FORT WALTON BEACH — Staff members at CareerSource Okaloosa Walton have been recognized as Hurricane Michael Heroes by CareerSource Gulf Coast. Both organizations provide no-cost workforce solutions to career seekers and employers in Okaloosa and Walton counties and in Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties respectively.

On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the area of the Florida Panhandle served by CareerSource Gulf Coast, destroying or damaging much along its path. CareerSource Gulf Coast’s 18,000-square-foot job center was severely damaged, forcing the center to relocate to a temporary office at C.C. Washington Academy in Panama City. Additionally, for the staff at CareerSource Gulf Coast, the hurricane created a number of difficult personal and professional issues. Homes, vehicles and lives were wrecked. Communication was limited, and staff was displaced. There was also grave concern about how the region would serve its community when electricity, internet access and technology were unavailable.

CareerSource Okaloosa Walton Executive Director Michele Burns contacted Bodine before and after the hurricane asking what resources were needed and seeing that those resources were made available.

Over a period of six weeks in the wake of the hurricane, CareerSource Okaloosa Walton provided seven staff members — Terry Cowan, Lashunda Thomas, Mary Travis, Valerie McLaughlin, Randy Hunter, Rickelle Giles and Babette Southard — who aided residents in the hurricane-ravaged area with Disaster Unemployment Assistance applications.

CareerSource Okaloosa Walton also provided a fully-functional mobile unit equipped with computers and internet access.

Through the support of CareerSource Okaloosa Walton, CareerSource Gulf Coast was able to assist more than 10,000 individuals in applying for Emergency Disaster Unemployment Assistance.

“These awards are just a small token for the post-disaster response from CareerSource Okaloosa Walton workforce partners,” said Kim Bodine, executive director of CareerSource Gulf Coast. “These individuals left their families, air-conditioned homes and the amenities with which we are accustomed. They came into a hurricane-devastated area with no electricity and little cell phone service. They worked out of both a mobile unit powered by generators and the front of our hot/humid, moldy, flooded Job Center to help us serve our citizens. Words really are not enough to express the gratitude we have for their support after this disaster.”

The Hurricane Michael Hero awards presented to the CareeerSource Okaloosa Walton staff members included a quote by the late Maya Angelou, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”