Our Irma Experience with a RYFO Host Home
Guest Written By: Nichole of Chiaroscuro (wife of David Hamilton – RYFO’s Director of Operations)
When David and I first heard about hurricane Irma, we weren’t too concerned. We both grew up in tornado country and have lived in Florida the past seven years without major incident. Year after year, you pay attention, you prepare, and then you watch comfortably from your home as nothing serious happens. But as it turns out, this time was different.
Day by day, the storm drew closer and continued to pick up strength. All of a sudden, there was a very real possibility that it could be a category four or five when it hit Florida, and that Polk County could be taking a direct hit. When you live in the middle of the state, this just isn’t something you expect to deal with. Native Floridians all around us were making plans, and lots of people starting boarding up their windows. In other words, everyone started taking things serious for the first time in seven years.
On Friday evening, we decided that we would check the weather update when it came out at 2am on Saturday. If there was a possibility that IRMA could hit us at a four or higher, we would leave. So, David got up early, studied the forecasts, and woke me up about an hour later to tell me that it could indeed be a four by the time it got here. Of course, you never know with hurricanes, but we were convinced that leaving was the right decision. At worst, our city would face massive destruction. At best, out power would be out for several days, maybe weeks.
Leaving was a very difficult and emotional decision to make. The duplex is the first house we’ve ever owned, and we love it. Leaving it all behind, not knowing what we might come back to was painful. It felt a little bit like we were abandoning our home, a place that has much more value than the money it cost and the stuff inside it. We were also fearful for our city. There are so many people and businesses here that we are invested in. What would happen to them?
We buttoned up the inside of the house as best we could, and fled the state at about 4:30am. We arrived in Tallahassee a few hours later, and it was time to make another decision. We could head to New Orleans, where we have friends that could possibly take us in, or to a RYFO host home in Alabama, which was much closer. We didn’t have a concrete solution worked out in either place, but we had faith that it would work out one way or another. We stopped at a local coffee shop to take a break, clear our heads, and wait for an answer. By the time we had finished our coffee, we had gotten word from our RYFO host home. They said to come on over, they would be happy to have us.
We arrived at their house in Auburn a few hours later, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Walking into a new place can be intimidating and foreign, but their home was warm and inviting right from the start. We had a bunch of stuff with us, including our little dog and even my pet snake, but they didn’t bat an eye. They prepared a little room for us (someone who lives there actually gave up her room for us), and we immediately crashed. We were so thankful to have a safe place to rest and ride out this storm.
The next several days were strange, but memorable. The first two days we were anxiously awaiting the passing of the storm. I was constantly checking social media for updates from friends and businesses back home. People were still very concerned, but prepared to ride it out together. As we were keeping an eye on Florida, we were also getting to know our host family and their charming city. We ate together, played music, watched movies and laughed. It was a fantastic relief to have a place of rest, but it was also a wonderful experience getting to explore new places, new people, and being a part of the family for a few days.
Thankfully, Irma passed through central Florida without major incident. Most people didn’t have power, but most people also didn’t have serious damage. We were so grateful that this monster storm ended up being only a little worse than the norm. The trip back to Florida was stressful (due to traffic) but we were at peace. We were heading back to our city and home, both of which were almost entirely intact.
Our hurricane Irma experience was emotional and tense. It was a scary disruption to our normal life, and it gave us important insight into what a RYFO host home really is. When we were alone and unsure of where to go, a family of strangers welcomed us into their home and took care of us. This is what host families do everyday. They embrace those in need, and show them the love through hospitality. It may sound like a small thing, but for us, it made all the difference in the world.
“For You have been a strong-place for those who could not help themselves and for those in need because of much trouble. You have been a safe place from the storm and a shadow from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4