Shortly after Hurricane Michael savaged the area, particularly Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach, a Tallahassee couple picked up a challenge flag and spent three days in Mexico Beach.
At the time, in those days immediately after the storm, Alex and Chelsea Workman hoped to apply their skills as writers and artists to highlight the devastation, to provide a bit of education to the world beyond.
A particular focus was the small businesses that help drive the local economy and the near unanimous desire among those business owners to rebuild.
Chelsea’s father is a charter fisherman working out of Mexico Beach.
“I think with only one exception, people were just determined that they were coming back,” Alex Workman said. “And even that one exception, they just weren’t sure because they were close to retirement.”
The Workmans assigned a tag, #NeverForgottenCoast, to their campaign and created a website on which those stories are told, in photos by award-winning photographer Jeremy Cowart, and words.
Many of those words came from the 18 small-business owners interviewed.
In addition to the stories, the Workmans began broadened their approach, selling small items, patches and t-shirts at first and expanding to hats, decals and lapel pins, which visitors to the website could purchase.
All proceeds from those sales, in turn, were transformed, through assistance from fiscal agent the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association, into mini-grants provided to Mexico Beach businesses for expenses related to rebuilding and reopening.
The Workmans, Alex said, believed that helping the small businesses would have a compounding impact on the rebuild of the city.
“Businesses in Mexico Beach are getting up and running again, and we’re excited to see how these grants help that recovery continue,” Alex Workman said.
“They are making incredible strides, and we are honored to continue to help share their stories and partner with them to keep rebuilding.”
And, as of the 11-month mark post-Michael, Sept. 10, the Workmans had distributed more than $40,000 in mini-grants to small businesses in Mexico Beach.
“Progress has been made, but there is still a tremendous amount of work left to be done,” Alex Workman said. “Mexico Beach is running at less than 30 percent of its normal economic state and the road to recovery is long.”
The Workmans continue their efforts and will update progress on their website.
To find out you can help the campaign, visit neverforgottencoast.com or the #NeverForgottenCoast Facebook page.