A tragedy can bring families closer. For far too many Floridians, including many AFSCME members, Hurricane Irma has been a tragedy. It will take them weeks, even months, of rebuilding to put their lives back together.
For Stephanie Rohling, a Department of Transportation weight inspector and member of AFSCME Local 3104 in Punta Gorda, it will take longer than that because Irma severely damaged her house, making it unlivable.
But the storm brought her closer to her AFSCME family.
“I’ve never felt so much caring and support from people who I barely have known and have so much things they are going through as well,” Rohling said.
Having just signed her membership card five months ago, Rohling said she, her husband and their four children have been overwhelmed with the attention that AFSCME Florida staff and her fellow members have given her. The state council is helping Rohling access various resources, getting her information and providing her family with gift cards for clothes and other necessities.
“This whole experience is just surreal but knowing there is someone who will always pick up my call and who will be reaching out to make sure we are OK, you can’t begin to put a price tag on that,” Rohling said.
AFSCME Florida staff is working with members across the state to get them help and provide them with gift cards where necessary so they can start rebuilding. Few members have experienced as much property damage as Rohling.
Rohling’s family evacuated to her in-laws’ home, where they are staying to this day as they await an insurance adjuster and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine what will be covered. Rohling suspects that her home and property were in the path of one of the many tornadoes spawned by Irma in Punta Gorda, which is about 180 miles northwest of Miami, on Florida’s Gulf coast.
Two of three storage sheds were severely damaged but a third was untouched. The chimney was blown off along with the shingles on the roof and trees were blown over onto vehicles. And pieces from their broken windows, instead of being blown into their home, were scattered across their yard. With the windows gone and the roof damaged, there was nothing to stop the rain.
“When we checked out the damage you could literally squeeze water out of our couch,” Rohling said.
Yet, despite all that’s going on in her life, Rohling has continued to serve her community. After the Interstate 75 weigh station where she works reopened a couple days after Irma, she was back at work.
“I know my job is important because if we can’t process trucks coming through then the economy cannot recover, we cannot be there for motorists in need. It means life it not getting back to normal,” she said. “And it helps me get back to some normalcy, too.”
As Rohling works to rebuild her life, which includes pursuing a degree in business management in her spare time, she knows her AFSCME family will be there the whole time.
“I know AFSCME is working for me just as hard as my husband and I are working,” she said, “When my life is put back together, our family is a little stronger.”