ingrained in my soul, and in the history of the organization I am honored to help lead, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). FRRC is led-by and helps advocate for people with past felony convictions.
Sometimes living with the “felon” label can create isolation for those of us who have a past conviction. Unfortunately, this separation from society can become an impediment to growth and health. During last year’s Hurricane, however, we got to see what happens when those labels are reduced in importance, and we are better able to see each other as people first, unified in loving our neighbors rather than divided by our differences.
All over Florida, FRRC’s formerly-convicted leaders joined their families and neighbors in rebuilding after the storm. Even before FEMA arrived, in small towns like Everglades City and Immokalee, FRRC teams were on the ground helping distribute water, food and medical supplies. Likewise, in large cities like Orlando and Tampa, FRRC leaders jumped in to help feed and find housing for neighbors in need.
That process of unity and service is starting again in cities and neighborhoods throughout the Panhandle. As the rebuilding process begins, our FRRC leaders in the region are reaching out to their neighbors and family members in need. Would you like to help? If so, we believe a simple, tangible way to support their efforts is to buy a gift card from Home Depot, Lowes, WalMart, Target or a place like that, with stores in Northern Florida, and send them to our Orlando offices.
We will then make sure the gift cards in the hands of those directly impacted by these storms. Our office address is below if you want to help. Thanks.
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, 4081 LB McLeod, Orlando, FL 32811
Neil Volz is the Political Director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition