Port St. Joe is being presented to a national audience by a Category 5 “class assignment.”
An “assignment” that as of the beginning of the week had been viewed by more than 45,000 people in seven days (25,000 within the first 24 hours), shared by nearly 900 and comments, well, the comments are immeasurable.
And this little project, this four-minute production, was massaged together in an hour after a tour of Port St. Joe by a teacher and her student while listening to the melodic voice of Stevie Nicks.
“It's definitely personal for me,” said Catherine Bouington, a senior at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School. “And it is amazing we have all these views and stuff, but at the time it just seemed like we were doing an assignment.”
Before moving ahead, first let us travel to Laurel, MS, the home base for a show on HGTV called “Home Town.”
Including their current season which began last month, the show follows Ben and Erin Napier as they renovate or rehab old or historic buildings in their home town of Laurel.
But they are soon to take the show on the road, so to speak, and announced a “Home Town Takeover” contest during which the couple would undertake about a half-dozen renovation projects in the winning small community somewhere in the country.
“They do not do new construction, it is all renovation and projects like that,” said Angel Parker, the media specialist at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School;
According to the website for the show, the only dates provided for the contest when it was announced recently were when the contest ended (last Friday) and that the takeover shows would air in 2021.
“We really don't know anything about when they will make a selection,” Parker said.
As to the “assignment,” Parker was leaving a recent meeting, was informed by a friend of the contest and essentially given the “assignment” of putting a community application together.
So, on a recent day, Parker asked for Bouington to be excused from class, they boarded Parker's vehicle, slapped in a Nicks tape (Nicks, not mix for younger readers) and set off.
Parker had read the rules of the contest and there were certain things the Napier's were seeking for any application, a package that included a handful of photos, a short essay detailing the history of the town and a short video.
For example, the Napiers wanted a restaurant they could renovate: Parker included images from the Sunset Coastal Grill; the couple sought something historic, Parker included images from the Port Theatre.
There was also a suggestion for an open space: the video includes the remnants of First Baptist Church and its potential as a park.
In the short essay, Parker wrote of the yellow fever epidemic and Great Tide of centuries past and what had happened to the town Oct. 10, 2018.
“There are a lot of entries so the odds are not great,” Parker said. “But I tried to meet the criteria and I think with our history …and we are strong, they will sense what this community is about.
“We are not going to be wiped off the map this time. We are coming back.”
So as she set off that day to compose the video, Parker had ideas for video content, but not much else.
“I had read what they were looking for but I wanted it to come from a student's point-of-view,” Parker said. “I thought that would have more impact.”
And in Bouington, and snippets of a video filmed after the storm by former student Austin Haynes and borrowed by Parker, the teacher knew she had the appropriate voices.
Bouington, the narrator, lost her family home on Palm Blvd. in Hurricane Michael; her family is living in a trailer in White City.
Haynes' home burned to the ground the day of Michael.
The video includes shots of Haynes looking over the rubble of his former home and Bouington standing in the empty lot where her home once stood, a part of the video shoot she called “hard.”
“We had no script, no preparation,” Bouington said. “We just kind of went and did it; so we could win.
“We wanted to win. But also we wanted to draw attention to our town and draw attention to what we are all going through.”
And, as Parker noted, the two wrapped the video in an hour, including closing credits to all that contributed to the music of Nicks' “Gypsy.”
Win or lose, Parker and Bouington put their community on the national map.
For Bouington, that has to be worth at least an A.