Monday, August 20, 2018
Education

Hurricane Maria evacuees start over in the Tampa Bay area

CLEARWATER — After two weeks of no work, no income, no cell phone signal and no power, Bianca Vazquez decided it was time to leave her home in Humacao, Puerto Rico and move to Florida — permanently.

She booked the first one-way flights she could find for herself, her 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. Her 2-year-old, Bryan, would stay behind with her parents until she got everything settled.

"I was reluctant," said Vazquez, 33, who arrived Sunday and is staying with her sister in Clearwater, "but it can’t be worse."

Weeks after one of the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record devastated parts of the Caribbean, Tampa Bay has seen a swell of disaster-affected evacuees, mostly from Puerto Rico. School districts, often a first stop for families in need, have tracked the number of student evacuees.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:What Hurricane Maria taught me about Puerto Rico

In Pinellas County, 103 students have identified themselves as evacuees from Puerto Rico and nine have said they are from the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Bill Lawrence, the district’s director of student assignment. Hillsborough County, which has a larger Puerto Rican community, has counted 326 disaster-affected students.

Pasco County has 51 students and Hernando County has 43 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Students are not required to disclose if they are hurricane evacuees, which means the total number of evacuees who have enrolled in the school system in recent weeks may be higher.

The Pinellas school district was one of the local community organizations featured in a bilingual panel Thursday morning at St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater campus for evacuees seeking help. Representatives from those same agencies were available later that afternoon at a weekly relocation clinic at the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater to provide consultations and register evacuees.

"Because people are coming here from Puerto Rico need everything, our usual services are not enough," said Sandra Lyth, CEO of the InterCultural Advocacy Institute, which is housed in the outreach center. "We’re trying to be proactive and help people get the help they need."

There, evacuees like Vazquez can do it all in one place: apply for housing, WIC nutrition, Medicaid, HeadStart child care services and even free passes for their children to the YMCA.

"We gotta start over," Vazquez said. "Any help we can get is good."

Ericka Reckenwald, an English for Speakers of Other Languages family outreach coordinator with the Pinellas school district, has spent the last week connecting families to resources.

She tells them that they have time to verify their children’s immunization records and get a physical examination with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, families are also eligible for an array of services such as transportation to school and free meals.

One of the families Reckenwald advised was the Vazquezes. On Thursday, Ayaliz, the 11-year-old, spent her first day at school at Oak Grove Middle, and Ryan, the 7-year-old, went to Eisenhower Elementary. They made instant friends with other Spanish-speaking students of Mexican, Venezuelan and Cuban descent.

Ivana Reyes, 22, lost everything in her apartment in Puerto Rico, where the windows blew out. She came to the center on Thursday to enroll her 4-year-old daughter, Shamira Melendez, in Head Start. They also picked up trays of food.

Her mother, Maribel Ortiz, who has lived in Clearwater for three years, accompanied her.

"The plan (for her) is to stay here," said Ortiz, 41.

Karen Boggess spent hours helping a family of five, with three kids under 7 and two dogs, who were living out of their car. She got them into a shelter and helped them apply for FEMA assistance and enroll the youngest child in Head Start.

"Housing was a challenge here before any of this," said Boggess, a performance and evaluation manager at Juvenile Welfare Board.

Zoamy Campos, 25, arrived in Tampa on Halloween with 5-year-old Noah Vazquez and 2-year-old Eleanor Vazquez. She had no running water in her hometown of Aguada, Puerto Rico and came to Largo to stay with her father.

On Thursday, she stopped at the center before heading to a nearby clinic.

"If I didn’t have kids, I would’ve stayed (in Puerto Rico)," Campos said in Spanish. "But it’s different with little kids."

By the end of the day, Lyth, the institute’s CEO, said four people enrolled in WIC and three received referrals from the health department. Regions Bank opened three accounts. Eleven families with 18 children registered with the RCS food bank in Clearwater.

Pinellas County Schools and Head Start consulted three families each, but none were registered on the spot. Lyth had heard that flights out of Puerto Rico were booked through December.

"If you’re really desperate for health care and housing and food, then this is a good place to come," Lyth said. "I think we will see a steady stream of people coming here over the next two to three months."

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

How to register

To register a child in Pinellas County Schools, call 727-588-6210. Spanish-speaking representatives are available.

To reapply for benefits, visit myfloroida.com/accessflorida.

For veteran services, call 2-1-1.

To contact the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas for WIC and immunizations, call 727-824-6900.

For elder care, call 1-800-963-5337.

Donations for local Hurricane Maria evacuees can be made to the Pinellas Community Foundation.

     
Comments

Epilogue: Tampa’s Mother Teresa, Delia Sanchez, remembered as child welfare champion

Delia P. Sanchez collected things — purses, shoes, newspapers. She hid them away in a storage unit, out of sight from her tidy husband. She had her reasons. And not one of them was selfish. The extra accessories? Those were for the mothers of...
Published: 08/18/18
A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall’s white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida. "Speaking of the building being brand-new, L...
Published: 08/17/18
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18