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#NeverForgottenCoast

$4,165 of $20,000 goal

Raised by 33 people in 7 months
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On October 10th, Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle leaving a level of devastation and destruction never before seen by the state. Michael was the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the Florida panhandle and was the third strongest storm in U.S. history. The storm had its most dramatic impact on the small coastal town of Mexico Beach, in Bay County, Florida. The storm leveled everything in its path, the homes and businesses that made up this vibrant community are gone, leaving many with nothing to return to.

The Workmans, a husband and wife creative team in Tallahassee, Florida, were personally affected by the storm. Chelsea Workman's father is a small-business owner in Mexico Beach whose personal business was severely impacted. The Workmans saw his struggle and the struggle of many other community members trying to recover and knew they had to help. The Workmans partnered with Tallahassee designer, Jesse Taylor, to start the Never Forgotten Coast campaign. The team designed a logo for their project and is actively printing and selling merch both online and through local pop-up shops to raise funds for the recovery efforts. They also partnered with award-winning Nashville photographer, Jeremy Cowart, and Tallahassee drone pilot, Jonathan Smith, to capture the stories of Mexico Beach and put faces to the city that has been a home and a destination for people all over the world.

The funds raised by the Never Forgotten Coast campaign will be used by local non-profits in Mexico Beach to provide micro-grants for small businesses and individuals to help cover what insurance will not. Our goal is to help the local economy get back up and running so that locals can get back to work and return to their normal lives. If we can provide opportunities to shop, eat and do business, then we can speed up the rebuilding process and help the community recover. Even something seemingly small, like a micro-grant, can have a significant impact on the region's economic recovery. Mexico Beach is filled with character and they have the grit and determination to rebuild better than before.

Last month,  the campaign began sharing stories of Mexico Beach business owners, along with incredible imagery from Jeremy Cowart. Follow along and support our recovery efforts at NeverForgottenCoast.com.

For press inquiries, email hello(at)wearetheworkmans(dot)com.
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George Hunter - Shell Shack

I was born and raised in Mexico Beach. My parent’s built the building that the Shell Shack was in, in 1967 and about 10 years ago, my wife and I took over the business. There was hardly anything there when they opened and it’s been growing ever since. My mom and dad started the business selling bait and tackle and mom made little novelties from seashells, but we also carried fresh seafood and had a little retail market.

I love the quietness of Mexico Beach and the people that are here. You get to know people over the years and you start to see people coming back year after year. 99% of the people that live here and visit here are great people. You just ignore the ones that aren’t but most people don’t realize how special this place has become because of the people that are here.

Anytime you see a storm build up off the little corner of the peninsula, they always make me a little nervous because they almost always come due North. We got everything ready to stay and my buddy down the road asked to stay with us, because I don’t leave unless the winds are at least over 100mph winds and at that point, it was only forecast to be a 1 or a 2. After we cleaned out the basement and boarded up the windows Tuesday, we went to bed and honestly, I really wasn’t that nervous.

My buddy who was going to stay with us called me Wednesday morning about 5:30 and said “You really need to look at the weather. We’re not coming to your house anymore.” So at that point, I got nervous. My sons live really close to our house so I called them and told them we needed to make different plans so we went to Wewa to my sister-in-law’s house.

We were watching trees fall and fences blow down. We saw one of those huge towers standing, then had a big squall line come through, then as soon as it let up, the tower was gone. At 3pm, the winds died down enough that we started heading home. From 3-11pm, we cut through pine trees, trying to cut enough of a path to get to Overstreet to make sure everyone was ok. I just knew from seeing all the trees that it was going to be bad. I had some friends text me and tell me to not even worry about rushing to the store because everything was just gone. It was just a gut-wrenching feeling to know everything you’d worked so hard for was destroyed.

I never expected what I saw. I’d had at least 5 feet of water in the building. The roof was caved in and the windows were blown out. It was a mess. I felt so bad because it wasn’t just me. It was everyone. I’ve seen this place developed over the years from a few houses to what it had become and it was just amazing to see how much was wiped away. Every time I go down there now, I keep realizing more things are gone.

But we had some amazing customers. Most of our customers were repeats and they were all special. I had a customer call me from Colorado at about 11pm one night after the storm. I answered the phone very confused and he proceeded to tell me that he had called just about every George Hunter in the state of FL because he had 3 great aunts who needed to make sure I was still alive.

