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Westchase’s Hurricane Heroes and Helpers

In the aftermath of Irma, we asked for Westchaers’ hurricane heroes and helpers.

And you responded with dozens of names!

Hurricane Irma brought great destruction and fear to our state. Yet, in the days leading up and the day after the storm, it illuminated all that is great about our community. Westchase folks assisted each other in finding supplies, boarding homes and cleaning up the damage. Folks even rallied on Westchase Neighborhood News to provide snacks and food for the hundreds of lineman being staged nearby to repair downed electrical lines.

Even Westchase Community Association (WCA) and Community Development District (CDD) employees worked long hours to prepare Westchase for the oncoming wind and rain.

“I had conversations with Sonny (Whyte) and Doug (Mays) before the storm,” said CDD Chair Jim Mills of his chief staff members. “Doug had his guys out collecting garbage cans, taking the tarps off at the parks and getting the area prepared as best as he could.”

Mills said Mays even tried, to no avail, to get the county’s construction contractor to pick up the signs and barrels on Linebaugh Avenue.

The day after the storm – before the winds had even died down – Mays was already out patrolling Westchase to assess the damage. “I heard he was up so early because he was worried about the properties,” said Mills. “Monday at 8 a.m. I walked around The Greens and found a tree on Greenmont blocking most of the street. He already had it on his list.”

In fact, Mays and his crew were out in full force in Westchase on 6 a.m. that morning. “We’ve got the right folks working for us and looking out for our interest,” said Mills. “I’m very proud and pleased with what they did before and after.”

Keswick Forrest resident Leslie McCluskie said, “I’m so proud to live in such a great community. These guys are awesome,” she said. “Our CDD went above and beyond to remove fallen trees in yards and pick up piles of debris that we raked to the curb – all so we don’t have to worry about replacing sod underneath that would die waiting for the county to show up and remove it.”

Mays estimated that 80 percent of Westchase was cleaned up by Friday after the storm and that about 40 trees would need to be replaced. “This gives us a good opportunity to replace them with something not as destructive,” he said. “Sonny lives here and I’m a native of Tampa. We love working for Westchase. This is a well-designed and beautiful community.”

Mays added, “The residents have been so good to us. They have greeted us and thanked us. Every house we go to, people are offering us cookies, water and sandwiches.”

While CDD employees were taking care of the neighborhood yards and streets, parks and common areas, WCA employees were preparing the swim and tennis facilities. Facilities Manager Kelly Shires says staff worked 12-hour days before and after the storm to remove chairs and potential projectiles from the tennis courts and swimming pool decks, take down nets and netting and secure all containers and, afterward, to put everything back in place. Several staff even snorkeled in the pools to remove debris. “Overall we experienced little damage,” said Shires. “The main issue we had was a light pole that fell over into the Countryway pool deck.”

Inside, Community Association Manager Debbie Sainz was securing the associations data and digital information. “All was well protected, well defended and well taken care of,” said WCA President Ruben Collazo.

At the same time, Westchase residents traveled their neighborhoods doing the same thing – making sure those around them were well protected, well defended and well supplied. “The Vineyards came together and did a community-wide sweep helping anyone who needed it,” said Tara Bossert. “Everything from sharing plywood and putting it on each other’s houses to walking door to door.” 

“I have so many people to thank,” said Kingsford Resident Reetu Vijaywargi. “I’m so blessed to have them in our lives. Brian Jackson helped us put up boards. Rich Thompson helped us cut the boards. Melanie Yessner kept an eye on our house and sent us pictures after the hurricane and also added a little humor by letting her son jump in our backyard puddle to show us how much water had accumulated. Leslie Wall walked by and updated us on the condition of our house and reassured us that everything was okay.”

Abbotsford resident Bobbie Pecev said Leslie McCluskie was one of the many heroes who helped her out, she, “found me a gas bottle after I mentioned I had a camping stove and also gave me lots of advice since I was a hurricane newbie and she kept checking on me the whole time. Joyce Holley, despite being a single mom and dealing with all this stress on her own, found time to check on us hourly, give advice and provide solutions.”

Pecev, like many, was part of a group keeping in touch through group texts. She found the words of support encouraging and touching, “I cried many times over a SMS that said, ‘I don’t want you to feel you are alone in this. Bobbie, don’t worry. We’re all in this together and we’ll help each other.’”

That is the Westchase spirit!

Turn to page 42 for our list of Hurricane Helpers and Heroes. Further Irma coverage can be found on pages 18 and 24.

By Marcy Sanford

Your Hurricane Heroes and Helpers

They ranged in age from 8 to 80, from single moms to dedicated Scouts.

Whether it was sharing batteries, ice, food, wine or advice, installing shutters, offering words of encouragement and reassurance or walking through neighborhoods to make sure all homes were safe, residents came out in full force to help each other in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma. And they continued to do so in the days afterwards.

Through its Facebook group Westchase Neighborhood News, WOW asked residents to send us their hurricane heroes and helpers. We understand that this is just a small sample of all the people who reached out to support their friends and neighbors and made us all realize how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful, supportive community.

Alan Miguel
Alma Cavalcante
Aly Andriko-Ferguson
Aqib Lakhani
Barbara Griffith
Blakely Ann
Brain Jackson
Bree Parker
Brian and Suzie Simmons
Bunny and John Buckley
Cameron Correa
Carl Longnecker
Cat DiPaolo
Chris Blaze
Chris Davidson
Chris Dusse
Chris and Bo Planeta
Courtney and Stephen Netta
Courtney Clark
Craig Burns
Cynde Mercer
Daniel Sallade
Dave Nelson
David & Dottie Hardin
Debbie Kristol-Irwin
Dena and Hayes Estes
Didimo Palma
Duane Wildridge
Ed Siler
Emily Harkins
Eric Anderson
Erik Debaude
Erik Konyk
Frank Van Loon
Gary Ingram
Graham Smith
Heather and Chris High
Heather King
Howard Fine
Janine and Derek Spies
Jeff Crisorio
Jennifer Bobrovetski and family
Jillian Estes
Jim and Jenny Carlstedt
Jim and Kim Fitzer and sons
Joe Ziarno
Joey Olszewski
John Morgan
Joyce Holley
JT and Alison Whittington
Judy and Graham Smith
Judy Smith
Keith Clarke
Kelly and Brian Carothers
Kyle James
Leslie McCluskie
Leslie Wall
Lisa Smith Stephen
Lynne and Russ Katzmann
Maloney’s Employees
Mandolin Estates “Braves”
Marcy and Johnny Bunn
Mark and Diane Kolligan
Matthew Hoff
Melaine Yessner
Melody and Ed Mahusay
Michele Money-Carson and Ray Carson
Mikael Forsman
Mike Fiorio
Miriam Barack
Pam and Rob Velez
Patrick Storch
Ric and Dawn Foster
Rich Foster
Rich Thompson
Rick and Erin Ferlita and sons
Rick and Kari Tarr
Robert Cowie
Robin Burngasser
Romie Heidt
Sean Marcil
Sonia Pita-Palma
Stephanie Stretch
Terese Kolnes Roberts
The Lynch Family
The Moore Family
The O’Donnell Family
The Sage Family
The Turner Family
The Wojo Family
Tom Brennan
Tyler Senkowicz and Boy Scout Troop 46

By Marcy Sanford

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