Habitat for Humanity rebuilds beloved librarian’s home in the Keys after Irma

Many people in Marathon remember librarian Gloria Goodman reading to them as children.

Up until Hurricane Irma hit the Keys in September 2017, with a particularly cruel blow to Marathon, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, Goodman, who retired as the manager of the Marathon library in 2014, continued to visit elementary school and daycare centers to read to children.

“All the adults remember her reading to them when they were 5,” said Christine Todd Young, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys.

So when Irma almost completely destroyed the house Goodman, 88, and her now deceased husband built more than 40 years ago, the community helped her rebuild.

Specifically, Habitat volunteers completed a full interior rebuild of the house through the non-profit’s Habitat Hammers Back program. Habitat started the program to help those hit hard last year by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which ravaged Texas, the Keys, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

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A kitchen that was flooded by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 was rebuilt through Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat Hammers Back program.

Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys

“It took us from December 2017 to just last month to finish her home and get her out of her FEMA trailer and back into her home,” Young said.

Repairs to Goodman’s and other residents’ homes included stair repairs, drywall, new windows, appliance replacements and more, Young said.

Habitat Hammers Back is now working in Florida’s Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, pounded the area earlier this month. It’s also working with victims of Hurricane Florence, which hit the Carolinas in early September.

But there’s still work to be done in the Keys more than a year after Irma, especially in the Middle and Lower Keys. The rustic Big Pine Key was left looking like a war zone after the Category 4 storm’s eye passed over nearby Cudjoe Key on Sept. 11, 2017. Many people are still living in temporary travel trailers and FEMA tents.

Habitat for Humanity of the Lower Keys and Key West has completed four home repairs on the island and is working on four more, said the chapter’s executive director, Greg Brown.

“It’s a very slow process,” Brown said, referring to the permitting process, insurance bonds and other red tape that goes into building and rebuilding homes in the Keys.

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Workers removed all the drywall from this house, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, before completely rebuilding the home’s interior.

Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys

Brown predicts the Hammer Back program will remain active in Big Pine Key over the next three to four years. The problem, however will be finding cash sources. The Lower Keys Habitat chapter received a $200,000 grant for the project that allowed it to buy a van and pay for four staffers’ salaries.

“We went through that in six months and had to find different grants to keep them aboard,” Brown said.

Charities that have stepped forward to help fund the program include the American Red Cross, the United Way and Jimmy Buffett’s Singing For Change, Brown said.

How to Help

To donate to Habitat Hammers Back, go to https://www.habitat.org/impact/our-work/disaster-response/hurricanes. If you live in the Keys and have a home that was seriously damaged by Irma, you may qualify for help through the program. Call (305) 294-9006 in the Lower Keys and Key West; (305) 743-9828 in the Middle Keys; and (305) 453-0050 in the Upper Keys.