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