Alex and Chelsea Workman were viewing photos and videos that came out in the hours after Hurricane Michael hit the area with one thought in mind.
“This is not good.”
The Workmans, a Tallahassee-based creative team and couple, to Gainesville before the storm; after the storm they intended to check on the house in Tallahassee and drive on to Atlanta.
But, the photos of Mexico Beach shocked them, particularly once they learned of the extent of the damage and the struggle ahead for local residents and businesses.
Those businesses brought a personal thread: Chelsea’s father, Kevin, owned and operated a charter fishing business.
“We wanted to do something, do something creative,” said Alex, a storyteller and photographer; Chelsea is a writer and artist.
That turned into NeverForgottenCoast which is culminating in a mini-grant program underway to provide small amounts of funding to small businesses in Mexico Beach.
“We wanted to focus on small business owners,” Alex said. “The devastation was so widespread there was no way we could attack all the damage that people sustained.
“But we thought if we could help make it so businesses could get back open we would be impacting a larger range of people, like a ripple effect.”
The Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, a local non-profit, has served as the depository for funds donated to NeverForgottenCoast and the organization will be charged with administering the grant program via guidelines from the Workmans.
“We are trying to be very intentional, we want to pay for very specific needs, very practical needs to a business back up and running,” Alex said.
“We want to see change, we want to see recovery. This is also a way to give a business a small amount of money without them having to pay anything back.”
And infusing local businesses with $1,000-$1,500 for, as example, marketing, a new trailer for an eatery, engineering, a new website, will help bring exponential change to the community as a whole as the business sector rebuilds, Alex said.
“This is a very powerful project,” said Kimberly Shoaf, executive director of the Mexico Beach Community Development Council. “It is going to help get Mexico Beach businesses back on their feet.”
The NeverForgottenCoast campaign took shape shortly after Michael.
First, the couple arrived at a name for their effort.
“We didn’t think of the word play about the Forgotten Coast and Franklin County when we came up with the name,” Alex said. “We wanted people to remember Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, these communities, these neighborhoods, before Michael.
“Through art, photography, storytelling, that becomes a way that people will remember this place and never forget it.”
Next up, the Workmans partnered with Tallahassee designer Jesse Taylor to create a logo for a T-shirt as well as patches and pins.
As of the New Year, they had sold roughly 2,000 of their initial production run of shirts (2,500) and 600 or so patches and pins, items purchased from at least seven states.
The amount of money raised thus far has soared past $20,000.
Further, the Workmans wanted to provide donors a personal touch on where their money was going.
They partnered with award-winning photographer Jeremy Cowart and a drone pilot they frequently work with in Tallahassee, Jonathan Smith, to tell the stories of Mexico Beach business owners impacted by Michael.
For three days, the team stayed in Mexico Beach, hearing people’s stories, documenting the devastation.
Those stories and photos are found at the website www.NeverForgottenCoast.com which also features the t-shirts, patches and pins that support the campaign.
“It’s a story being told by a number of people who wouldn’t normally come together for something like this,” Alex said. “I think we’ve been able to humanize the impacts.
“And we feel being able to do that will do more to bring change.”
The campaign is now transitioning into the distribution of the money through mini-grants.
For starters, the Workmans have their own business and children to tend to.
The couple packs, label and mail each order from the website in their living room.
On the other hand, Shoaf has noted that several businesses will want to carry the t-shirts in their stores.
“At that point it becomes more sustainable,” Alex said.
“We’ll have one last production run (of shirts) and we will keep selling shirts until we run out and see where we are at.”