Todd Wedemeier stood at the foot of the front steps to his Wewahitchka and home and said he believed rebuilding, returning, restoring what had been lost would rest on people working together.
Side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, collaboration.
That sentiment is fine a jumping-off spot to tell the latest chapter in Wedemeier’s story and explain why his front yard was occupied Monday afternoon by federal, state and private sector officials.
All there to celebrate Wedemeier’s home, or rather the collaboration that made it possible for this low-income disabled veteran to spend the days, months and, should he wish, years ahead in a newly-built two-bedroom home.
A bit of background will be handy about now.
Wedermeier was living his relatively quiet existence in Creek Wood Estates off County 386 when Hurricane Michael turned his world, well, flat.
The mobile home Wedermeier was living in was destroyed and what was left was his shed out back.
With the slight renovations, steps for instance, he’d done, it may have measured 8-feet by 8-feet, which is likely wildly optimistic.
Some prison cells are surely larger.
On top of that, the roof leaked with the rain and there was no plumbing.
A port-o-potty in the front yard was the bathroom and a garden hose provided his showers, sans heat.
Wedermeier existed that way for just shy of six months, the first three weeks of that without power.
“It was crazy,” Wedermeier said. “There were some times I thought I was going to lose it” before adding what may have been one of the understatements of the young year:
“I sure learned a lot about being appreciative of things.”
We’ll focus now on Joe Paul, the county’s Veteran Services Officer as well as administrator of the county’s State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP).
In the days immediately following Michael, Paul knew he would have a significant uptick in need, particularly for housing, among the most vulnerable in the county.
He applied early for funding from a $5 million disaster fund earmarked by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which was described as the state’s “affordable housing bank.”
Florida Housing also funds local SHIP programs.
The county sought $750,000; Florida Housing allocated $764,800, more than twice the county’s typical annual allotment.
“We pride ourselves on getting the money out quickly,” said Nancy Mueller, policy director for Florida Housing. “I work in an office. We appreciate coming out to see what the money does.”
Paul’s next task was fielding candidates, low- or very-low income residents, and assessing how far he could carry the disaster dollars.
From a list of 10 eligible candidates, two were quickly eliminated as their homes were not completely destroyed; SHIP funds will assist in renovations down the road, Paul said.
Having identified eight eligible candidates without homes, Paul went shopping and found Scott Collins and Showcase Homes in Lake City.
Collins is an independent dealer for Clayton Homes and Collins reached out to his regional manufacturer in Waco, TX.
“None of this would have been possible without them,” Paul said.
And by the time the manufacturer and dealer massaged costs and the bottom line, the county was able to secure modular homes costing nearly $75,000 apiece for under $60,000 per home.
“We are just so happy to be a part of this,” said Brian Hartley of Clayton Homes. “We see the need here for affordable housing.”
All that in place, the final piece of the puzzle came on the scene in the form of Sam’s Mobile Home Service out of Crystal River, the company, with co-owner Richard Rayburn doing the heavy lifting, installing/building each home.
“You see the devastation you they have gone through here and it is heartbreaking,” Rayburn said. “We are here to help. We are here to help as many as we can.”
All that collaboration resulted in eight needy individuals and families, all living in the Wewahitchka area, receiving new homes to replace ones that no longer stood.
Among the eight recipients were three disabled veterans and one spouse of a deceased veteran.
And this brings us back to the disabled veteran Wedermeier and his outlook at the hurricane and the impact.
Despite the loss of his home, the loss of most creature comforts we take so much for granted and living without any of those comforts for months, here was standing a man just looking to help others.
As so many others helped him.
“After the storm I wanted to stick around for the cleanup,” Wedermeier said. “I wanted to help anybody I could. I work for a trucking company and I’ve been doing anything I can.
“I think that is what it is all about.”