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20 months after Hurricane Irma, three Immokalee families receive keys to their new homes

Three Immokalee families whose residences were destroyed during Hurricane Irma are moving into new homes, the result of a successful partnership between more than a dozen community-and faith-based organizations.

Through the leadership of the Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition, Guadalupe Center and several community partners, the Coe, Martinez and Rivera-Trevino families have moved into brand-new, single-family homes positioned on the same lots where their residences once stood.

“We’re so excited to welcome these deserving families into their new homes,” said Dawn Montecalvo, president of Guadalupe Center and chair of the Unmet Needs Coalition. “The past 20 months have been a difficult time for many in Immokalee, and the completion of these three homes signifies a new beginning for families and children that the future certainly will be brighter.”

Each of the three families has ties to Guadalupe Center. Debbie Coe’s family have been a part of Guadalupe Center’s three educational programs. Ludy Trevino has been an Early Childhood Education teacher at Guadalupe Center for 22 years. Two of Lillie Martinez’ children attend Guadalupe Center’s After-School Tutoring Program.

“My children are so excited to have their own bedroom,” said Martinez, a single mother of three. “This is amazing!”

The three families signed paperwork and received a handmade banner, Bible and keys to their new homes in a dedication ceremony held Thursday, May 2 in Immokalee. Coe’s home is already complete, and the Martinez and Rivera-Trevino families are expected to occupy their new homes within a few weeks.

“When we lost our home to Irma, we thought we had nothing left, but now we have everything. Thank you,” Rivera said as she fought back tears. In addition to being Guadalupe Center’s longest-serving teacher, Rivera and her husband, Fidencio Trevino, have a daughter who attended the Early Childhood Education Program.

All three families suffered the same fate at the hands of Hurricane Irma: roof damage exposed their homes to the elements, which led to flooding, rotted walls, mold growth and ruined belongings. They were left with nothing. The days and weeks and months that followed were filled with uncertainty about housing and the future.

In the meantime, the Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition, Guadalupe Center and Rural Neighborhoods were developing partnerships with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, religious groups and philanthropic-minded individuals who wanted to help. After more than a year of planning, fundraising and permitting, crews began demolishing the remains of their former homes this winter before pouring a new foundation and starting from scratch. Mennonite Disaster Service, a volunteer network that offers cleanup, repair and rebuilding services, provided labor for all three projects.

The new homes are three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes that measure roughly 1,100 square feet, complete with laundry rooms, air conditioning, furniture and appliances.

“After Hurricane Irma, the need was immediate throughout Immokalee – food, water, transportation and shelter,” said Ellie Ramirez, coordinator of the Unmet Needs Coalition. “We were blessed that so many individuals and organizations wanted to help, but the community’s needs are long-term, with affordable housing at the top of the list. No family should have to live in sub-standard conditions, and I’m glad the Unmet Needs Coalition was able to help place these three families in new homes.”

“Irma helped focus the collaborative efforts of numerous organizations on the many needs that exist in Immokalee,” added Collier County Commissioner Bill McDaniel.

Coe has been a fixture around Guadalupe Center for many years. Her grandson attended the Early Childhood Education Program, her grandnephew participated in the After-school Tutoring Program and her granddaughter was a member of the college preparatory Tutor Corps Program and now works in Guadalupe Center’s Early Childhood Education Program.

After nearly two years of worrying about her housing situation and living in rentals or with relatives, Coe again has a place to call home.

“I drive by this house and I say ‘That can’t be my home. That’s someone else’s house,’” Coe said as emotions got the best of her during the dedication ceremony. “And I’ve been dealing with cancer on top of it all, but I’m still here! God bless you all.”

The following agencies provided assistance for the rebuilding project: Guadalupe Center, Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition, Mennonite Disaster Service, Rural Neighborhoods, The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief Fund held at the Community Foundation of Collier County in partnership with the United Way of Collier County, Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency, Collier County Growth Management Department, Naples Woman’s Club, Church World Service, Water Works Plumbing, Comfort Zone Inc. and the Benison Center.

About Guadalupe Center
Guadalupe Center is a purpose-driven, nonprofit organization with proven results in creating endless possibilities for the students of Immokalee through education and fostering personal and academic success that leads to economic independence. With a focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through education, Guadalupe Center is proud of the children’s accomplishments: 94 percent meet or exceed kindergarten readiness measures, 100 percent of Tutor Corps high school seniors graduate high school and are accepted into college, and more than 92 percent graduate with a post-secondary degree.

About Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition

The Immokalee Unmet Needs Coalition formed in September 2017 to enhance communication and coordination among agencies serving those hardest hit by Hurricane Irma. The collaboration of nonprofit, faith-based, local, state and national organizations has a mission of identifying Immokalee residents and businesses with unresolved needs following the devastating hurricane.

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