The Panhandle Project:

Building homes and helping communities after Hurricane Michael



Ngog Nliba Nguimbous, back left, with other students from University of North Florida on Mexico Beach.

Bevelenn Struve , Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— Students go from hitting the books to hitting the nails during spring break.

The Panhandle Project, a nonprofit volunteer opportunity for students, took place from  March 15 to 17 in Port Saint Joe, Florida. As part of the project, students from both Jacksonville University and  University of North Florida were able to spend a few days of their break volunteering.

Students helped with light construction and finished moving families back into their homes in the Florida Panhandle. These homes were destroyed by Hurricane Michael.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Michael made landfall as an unprecedented high-end Category 4 Hurricane for the Florida Panhandle region, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 155 mph.

The storm caused catastrophic damage from wind and storm surge, particularly in the Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas areas.

Christopher Perrin, volunteer pastor at Jacksonville University’s chapel and the organizer of the Panhandle Project, addresses his pain about the damage done to his hometown and his concern for the well-being of his family who still lives in Port Saint Joe.

Perrin’s goal was to aid Port Saint Joe with support from local churches and Southpoint Community Church located in Jacksonville. His hope was to not only help his family, but locals who lost everything.

Students who signed up to volunteer paid for their transportation and food to come on the project. The local church provided lodging and the job sites provided materials, such as paint and tools.

“Trees were laying on the road and piles of houses on the sides,” says Ngog Nliba Nguimbous, a student volunteer from JU. “Just waiting for the trucks to pick up the piles. The three days were broken down to get as much done that was possible for the volunteers.”

The first day the volunteer group tackled removing wood flooring, breaking down a kitchen for a house, and cleaning up the yard. On the second and third days, the volunteer group focused on painting the inside of houses.

“After work on Saturday, we played soccer with the local high school kids and everyone had fun enjoying themselves,” said Nguimbous. “On Sunday, after finishing painting, we took a tour of Mexico Beach where the group saw the extent of damage that happened to the area.”

Michelle Childs, a local resident of Port Saint Joe, said that at the time of Hurricane Michael, her husband, 1-year-old son, and herself evacuated to Fairhope, Alabama. They returned two days after the storm. The front door was completely gone, and the house was flooded two to three feet.

The family had moved in with her husbands’ parents and lived there for three or four months. The Childs family, their dads, and sub-contractors have done a ton of work in the last 5 months to renovate their home. On Mar. 10 the Childs family was able to move into their home and spend the first night sleeping in their own beds.

“I still can’t believe that it happened to us and to our area,” Childs said. “I mean, a hurricane always hits somewhere. But you never think its actually going to hit your town.”