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Debby's damage disrupts life for residents of UPARC group home

DUNEDIN — The Winding Creek group home for boys is little more than a skeleton now.

Stacked on the back porch are a leather couch, a foosball table, a Ms. Pac-Man machine. Inside, the home has been gutted: wood flooring removed, kitchen cabinets taken down, walls knocked out.

Tropical Storm Debby's torrents flooded the creek behind the home on June 24, leaving the backyard fence torn down and scattered along the creek.

The water kept rising to the porch, and finally reached several feet inside the home.

"It was a beautiful house," said Sheldon Hershman, standing in the kitchen this week.

Hershman is the executive director of UPARC, which operates 19 homes for the developmentally disabled. The Winding Creek Road home, which is the organization's only home specifically for children, housed six boys.

On June 24, "Just like the rest of us, they were hunkered down for the storm," Hershman said.

They expected to ride out the tropical storm in the house. But when the water reached the porch and was still rising, it became clear they could not stay.

"I was about to have a panic attack," said Zach, one of the residents.

Officials evacuated the boys temporarily to two other UPARC houses already occupied by adults. On Wednesday, they moved again, to a recently vacated UPARC house on Alhambra Court.

When they evacuated their flooded Winding Creek home, the boys had time to grab only a few personal belongings. For some, this meant only the bare necessities — things like medication and paperwork, said Brian Siracusa, associate executive director of UPARC. Other belongings had to be left behind and many were destroyed in the flood.

James, 17, who lived there, said he had been building a robot. "Now it's all crushed up and in a dump," he said.

Some items are irreplaceable, but UPARC officials are hoping the public will help provide some of the items the boys need and want, as well as donate items to furnish the house after it is repaired.

UPARC has posted a "wish list" of those items on its website, www.uparc.com. The list includes household items — a freezer, linens, a dishwasher — along with personal items such as posters, video games and athletic equipment.

Madison Orr, development coordinator for the UPARC Foundation, said response has "been amazing" so far, adding that the foundation had raised $1,830 in cash donations as of Tuesday morning.

Said Hershman, "It's surprising just how the news, or the word of it, keeps spreading."

He said UPARC aims to have the Winding Creek house fully restored within three months.

"Everything will be brand new," he said.

Andy Thomason can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or athomason@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Debby's damage disrupts life for residents of UPARC group home 07/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 6:56pm]
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