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The Osceola County School District Uses the 'Helping Kids Mini Grant' to Aid Students and Families Displaced from Hurricane Ian

No matter how different our stories may be, every Floridian remembers the 28th day of September in 2022. That's when Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida, but the storm's impacts were felt across the entire state.

This is the story of Quirna Martinez and her three kids: Emiahyaz, 10; Jeamie, 8; and Kiry, 7.

Martinez spent the days leading up to the storm filling sandbags, buying supplies, and making sure her family of four was prepared. Having moved from Connecticut in 2017, she was used to riding out snowstorms, not hurricanes.

Her oldest son, Emiahyaz, summed up their experience in one word: "scary."

Martinez tucked her children into bed and continued to monitor the storm from her window with the help of local news stations. Before she knew it, water was pouring inside her apartment unit.

"Water started coming in inside the walls," said Martinez. " The toilet, the bathtub, everything was just backing up with water."

She made a call to request a rescue team but was told rescuers were grounded until the brunt of the storm passed. That's when her motherly instincts kicked in.

"I'm thinking about how I am going to get on the roof with my three kids and my dog," said Martinez. "Because that's the only upper level that we had."

Emiahyaz remembers his mom waking him up. "The water was pretty much taller than me."

During her hurricane preparations, Martinez had set aside three children's life jackets. She fastened each one on her children, grabbed her dog, and started swimming.

"We swam to the other side of our complex," said Martinez.

Once they got to the opposite side of the complex, the water levels dipped, allowing the family to wade through the water.

"What we had to do was go across the street to the different apartment complex because they were at a higher level than us," said Emiahyaz. "We stood there [at the top of the covered stairwell], we dried up, we changed clothes and we stood there for a long time."

"[We were] basically in shock, waiting for rescue [teams] to come," said Martinez.

Once the rain cleared out in the morning, rescue crews led Martinez and her family to safety. It's been four months and the family is still without a home.

"I'm glad that I'm alive with my kids," Martinez said through tearful eyes. "Yeah, I lost everything, but we're alive. Little by little we are getting where we want to get. I'm still waiting for an apartment because they still haven't fixed the place where we used to live. So, we're still staying at a hotel temporarily, but I haven't lost hope."

The love and compassion that has resonated throughout our community since Hurricane Ian has helped this family of four stay strong.

"A lot of people have been helping out," said Martinez. "The school system being a very, very good source of support in that area as well."

School provides Emiahyaz with a sense of normalcy.

"I just really focus on my grades and paying attention in class," said Emiahyaz. "It's a distraction for me, so I don't think about all the bad things that happened during Hurricane Ian."

In January, Superintendent of Osceola County Schools, Dr. Debra Pace, met with the family at Pleasant Hill Elementary School to give them another means of support.

"We know it is a continuous struggle because, unfortunately, you lost so much," said Dr. Pace. "I have here a gift card for all three of your children, and you can buy whatever it is that you need."

These $60 gift cards were distributed to all 118 students in Osceola County who were displaced from their homes following Hurricane Ian after our district obtained the Helping Kids Mini Grant from The School Superintendents Association and Sourcewell.

“I'm grateful," said Martinez. "Thank you so, so, so, so much from the bottom of my heart."

Martinez says she plans to use those gift cards for her kids.

"The three of them came home with good grades from the report cards," said Martinez. "With everything that they've been through, they still pulled off the grades. So, yeah, Mommy's got to praise them for that."

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