Windermere church, school partner to clean up Irma aftermath

More than 100 volunteers from First Baptist Church Windermere and Windermere Preparatory School gathered to clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in downtown Windermere.

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  • | 4:34 p.m. September 28, 2017
  • Southwest Orange
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WINDERMERE  Just 48 hours after Hurricane Irma passed through West Orange County, more than 100 volunteers put on their athletic clothes, grabbed rakes and gloves and braved the 90-degree heat.

Despite the heat, the dust and grime, the relentless sun rays filtering through the leaves in the trees, they descended on First Baptist Church Windermere and got straight to work. Some were still without power and knew they would be going home after to a warm house and a cold shower. 

But it didn’t stop them from following the call to help others in their community.



On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the volunteers from Windermere Preparatory School and FBC Windermere spent their morning and some of the afternoon cutting fallen trees, raking leaves, picking up branches and twigs and cleaning up around the church campus and the town. They weren’t asked to help — they just did it. 

“We wanted to be sensitive to making sure that people had their power back first, but we also wanted to prepare for the weekend,” said FBC Windermere Pastor Chuck Carter. “I just sent out an email to the staff and said, ‘Instead of working tomorrow, we’re going to come in and do yard work, and y’all can invite people that you know.’ So I think we’re at about 100 to 120 people here.”

Members of Carter’s congregation arrived at 9 a.m. geared up to sweat and work hard. They unloaded cars filled with garden and landscaping tools — buckets, shovels, rakes, leaf blowers and gloves among them — as well as coolers filled with water bottles.  

“Unfortunately, it takes a hurricane for us to get together like this, but for whatever it’s worth, it’s what this world is all about — coming together and helping each other.” — Deborah Garson, FBC Windermere member

Students from Windermere Prep soon joined them, and groups split off to tackle different areas of the church campus and downtown. 

Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn said the town had hundreds of downed trees, which were impeding progress in restoring power. To see community members organize a clean-up effort was wonderful, he said.

“They’re all strictly volunteer; they did this completely on their own and just wanted to give back to the community,” Bruhn said. “It’s wonderful, and it’s taking away a lot of the work that our Public Works (has to do). It allows our Public Works to spend time doing things that are more demanding that require heavy equipment, and not cleaning up the minor debris that we’re seeing here. … You can see the man hours that are involved here.”

Volunteers Nelson Bonet and Zach Taggert worked together to dump a load of debris onto a machine.
Volunteers Nelson Bonet and Zach Taggert worked together to dump a load of debris onto a machine.



Near Town Hall, Windermere Prep students blasted Bon Jovi and Journey from a car speaker as they moved fallen branches and leaves to trash bags and bins. 

In front of FBC Windermere, children pitched in with rakes as the teens and adults cut up large branches and gathered more debris in buckets and bins of all sizes. Machines came by to pick up loads of debris and dropped it off in a collection pile nearby, as some church members walked around clearing pathways with leaf blowers.

Near Central Park, church member Deborah Garson worked alone at some points with her rake, happy to help clean the back of the church.

Garson, a 12-year Keene’s Pointe resident, had been on her way to work that morning when she noticed just how much work needed to be done around her.

“I was on my way to work and said, ‘God, what can I do?’” Garson said. “Here I am thinking about going to work, and then when I look around me I see work all around. Why am I going to work in the interior of an office when my exterior, my community and surroundings, needs work done? I decided to turn around and work on the outside first before I work on the inside.”

She returned home, changed and headed to downtown Windermere with her rake and a supply of water. After seeing many people taking care of the church campus, she decided to begin cleanup near Central Park.

“I just came back, and I see a lot of work to be done, helping the church and the community,” Garson said. “I went to the front of the church and said, ‘You know, God also walks through the back of the house.’ So we can’t always just focus on the front of the church, let me focus on the back. My background, too, is in the hotel industry, and we have to make sure that the back of the house is as clean as the front of the house.”

As Carter walked around helping his church family clean up Irma’s aftermath he couldn’t help but think of the past Sunday’s message, where church leaders said there is a lot to be learned in the midst of a storm.

“It’s really good to see people here who don’t have power still, haven’t had a shower or just had a cold shower and they’re out here doing this,” he said. “It’s just really encouraging. For us it really was an opportunity to be the church and to help our neighbors and come together and do this.”

And Garson, who was in Jamaica in 1988 when Category 5 Hurricane Gilbert blasted through, agreed with his sentiments as she watched her community come together.

“There is a need for us to help each other,” she said. “No one stands alone, and this is what we’re here to do. … It’s a community spirit that I can feel. Unfortunately it takes a hurricane for us to get together like this, but for whatever it’s worth, it’s what this world is all about — coming together and helping each other.”


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