Drug Free Collier Inspired by Hurricane Irma – Victims and Volunteers

Pictured from left to right Patricia Jones, Math Coach at Lely Elementary; Drug Free Collier team members Ana DeMercurio, Lisa Gruenloh and David Jones; Everglades City School Principal Jim Ragusa; and DFC team members Ike Alama-Francis and Guy Blanchette.

The team at Drug Free Collier (DFC) had the opportunity to support Hurricane Irma recovery efforts throughout Collier County, making good use of the time their office had no power, and beyond.

“All of our team members had some damage to their homes and trees, but nothing like the devastation we saw when volunteering out in Immokalee and Everglades City, and even among homes in our own neighborhoods,” Guy Blanchette, Drug Free Collier CEO, said.

“We all felt very grateful, and our entire staff wanted to get out and help people who weren’t as fortunate. We serve together all the time, but volunteering in this way was a very meaningful bonding experience for us as a team.”

While many of the team members have lived in Florida for many years and aren’t new to hurricanes, retired NFL player and Drug Free Collier Community Ambassador David Jones had never experienced the tremendous stress of going through a hurricane and the destruction it leaves behind. What Jones found even more compelling was the response by the hurricane victims he and team members delivered meals to in Everglades City, many of whom lost everything.

“One of the residents I met told me, ‘My house used to be there and my job used to be over there. I don’t have either anymore,’” Jones said. “I find myself complaining about some of the smallest things sometimes, while this lady doesn’t know where her next dollar is coming from. That really had an effect on me. My life is good. I never want to complain ever again, about anything.”

DFC Community Ambassador Ike Alama-Francis, also a retired NFL player, had a similar reaction to his experience in Everglades City.

“What surprised me most was the spirit of these people. They are so resilient,” Alama-Francis said. “Through everything they are going through they were still smiling and believed everything was going to be okay. It was a humbling experience. The experience has made me reflect on my own life and how grateful I am for everything I have.”

The DFC team was equally inspired by the volunteers in both Everglades City and Immokalee, particularly the local residents who were working to help their neighbors. Everglades City School Principal Jim Ragusa was leading the effort out of his school.

“When we first arrived at the school you could see both exhaustion and determination in the faces of Principal Ragusa and his staff,” Blanchette said. “Everglades City had been decimated, and they had been there through it all, immediately providing support and supplies to the community. I drew inspiration from their connection to the community and tireless efforts.”

While in Immokalee, team members packed meals, diapers and other supplies to serve an expected 600 residents in need.

Volunteer leaders noticed David and Ike’s strong builds and had the two put their muscle to good work, helping volunteers move about eight tons of bottled water and ice.

“I’ve been retired a long time from professional football – this was a real workout, especially in the heat,” Jones said. “But it felt so great being out there. Not only doing a small part to help the residents, but taking a bit of the load off of the volunteers who are there day in and day out.

There are so many selfless, compassionate people dedicating themselves to the recovery efforts. It also made me appreciate all the linemen, first responders, roofers, tree removal teams and others who have been working out in this heat day after day to help bring our community back to life.”

Once power was restored to the DFC office, the team returned with an even greater passion for the work they do, particularly for Collier County students. One aspect of that work is DFC’s CORE Society, a substance abuse prevention and life skills program that helps students develop essential decision-making, emotional and social skills for moving through childhood and life successfully.

“The programs we and our Coalition partners deliver in the schools are helping young people to develop the resilience, emotional and communication skills to not only resist drugs and harmful activities, but to face life’s challenges more effectively,”Blanchette said. “This school year is an exceptionally important one for ensuring our kids have access to all the support, tools and resources we can share with them.”

To learn more about the CORE Society and other Drug Free Collier programs for youth, parents and educators, or to schedule DFC’s Community Ambassadors or subject matter experts for speaking engagements, please contact info@drugfreecollier.org or 239.302.6717.

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