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HARLEM HEIGHTS | Residents credit volunteers for helping to get them back home

Posted at 11:22 AM, Sep 28, 2023

HARLEM HEIGHTS, Fla. — Dina Rosado thinks about her childhood when she was sitting and working at her sewing machine.

“My mother used to have a shop and I helped her, so that's how I learned,” she explains.

Sewing is a skill that keeps Dina busy, even now. She’s a seamstress and works out her a small sewing room in her home in the Harlem Heights neighborhood of Fort Myers.

“I love to sew, and I love to make my own dresses,” she says.

When Hurricane Ian came through Southwest Florida, Dina and her husband, Felipe, never imagined they would lose so much of their home and part of their livelihood.

The house that they’ve lived in for 31 years flooded with almost a foot of water and a huge tree that once stood in their front yard fell over and crashed through the roof below.

Down the road, just a minute away, Felipe’s mom lives with his two sisters.

Dina and Felipe decided to ride the storm out at his mother’s house so they could all be together.

After the winds and rains from Ian calmed down, they looked out front to find their cars underwater, the streets looked like a river.

They were trapped by flood waters like hundreds of others in their neighborhood.

Luckily, to her surprise, her son whom she wasn’t able to get ahold of after the storm showed up with a paddle boat and was able to take them to their home to see what was left.

When she approached the house, she knew there was damage.

“The trees fell, all the branches and we couldn't see the house,” she explained.

A massive tree in front of their home made a huge hole in the roof.

Water from the rain got inside soaking most of their belongings and flood waters were 8 to 10 inches high.

Like more than 200 other families in the Harlem Heights neighborhood, the Rosado’s had to throw most of their belongings on the curb.

They felt lost, but little did they know help was right around the corner, literally.

“One of the things that this storm showed us is how strong this community is,” shares Kathryn Kelly, CEO and founder of the Heights Foundation.

“On a normal basis, we have about 250 kids here, every single day,” Kelly explained.

But, after Ian, the community center that focused on kids and families shifted into something different, something special.

The staff there didn’t have power, and most were dealing with their own damage at home, so they did what they could.

“We started making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Kelly said.

“We were making over 800 Sandwiches a day just to hand out food for people.”

After a day or so, the sandwiches kept flowing and other supplies started pouring in from across the country.

The Heights foundations became a dropping point for people to drop off everything from cleaning supplies, clothing, toiletries, and building materials.

In fact, Kelly tells Fox 4, they got so many, in their auditorium because of a make-shift distribution center.

Next, came the people. The helpers who are still in the neighborhood working today, one year after Ian

“One of them was a group called Crisis Relief and Recoveryand they were there that first weekend, and they do hurricane relief,” Kelly explained.

The group showed staff and volunteers the ropes, and they didn’t waste any time getting into the flooded homes in the community.

“We mucked and gutted houses right away and saved so many houses in this neighborhood,” Kelly said.

Houses, like Dina and Felipe Rosado’s home, were essentially gutted and cleared out.

The drywall was removed so that mold couldn’t set in.

Kelly said it was a huge effort, an exhausting feat but then more people showed up with open hearts and open arms.

“Another organization called AIM, Adventures in Missions showed up on our door, they committed to being in the neighborhood for a whole year,” she said with amazement.

Think about that. A year, right off the bat, that this group committed to. They delivered and then some.

They took over an empty building in the Heights community and together they manage between 50 - 70 volunteers at a time.

People coming to SWFL from across the country to serve and help get the community back on its feet.

One of the volunteers with AIM, Monica, has been here since the beginning and she says the neighbors they’re helping have become friends and family.

“We're in these houses on a day-to-day basis, literally dry-walling in mud and taping and hanging cabinets.”

“We still need dry-wallers, mud tapers, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC contractors,” she said.

If you think you can help to make local families whole again, reach out.

It means the world to people like Dina and Felipe who got new walls and new epoxy floors thanks to the group.

She’s back in her sewing room inside her home and is so grateful for the people committed to Harlem Heights recovery.

“Those are very blessed people,” she said.

Blessed, indeed.

If you want to learn more about who you can help theHeights Foundation and the organizations volunteering to help get everyone back home before the end of the year you can reach out byclicking here.