Post-Irma Clean Up Profiles - Michael, Jeff, and Jose

First, there was Hurricane Harvey. The news was full of damage reports and people helping each other. Then came Hurricane Irma. We followed its track and watched it grow as it headed towards the US. At one point Irma covered all of Florida, then all of Georgia. The anticipation, preparation and then the destruction flooded the news. Scenes again filled our newscasts about the damage and people helping people.

If you did not live in the affected area, eventually the horror of the stories wore off.
You went back to work, slept in a house with electricity and running water. Now a special few
people came to action. They answered the call to help. FEMA’s Search and Rescue teams moved their operations into Brinton Center. Volunteers sent supplies and made donations. Sea Base Alumni and Friends Association (SBAFA) put out a call to all members and friends to come serve again. As the only Alumni and Friends Association, anyone who loves Sea Base can join. That shared experience of sun, sails, salt water, and bubbles gets in your veins and does not easily wash out. 

The volunteers started arriving with chainsaws, tools, trucks, water and muscle power. Sea Base and the Keys holds a special place in your heart if you have ever visited, or in the case of Michael Hang of Ohio, those who had never visited. “I volunteer doing maintenance at our local camp, 7 Ranges, every week. Being a huge fan of sand, ocean and warm weather, I always wanted to experience Florida Sea Base. When this opportunity came up I jumped at it and had a great time,” shared Michael. “Doing a lot of tree work I now know what poisonwood is thanks to the knowledgeable staff. Ultimately, I saw an opportunity to give something back to the BSA and the Irma recovery. New friends, island experience, good food and have a part in Munson Island early stage recovery. What could be better? Would love to return again.”

Jeff Kidd was the same way. An Eagle Scout and now Scoutmaster of Troop 209 in Apex, NC, Jeff had worked at Sea Base back in 1994. “I will forever be grateful for the opportunity that was given to me back then. If Nick, Ed and Sam Wampler had not given me a chance back in 1994, I would have missed out on a truly life-changing experience. Sea Base holds a special place in my heart so whenever Sea Base needs my help I will do my best to help it. I experienced so many things when I worked at Sea Base that I had never been able to do before (diving on coral reefs, sailing on a tall ship, great fishing and catching lobsters). I want to make sure all Boy Scouts have the same opportunity to experience what Sea Base offers. I hope my week of volunteering creates an opportunity so that a Scout can experience the wonders of Sea Base.”

The same story resonates through each volunteer. The time they spent in the Keys changed them and they wanted to give back. “I spent 10 unforgettable weeks at Brinton in the summer of 2017 and I wanted to give back,” said Jose Guzman of Doral, FL. “I met more good people and, most of all felt part of a great team.” Scouters are a different breed. They run towards the hard work. They see a need and help. It is just what scouts do. In typical scout fashion, the volunteers got back as much as they gave, if not more. Sea Base took some licks and has more work to do but thanks to volunteers and staff, it has begun serving participants again.

Written by Suzanne Tiernan with input from volunteers at the Florida Sea Base

Post-Irma Clean Up Profile - Mark and Joyce

Nearly 100 days since Irma struck the Keys, we are still reflecting on the positive response of volunteers. “We had our first post-storm staff meeting on Monday, exactly one week after the eye made landfall. Mike Johnson [General Manager of Sea Base] was doing a wonderful job in communications with Bryan on Scouting and we were already getting a few emails from our website offering assistance,” reported Matthew Reineck, Operations Manager, Sea Base.

Social Media was sharing bits and pieces as it unfolded and those who were not in the Keys were starved for information about the conditions and how they could help. Matthew, who had evacuated to South Georgia, became the point person for volunteers. “What I didn’t realize was how much of a positive response we were going to get from the call for volunteers through the blog. It was an incredible outpouring of support and wonderful to have any variety of folks want to come down and help,” recalled Matthew.

Mark Dyer, of Illinois, a scout/explorer in the late 1970s and now a scout leader with a son of his own, said ‘ it was pretty much a no-brainer decision to head down there [to help].’ Mark was a participant in the early 80s. “We spent a week learning to sail throughout the Keys on a 44-foot sailboat, after that I was hooked on the Keys. Two years later, with saltwater and tropical breezes on my mind, I applied to become a staff member at Sea Base,” shared Mark recently. Twenty-Five years later Mark attended Sea Base with his son Eric and a crew. Mark reflected, “For me, it was very nostalgic. For my son, he became hooked on the Keys.” In the summer of 2012 (30 years to the date of his Dad), Eric was a Keys Adventure mate at the Briton Center.

By the time the father-son team arrived to help in early November, the majority of the physical work was already completed at the main Sea Base on Lower Matecumbe. They headed down to Brinton Center driving through visible damage in the middle keys. Businesses were open but damaged; water and electricity were functioning. The Brinton Center was designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane and remained structurally sound but with superficial damage. “Damage [at Brinton Center] was limited to tidal surge at the ground level areas, and wind damage to vegetation, latticework, fences, siding panels and outbuildings,” explained Mark.

Many of the volunteers have told stories of the recovery efforts at Munson. They are all awed by the destructive forces of the hurricane eye passing over the island. Mark summed it up as saying, “There was not a leaf or frond left on the island; they all came down in the storm.” The teams endured intense heat and manual labor to help restore the island. Mark explained, “We made significant progress, and the campsites would be open prior to December, but it was going to takes months of labor to bring the island back to the pre-storm conditions.”

Meanwhile, up at Sea Base in Islamorada, other volunteers were doing their part. Administrative duties are often overlooked with so much physical clean up going on. Joyce Wheaton from Middle Tennessee Council arrived to do her part. “I had never been to Sea Base, so I wanted to go down. I am disabled so can't help work on a ship or other trips like that. This
was the perfect opportunity for me to be able to help another scouting organization in a capacity I was able to,” shared Joyce. She explained that the captains usually assemble the
welcome packets for crews but they had evacuated and were dealing with their own issues. It
takes many hands to get ready for the crews, and this was just what Sea Base needed. Joyce
shared that, “I was NOT a member SBAFA [Sea Base Alumni and Friends Association] until
going down to Sea Base. I fell in love with Sea Base while there. It’s like paradise.”

It takes all kinds of help to restore Sea Base. Some volunteers use chainsaws and brute
force while others use staplers and file folders. Some volunteers are past participants while
others have never visited. It all comes back to scout spirt. Mike Johnson says to participants,
“You are about to embark on a once in a lifetime adventure that will broaden your perspective of our world and experience ‘ocean adventures that make a lifetime difference.’ ” Thanks to
volunteers like Mark and Joyce, scouts will be able to experience Sea Base and the cycle of
dedication will continue.

Written by Suznanne Tiernan with input from volunteers at the Florida Sea Base