Surviving Irma Together­—A Scientologist’s View from the Ground

My family—including my wife, son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren—recently survived Hurricane Irma here in Clearwater, Florida.

We’re among the lucky; we had very little damage to our property and our electricity was back on within 24 hours. But, though the storm was less intense in Clearwater than expected, others were not so lucky, working out how to repair property damage or handle injuries or enduring days without power at the peak of an often sweltering time of year.

Volunteer Ministers clean up Clearwater
Volunteer Ministers clean up downtown Clearwater
While that contribution ended up playing out in the media, the behind-the-scenes I saw was more personal. It was the way the Church opened its doors to help house upwards of 3,000 people and hundreds of pets during the storm.

I don’t want to minimize what others are going through—there remains a tremendous amount of work to put life back on track for everyone—but I do want to comment on how impressed I was with the Clearwater community of Scientologists, including the staff of the Church’s religious retreat, and how they rose to the occasion.

Volunteer Minister at work in downtown Clearwater

News outlets have been covering the work the Church did before the storm to protect local businesses by boarding up all the downtown shop windows. No one asked—it was just a task taken on by Church members and involved the contribution of many hours of labor—but it was only doable at all because of the good fortune (or good planning) that resulted in the Church having the plywood needed to board up and protect all local businesses. I can attest that none was available from my usual, local supplier.

While that contribution ended up playing out in the media, the behind-the-scenes I saw was more personal. It was the way the Church opened its doors to help house upwards of 3,000 people and hundreds of pets during the storm. For me, it was reassuring to know that my grandkids were in a safe building that had emergency power and that they’d be able to eat and sleep in relative comfort no matter what happened outside. I’m sure the same was true for many others, including the owners of all the dogs, cats and even iguanas who didn’t have to worry about leaving their pets behind.

Despite the stress of the situation, the general mood of all those who’d left their homes was positive. There were no ruffled feathers, everyone was cooperative and remarkably upbeat, focused on getting through and then moving on to repair whatever needed to be repaired. Such calm in the midst of an unfolding disaster doesn’t “just happen.” It takes work, planning and a willingness to go above and beyond. All that was evident in the Church staff and volunteers who answered questions, made and served food and helped with everyone’s needs. And I’m sure all of it was done on far less than the usual eight hours of sleep a night.

The day after the storm, I saw upwards of 50 or 60 people in the yellow shirts that identify members of the Church’s Volunteer Minister team hard at work in Clearwater’s Coachman Park cleaning up the debris. I doubt if they’d been tasked by the city or the park administrators. I’m sure to them it was an obvious task that needed doing. So they did it.

Volunteer Ministers delivering hot meals.
Scientology Volunteer Ministers delivered more than 1,700 hot meals to residents of Greenwood, Clearwater.

I heard that on the day after, a contingent of hundreds of Volunteer Ministers helped clean up the Greenwood neighborhood—an area of town that has often been overlooked over the years—and I believe was still without power. The clean-up was accompanied by a BBQ for the residents, a concrete way to help those who had probably missed more than one hot meal in recent days.

Obviously, many others besides Scientologists worked themselves ragged preparing for the storm and have been working diligently ever since to make things right; the spirit of help and generosity has not been limited to a single group. But I can only say that I am proud and thankful for my fellow Scientologists—those who helped my family and me, and the group that has continued to help everyone in our area recover from what could have been a far worse disaster.

David Aden
David is a software engineer, father of two sons and grandfather to six grandchildren. He has worked in and written about high tech for more 25 years and currently lives and works in Clearwater, Florida where he volunteers time to various community programs.