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In Florida, “we can continue the family heritage”

July 29, 2021

Shirley and Don Kent vividly remember Hurricane Michael, which churned through northwest Florida in October 2018. Photo by Joanne Murray.

* By Joanne Murray

“Our roof was blown off as we huddled in the corner of our porch from six in the morning until nine at night. Nothing like this had ever happened to us before.”

That’s how Shirley Kent vividly remembers the devastation of Hurricane Michael when the storm swept through Chipley, Florida in October 2018.

Emergency relief crews were able to drop off a tent and some food for Shirley and her husband, Don, then continued to bring food and water every couple of days as the couple slowly began to clear the debris.

To apply for help from the local long-term recovery committee, the Kents had to prove to county officials that they owned the land and their house. That wasn’t hard; they were the fifth generation of their family to live there.

But getting an appointment wasn’t easy; Shirley spent many hours talking to county officials before she and her husband were approved to get on a waiting list for help. All the turmoil and uprootedness affected her health, landing her in the hospital.

Finally, repairs began to be made, starting with a new roof. Then, in March 2020, just before MDS projects were forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MDS volunteers installed a new ceiling and interior paneling on the back porch, built a new access ramp, removed damaged carpet, and removed and replaced damaged walls and ceilings.

The Kents feel fortunate. But according to Don, there are still 290 people on a waiting list to receive assistance from the local long-term recovery committee.

“We were number 136 when we were taken off the list,” he said. “Our faith was tried and tested, but we persevered, and one-and-half years later the rebuild is complete. We are praising God and thankful to all those who have helped us get back into our home, so we can continue the family heritage.”

The Kents home was repaired by participants in the MDS RV Program, which finds them driving their RVs to a local campground, working four six-hour days and then taking three days off to rest, see the local sites, and get to know each other.

* Joanne Murray and her husband, Ron, served with the MDS RV Program for 14 years. Now retiring from the physical part of their service, they are still involved with MDS. Joanne, an artist, donated her specially commissioned paintings to homeowners in West Virginia as their homes were dedicated in March 2021. Ron continues to serve on board of directors for the MDS Eastern Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania Unit.

“Helping those less fortunate has always been our commitment to MDS that we both share,” said Joanne.