In my view, we better get ready to embrace some change. We do plan to rebuild if we don’t have to go up too high. If I have to go up 10 feet, I’ll have to put an elevator in for handicap and I just don’t know if I can afford that even with the good business that I had. We’ve already hired an engineer so we are currently moving forward but I know it will take a long time. Most of my revenue is tourism and right now there’s nowhere to stay, so I’m in no hurry to get a gift shop back up and running. On the bright side though, my view at the Shell Shack has improved quite a bit and the beach is looking great.
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Ralph & Cathey Hobbs - Parker Realty

I moved to Mexico Beach in 1949 with my father, mother, sister, grandmother and uncle. My parents were active founding members of this community. My grandmother owned and operated Mexico Beach Grocery and my father became the first Mayor of Mexico Beach in 1969. My parents started their real estate business in the rear of Mexico Beach Grocery and in the late 1950s, they moved to the current location on Highway 98. We added on to the building and renovated it, and after my father passed away in 2003, I became the owner and active broker of Parker Realty.

I grew up here and I love everything about this place. It’s more than just a place for me. It’s my home. It holds so many memories from so many different times in my life. We watched it grow from not much to the special place it is today.

The Tuesday before the storm hit, they were still projecting it to hit as a 3, so we were staying. We went through Opal in 1995 so we weren’t that worried about it. But when the barometric pressure kept changing and it kept growing stronger, we made the decision to leave at midnight. It was a decision that was made very hesitantly and honestly, the family made me go because I didn’t want to. But I don’t regret leaving, especially after seeing what it did to this city.

It was just unbelievable. Opal wasn’t even bad compared to this. Opal was definitely bad, but Michael is almost beyond comprehension. We could’ve never even dreamed it would be like this. We never dreamed that this would happen to our home, our business, our life. All of our rentals are gone. Our office is torn apart. We lost 2 cars. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff, but it’s so hard to believe.

For the time being, we are shifting our focus to sales because all of our rental properties are gone. We are working to rebuild our office so we can be up and back to our new normal as soon as possible. As for our city, we would love to have it back like it was. It was such an incredible place and unfortunately, I think it will lose a little bit of it’s charm. But we will be here and die here because it’s Mexico Beach and it’s the only place we ever want to be.

As time goes on, things change and things have to progress. People usually don’t like it, but it’s necessary for growth. Now that our city is pretty much a blank slate, it’s time to make some progress and update some things. We can make things more efficient and better than they were before. We can get this city to come back to life. It will be different but it will come back. And eventually, our snowbirds will come back and our families that vacation will come back. You don’t come to a place for 25/30 years and then just stop. They won’t give up on us and we won’t give up on rebuilding.
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Wylie Petty - El Governor Motel

I moved to Mexico Beach in 1993. I started working at the Top of the Gulf restaurant, which was owned by the El Governor Motel. When they closed the restaurant, Mr. Baxter, who owned the El Governor asked me to come work for him, so I started in maintenance at the hotel cleaning up from Hurricane Opal and construction of the Annex. Moved into security, then moved to assistant manager then in 1997, became the General Manager. We have a huge repeat clientele and we have people that still come year after year, from long before I even became the manager.

Mexico Beach is Mayberry on the Beach. All the people who own and run the businesses here are people who live here. They care so much and there's no one who can run the business like you can and will, so they want to do it right. I’m the chairman of special events committee, that raises money for the fireworks show at 4th of July and puts on the gumbo festival and the art and wine festival. The El Governor sponsors and decorates the park for Christmas. The El governor is like the heartbeat of Mexico Beach. It's the biggest property in the city. We're so blessed to be there, so we feel like it's our responsibility to bless the community in return.

Plans for the hurricane were a topic of conversation because we were planning for the Art & Wine festival that following weekend. We debated on canceling but we decided to wait and see what happened because at the time, it was just a Category 2. Next day, I made a choice to cancel because it was just starting to get crazy and once I got into the El Governor, we had just got word from the city that there was going to be a mandatory evacuation. It made my job harder because there was a lot of rearranging to do, bills to settle, rooms to evacuate, but once I got everything done, I went home in Calloway. My partner was at his mother’s house helping build a porch on her house so I told him to just stay there and I would ride it out at home. I didn't think anything of it because I've been through many storms.

The first part of the storm, the winds were blowing straight down my road, so I thought, as long as they continued to do that, we would be ok. The eye wall went over and it was just like everyone says. The wind stopped, the sky was blue, everyone went outside to assess damage. But as soon as the winds started picking up again, it hit everyone that we were only in the eye and it was about to get ugly. The wind started blowing straight at my house. I was scared to death and I took my dogs into the bathroom. I heard my front door blow in and heard some things break, so I ran out into the living room and realized the pressure and the wind had busted my deadbolt. So I stood at my door for 2 1/2 hours holding my door closed. I got knocked down twice, but I just kept saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over until it finally let up.

