Recently, I had an experience that affected me so much, I needed to write about it. My boss offered me the opportunity to work on a special. The topic is one we’ll be talking about for quite some time. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and many other places. Shortly before Maria hit, Irma had already done quite a bit of damage to Puerto Rico. Already more than 160,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida, and we know they’ll need everything to try to make a home here whether it’s temporary or permanent. No one knows how long it will take to get their communities on the island back to conditions that are even close to what they were before Irma and Maria hit. It’s heartbreaking. This was a tragedy that affected so many people I care deeply about. They are my colleagues, but they’re more like family. They came to work to cover a storm knowing their loved-ones were in the hurricane’s path. And after the storm hit, they came to work not knowing whether their loved-ones were safe. It took days for some of them to hear back. Days of having their hearts in Puerto Rico – while their physical bodies were here in Florida. Thankfully, they all had good news to report. Their families were safe and sound – for now, but the conditions were unlike anything any of us could have ever imagined. And even though the storm was gone, the danger was far from over. Power was out everywhere, and it was oppressively hot. Cell service was virtually non-existent. Clean water – scarce. Roads impassable—and airports badly damaged – which made getting supplies to the people who need it next to impossible. I can’t even imagine knowing my loved-ones need help and not being able to get to them or get them out of the situation.
Once air travel finally started to ramp up, people made the tough decision to leave the homes many of them have known their whole lives and start over somewhere else. As I mentioned, Florida was on their list. My bosses wanted to do a town hall special about it to tell the stories and get a discussion going about the impact all of this would have on the state and if Florida was prepared to help provide: health care, education, jobs, housing. It was to be live from two markets – Tampa and Orlando—a first for our town halls. So my boss called me into her office and asked if I could manage the content of the special with everything else I have going on at work and in my personal life: wife, mother of two, MBA student about to graduate in a few months, new shift at work – just to name a few. How could I even think about saying “no?” This was an opportunity to be involved even more than I already was in helping people who needed it by telling their stories. So the answer was a resounding “yes!” From that point, I set out to produce our portion of this hour-long special along with my counterpart in Orlando. We had a little more than three weeks until show time. I documented the experience with photos and video along the way as we looked for amazing stories to tell, compelling people to interview, and a location for the live show – which turned out to be the most difficult thing I had to do. (Below is one of the places we scouted.)
I met some people who have done incredible things in their lifetimes and continue to do so, and I discovered just how talented the people I work with really are. I knew it before, but to see them in action during this type of event – mind blown! I hope I do this experience justice with this series I am writing because I was so inspired by the human spirit – not just with the people from Puerto Rico, but also those who were compelled to help in some way. In fact, the place where we ended up doing the live shot (see photo below) had a special meaning. That, friends, is for a future blog post.