2017-11-01 / Spotlight News

New Horizons soothes some pains from Irma

By Dayna Harpster


Martha Jose with her daughter, Jazlyn, and her son, Derik. Their home was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Martha Jose with her daughter, Jazlyn, and her son, Derik. Their home was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Martha Jose and her two children were living in a mobile home in Bonita Springs when the predictions for Hurricane Irma motivated them to leave town. They started out on Thursday afternoon for the home of the brother of Jose’s sister-in-law in Kentucky.

“Traffic was horrible,” Jose said in Spanish through translator Yady Galano, who works with the local nonprofit New Horizons. It took Jose and her children, Jazlyn, 8, and Derik, 14, three days to reach their Kentucky destination. They stopped only for gas – which was scarce. No hotel rooms were available.

The following Tuesday, a neighbor in Bonita Springs called Jose. Her home here had been destroyed. The roof had blown off and the family’s possessions ruined.

“I couldn’t do anything. I was so far away. So worried. I was feeling really bad,” she said.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Jose’s children sat on either side of her in an activity room at Estero United Methodist Church, where they attend services. Each of them also attends a group program – Super Kids for Jazlyn, Super Teens for Derik, and Super Moms for Martha – sponsored by New Horizons.

Kids get help with their homework and look to New Horizons staff and volunteers for mentoring. Moms in the program spend three hours on Wednesday mornings learning English, (American) social skills and nutrition, and about resources available to help them, said Debra Haley, New Horizons executive director.

“Irma was an emergency that hit all of us,” Haley said. “But these families have emergencies regularly, either because they have no money or because they have no support in the community. Their average family income is $20,000 a year. So if a parent gets sick, loses a job, they are in an emergency situation.”

All New Horizons families work in the service industry, Haley said, in agriculture, janitorial, food or lawn service. Their kids are eligible for after-school tutoring if they are underperforming at school, according to their teachers, and are from low-income families. Ninety-five percent of the families served are Hispanic, Haley said, and the other 5 percent are Haitian.

Bob and Ellen Nichols started New Horizons in 2003 as a Christian outreach and after-school tutoring program for children in Rosemary Park and Manna Christian RV Park in Bonita Springs. The program grew from about 30 young kids to today’s 430 kids, teens and moms in six locations in Fort Myers, Bonita, Estero and Naples.

Although the program is Christian-based, participants and volunteers of all religions are welcome, Haley said. “Our hope is that these kids find a very strong moral compass through Christian education and a relationship with the Lord.”

Because of its ongoing work with families living in poverty, New Horizons was poised to see the difficulties many of them are having in recovering from the Sept. 10 storm. They are families like Martha Jose’s. Jose worked in the construction trade as a painter until Irma caused her employer to downsize.

New Horizons hopes to find a donor to pay rent for the small trailer in which the Jose family is staying now at Covered Wagon park. Through donations locally, the group has given food, baby formula, diapers, appliances, gift cards for supplies, mattresses, furniture and other items to families displaced by the storm.

The nonprofit gives monetary help through a fund replenished with donations. And recently, it received a pledge from a donor to match up to $10,000. Donations and volunteers for the tutoring program are needed and welcome.

“I have no choice but to start all over again from zero,” Jose said. “But I give thanks for all the people helping – people I don’t even know.” She was tearful describing the loss of their home and all of their possessions.

Jazlyn Jose also feels the loss acutely. “I miss my home. And I miss my toys,” she said.

For more information about New Horizons, call 239-948-4146, or go to newhorizonsofswfl.org.

Enjoy a Sip ’n’ Shop along Third Street South on November 10, benefiting New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Participating shops include Arsenault Gallery, C. Orrico, Charleston Shoes, Gretchen Scott, J. McLaughlin, Leggiadro, Monogram Goods, Pierre & Harry, Sara Campbell, and Sequin.

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