When it was all over, the house ended up being ok. We didn’t have any trees fall and we had stuff all in the yard, but I have friends and neighbors who don’t have homes anymore. There were houses in the road. It was unbelievable. My mind just went straight to cleaning up because I needed something to do, but as soon as my partner got home, I gave him a hug and just broke down and lost it. I was like I was in shock. At the motel, we had two birds, Charlie and Angel. The guests loved them and we had them for about 2 years. For the storm, we moved them to the bookkeepers office on the third floor, so my mind went from my home to finding these birds. So when I got there, I whistled to try to call them and they whistled back. So I was able to beat the door in and we got the birds.

For me, I’m back working at the motel, but I’ve lost basically every employee. They’ve sold their houses, moved away, they're gone. For the motel itself, it got torn apart a good bit, but we've been deemed safe and structurally sound by architectural engineers. The city hasn't let us know if we are damaged more than 50% and we don’t know the new rules yet, but we’re moving in the right direction to get everything fixed up and back open.

I'm scared that Mexico Beach will lose its spirit and what everyone fell in love with when they moved/visited. With new building codes, it'll be really expensive to rebuild. You’ll basically have to be rich to build and you have to have that middle class to work, so I worry about what we're going to look like. But as long I'm there, I'm not going to let people forget what we were. It's a small town but it's beautiful and I love it. I've never felt more at home.
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Dena Frost - Frost Pottery

My husband and I were living in Lafayette, Louisiana and we decided to just get away one weekend. We headed to Panama City because we used to love going there, but when we got there, they were in the process of tearing down the hotel we used to stay in to put up a high rise. So we decided to keep driving East for the first time ever, and arrived in Mexico Beach. We knew as soon as we got there that we wanted to live there because it just immediately felt like home.

Shortly after, Katrina hit our area and people were in need of homes, so we put our home up for sale, sold it quickly and went to Mexico Beach to find a place to live. We spent the first 5 years right outside Mexico Beach and we opened Frost Pottery. We finally found a spot in Mexico Beach so we picked everything up and moved it into town. Our business was just a happy place. We made so many friends, we taught people how to grow things and we gave people our time when they came to see us.

We had been having an incredible year, but in August, my husband passed away. We had worked so hard, building this business together, and I was hoping we would have more time to just enjoy what we had created.

We had packed up the garden many times for hurricane and we had never had damage of any significant before. But this one came really quick, without much warning. We packed up as much as we could and put things inside the building. I didn’t want to leave because it was not only my business and what I had worked hard to build, but it was also like I was leaving my husband behind. We ended up leaving with a bunch of people who didn’t have a place to go and we got up to Enterprise, AL, where we watched what was happening at our home.

Thursday, a few of us headed back to Mexico Beach and I made it to where Toucan’s was. It was a horrible drive. It was bizarre because the only people that were here were people with dogs looking for bodies. I was able to get to my house. It had been wrecked. The front porch, back porch and roof were blown off and it had taken in about a foot of water.

Someone was able to get out and walk around farther down the road and they brought me back a picture of the pottery garden. It just broke my heart. It was like losing my husband all over again. I just didn’t know how I could lose so much in such a short time period. I knew it was going to be really bad, but I still didn’t expect to see what I saw. Michael just destroyed our home, our business, and our lives. It just took everything.

A few days later they were just grabbing stuff in massive piles and just throwing everything away. It didn’t matter what it was, they were just clearing it all out. Luckily we knew someone who was able to hold them off from clearing out the pottery that was left on the property. We didn’t know what we were going to do because it was way more work than we could handle, so we posted it on Facebook and had 60K hits on the post with people from all over wanting to help. The problem however was that they weren’t letting anyone in to help.

I knew that I couldn’t let the pottery garden die, so for now, we’ve moved into a building in Eastpoint. Our plan is to keep that space open and when Mexico Beach is ready, then we will bring another location back to Mexico Beach, because this is where it began and it should be here. For a little town, we were very wealthy with friends. I miss seeing them and I’m hoping we can get back to each other soon. This has been a really hard thing to deal with and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

We’ve had customers donate things to us and we might do some fundraisers because we have a long way to go. The amount of people who have reached out has been incredible. We’ll get through it and we’ll do what we can with what we have. But we will definitely rebuild and regrow the pottery garden.
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$4,165 of $20,000 goal

Raised by 33 people in 7 months
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