Prior to Hurricane Irma, many families in Immokalee were living in substandard conditions due to the extreme lack of available and affordable rentals in the area. After the storm, those substandard units were left destroyed. The Rocha, Leon, Castañeda and Gomez families were just a few of those who lost so much to the storm.

Even before Hurricane Irma, the trailer where Patty Rocha and her 10 and 12-year-old sons lived was in questionable condition and there was an ongoing insect problem that the landlord refused to address. After the storm, the family was evicted and forced to collect their belongings in the dark. With nowhere else to go, Patricia moved in with her sister’s family temporarily. With so many family members in the house, she knew she would need to find a more permanent arrangement for her children’s sake. She reached out to Habitat in hopes that it would be the answer to her prayers.

Azucena Leon and her two sons found themselves in even worse circumstances. Like Patty’s, the trailer the Leon family rented was already in very poor condition, but Irma was the straw that broke the camel’s back. With nowhere else to go, they continued living in the mold-ridden trailer after the storm took its toll. In the coldest weeks of this past winter, Azucena would send her children to her mother’s home since her home no longer had heat or air after Irma. It wasn’t the way that Azucena wanted her family to live. She desperately needed a safer, healthier home, but she couldn’t find an affordable option for her family.

The Castañeda family lived in their home for over 17 years when Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida and changed their lives. The storm damaged their trailer so badly that they couldn’t go back. They were rendered homeless and took temporary shelter with family members in the aftermath. Though thankful to have a place to stay, the home where they took refuge wasn’t big enough for two families and they knew that they needed to find a home of their own. The storm took everything from them, and they didn’t know how they would ever start over.

Because of Hurricane Irma, Crystal Gomez has been separated from her three children since September. They were sharing a trailer with her sister on family property in Immokalee until Crystal could find a home in the area that she could afford. Unfortunately, the storm severely impacted the trailer, even lifting off a large portion of the roof over Crystal’s bedroom leaving it exposed to the elements for a week before the family was able to reenter the property and have a tarp installed. As a result, the trailer developed a serious mold issue. Unfortunately, Crystal was relegated to living in the trailer, but she refused to allow her children to stay in that environment. Instead, she made the difficult decision to send them to live with family. Her older children stayed nearby in Immokalee, but her baby stayed over an hour away, only able to see her mother for a few hours on the weekends. Because of this separation, Crystal has missed milestones in her baby’s life, including the first time that she crawled. For the Gomezes in particular, a partnership with Habitat means so much more than just a home, it’s the one thing that can reunite mother and children to make their family whole again.

Because of the Immokalee Rebuilds Project, these four loving families finally have hope again. They were able to partner with Habitat Collier to begin rebuilding their lives, even better than they were before. Thanks to your partnership, now they all have bright futures ahead of them. All four families have closed on their homes and are now neighbors in our Faith Landing community. Your incredible commitment to families in the aftermath of a horrible natural disaster ensures that these determined families will finally have safe, affordable homes which they can be sure will weather the next storm. You will never truly know the difference that you have made in the lives of each and every member of these four families. Thank you for your faithful commitment to them and to the work of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County.

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