By Oscar DiVeroli, EO South Florida
Just two days before Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, the Directors’ Forum cancelled our 19th annual retreat to the greater Boston region. Most of our Forum evacuated the South Florida area in advance of widespread power outages, localized flooding and scattered storm debris. Several weeks later, the Directors’ Forum unanimously decided to schedule our make-up retreat in the Florida Keys, which sustained considerable damage, as a sign of community support.
The Florida Keys is a string of islands connected by the 120-mile Overseas Highway. Ten weeks after the hurricane, while driving down to our retreat venue just three hours south of us, we observed mountains of hurricane debris alongside the roadway. Unlike the debris at home, which was primarily landscaping, this debris included personal possessions, pieces and parts of homes and roofs, and boats. Needless to say, pockets of the Florida Keys were devastated, leaving some residents homeless, but not helpless.
Our Forum rented the “Retreat House” in Marathon. The property offered the ideal environment for us to conduct meaningful exercises that were beyond phenomenal. We also met with the mayor of Key West, Craig Cates, and the CEO of KeysStrong.org, Elmira Leto, a relief organization founded after hurricane Irma. Collectively, the folks of the Keys are a hearty bunch of folks that remain supportive of one another. Countless residents were left homeless, and yet those were the first to volunteer to work in food kitchens and shelters.
We perused the famed Duval Street and its drinking establishments, including Sloppy Joe’s—the “go-to bar” for Ernest Hemingway. We took a sunset cruise on the historic 80-foot “When and If” schooner, which was commissioned by General George Patton in 1939.
Interacting with locals throughout the Keys was inspiring. The sentiment of the locals—or as they consider themselves, “conchs”—was refreshing. They may be down, but by no means are they out. The city and surrounding areas are vibrant, and they want to spread the word that they are “open for business.”
My entire Forum will be returning to the Florida Keys. Chapter leadership will be following the steps of the Directors’ Forum by having a retreat there in the next several months, and donations were extended to KeysStrong.org.
We are grateful to and appreciative of the amazing people that we met and the life memories that were made.
Stay KEYS STRONG!