In the aftermath of spring tornadoes and summer fires in 1998, Seminole County faith, volunteer and government organization leaders came together to create the non-profit organization “Seminole HEART.” The group’s mission was to serve the residents in the time of a natural or man-made disaster. Seminole HEART set out to provide assistance to persons in need, including what explained as “body, soul, and person.”
Under the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) Program, Seminole County Board of County Commissioners awarded replacement housing assistance to volunteer organizations for uninsured low income households. Seminole County Building and Planning Department worked with citizens to have building permit and tipping fees waved.
Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS) provided the labor, including over 930 volunteers from across the United States and Germany. Seminole HEART participants provided case-management, addressed survivor unmet needs, and supported MDS in their rebuild efforts. This included providing food, lodging, and building materials.
Ten concrete block homes were constructed by MDS at an average cost of $38,000 ($70,000 average appraised value). The new homes were built to current codes to provide protection from the threat of hurricanes and tornadoes.
More recently, Seminole HEART has assisted with persons suffering losses from the Hurricanes of 2004. During that year, three hurricanes hit Seminole County with extreme damage to many homes. In 2005, Seminole HEART worked closely with FEMA and other organizations to support evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
Seminole HEART is a model for unmet need organizations. Recovery efforts in Seminole County continue with the cooperation of dozens of local and regional nonprofit organizations, in addition to local, state, and national government and the business community. It is a long-term and expensive process for an area that is primarily rural, making assistance from outside organizations and the work of the community vital to success and helping friends and neighbors begin the return to normalcy after devastating losses.