The Charlotte Community Foundation's (CCF) former Chief Executive Officer, Ashley Maher, was interviewed by the Long-Term Recovery interns to learn about her experiences and observations during Hurricane Ian. As a key figure in community development and disaster response, Maher provided valuable perspectives on the challenges faced and the opportunities for resilience moving forward.
The Charlotte Community Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for residents of Charlotte and surrounding areas. By supporting education, grant-making initiatives, and community development projects, CCF aims to empower individuals and foster a strong, resilient community.
Maher's role as CEO of CCF has allowed her to witness the positive impact of grant making and higher education scholarships on the community. She expressed her deep satisfaction in seeing lives transformed through the foundation's investments.
When asked about her concerns upon learning about the approaching Hurricane Ian, Ashley emphasized the importance of immediate preparation. CCF took proactive measures by assembling a response team, engaging with Team Rubicon prior to the storm, and deploying them to a designated facility. Additionally, they ensured connectivity with the community through out-of-state personnel managing social media and network outlets. CCF also provided financial assistance to those unable to afford evacuation, emphasizing the significance of safeguarding lives.
Discussing preparedness efforts before the storm, Maher highlighted the utilization of out-of-state personnel to manage social media and communication channels. Team Rubicon's preparedness, coordination with state VOAD, and engagement with the Florida Emergency Management Team were also instrumental. Martin acknowledged the importance of constant improvement while noting the swift implementation of Neighborly software in the initial days.
During the storm, Maher remained at home with her children. Reflecting on her experience, she acknowledged the lengthy duration of the storm but highlighted her ability to maintain composure and keep her family grounded. Stating “I am very calm when it comes to chaos.”
Witnessing the extensive damages caused by Hurricane Ian, Maher shared her immediate response. The morning after Ian, Ashely traveled to Englewood to check on family. She observed the devastation along Edgewater Drive—stating “What I first saw on Edgewater Drive was a distinct indication on how immense the damages were for the rest of the community.” While Punta Gorda suffered comparatively less damage, Maher credited improved building codes that were implemented after Hurricane Charlie. Expressing her surprise at the contrasting damages between Englewood and Punta Gorda, she emphasized the need for continued progress in constructing safer infrastructures in the forthcoming future.
Addressing the immediate challenges faced post-hurricane, she emphasized that CCF had adequately prepared for anticipated difficulties. Some challenges emerged from working with a diverse range of individuals, each with their own personalities and reactions to chaos. Ashley emphasized that responding respectfully and efficiently was very important, and her team successfully reached that goal. She further highlighted the challenge of addressing immediate financial needs, emphasizing the importance of effective communication and resource allocation to break the cycle of recurring vulnerabilities during hurricane seasons. Ashley stated, “We know about hurricane season all year long. I think as a community we can be better at communicating effectively. If folks dont know about the resources provided and how they can get help we will continue to go through the same cycle over and over again.”
When discussing the long-term effects of hurricane disasters, Maher stressed the toll they take on individuals and communities, mentioning the collective burnout effect. She calls for increased awareness and open discussions surrounding the emotional well-being of those affected. Having faced successive disasters like Irma, COVID-19, tornadoes, and now Ian, Ashley acknowledges the often overlooked mental impact these events have on society.
In terms of sacrifices made by CCF, Maher emphasized their commitment to community support. CCF opened their facility to accommodate Team Rubicon, providing approximately 80 cots within two days of the storm. They also facilitated COAD meetings, collaborated with St. Vincent dePaul for donations distribution—including assistance from out-of-county 18-wheelers—and coordinated plans with VOADs from other states. Despite their own challenges, CCF continued to manage local organizations, exemplifying their dedication to community recovery.
When asked about improvements for future disasters, Ashley emphasized the necessity of contracts with cell phone and internet providers. Such agreements would ensure the provision of additional Wi-Fi hotspots and cell phone packs, enabling quicker communication during emergencies. CCF is actively pursuing these contracts and investing in an app that enables offline access to vital resources and support when power and internet services are disrupted. Ashley also agrees that we need to advocate for safer and better building codes, so less destruction occurs in the future.
CCF actively collaborates with organizations such as COAD, working closely with numerous community entities even on non-disaster days. Maher identified opportunities for the community to develop resilience. She stressed the importance of leveraging the funding available after the storm to positively impact the community. By allocating resources to support those in survival mode and fostering resilience, the community can transform the adversity brought by Hurricane Ian into a catalyst for unity and strength.
About the LTRG
The Charlotte County Long-Term Recovery Group works to coordinate recovery services and build resiliency for individuals, families, and entities adversely impacted by Hurricane Ian in Charlotte County. Its purpose is to engage the community and create a vision while re-imagining the systems and landscape of our community. A plan will be created and published in the Fall of 2023. For more information, please contact us at LTRteam@gulfcoastpartnership.org.
About the Charlotte Community Foundation
Charlotte Community Foundation (CCF) envisions a community where all have equal opportunity to thrive. As a center for Philanthropy, CCF initiatives include grant-making and community partnership development, with an emphasis on higher education. The Foundation focuses exclusively on enhancing quality of life for Charlotte County residents and provides personalized donor services to help establish tax-advantageous charitable funds that support Charlotte County nonprofits.
The Charlotte Community Foundation was established in 1995, to serve the community as a 501c3, tax-exempt, public, charitable organization. The Foundation’s mission is “Connecting People Who Care with Causes That Matter.” To learn more on how your causes can lead to meaningful impact, visit www.charlottecf.org or by calling (941) 637-0077.