A team of employees from Pivot CPAs in Ponte Vedra Beach recently traveled to Panama City to help with the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Michael.
Kyle Vincent, an assurance senior at the firm, organized the efforts after he and his wife, Amy, traveled to the area a few days after the Oct. 10 storm to help Amy’s parents recover from serious damage they sustained.
“It was just really, really eye-opening when we went there,” Vincent said. “It was insane. Trees everywhere. People pulling up to their houses for the first time seeing their house was basically demolished. It was a nightmare.”
Before making that first trip, Vincent sent an email to his Pivot colleagues asking for donations of support, including water, supplies and money for gas. When he returned, he spoke to the firm’s partners, who ultimately decided to support a Pivot service trip. Within a week and a half, the firm assembled a team, including Vincent and his wife and colleagues, Jesica Martinez, Kunal Kishan and Chris Kennedy. They also created a GoFundMe page, asking clients, family and friends to make donations in support of their mission
The Pivot team left for Panama City Nov. 8 and returned changed people on Nov. 10.
“It was real humbling,” Kishan said. “I had seen a lot of stuff on the news but nothing as crazy as I thought I would be driving in.”
The Pivot team partnered with a Panama City church, Deerpoint Lake Assembly of God, to find those in need of their help. They first went to the home of Patti Miller, a member of the church who uses a wheelchair. According to Vincent, a tree had fallen on her home, and debris was blocking her driveway, so the team spent six hours helping her.
As they were finishing up, a family approached them and said a couple down the road could also use some help. The next morning, the Pivot team went to the home of Shawn Waters, whose driveway had not been cleared yet either. In addition, Waters shockingly told the team his wife died two days earlier on Nov. 7 from cancer. To make matters worse, the man told the Ponte Vedra team his landlord wasn’t providing him with any assistance in the recovery. Consequently, the Pivot team spent the day helping him.
“I think it was really eye-opening as to how good you can have it sometimes,” Vincent said. “Right now, over here, we don’t even think about this anymore. You saw it on the news when it was happening, you saw a little bit of the aftermath and then we just go on about our daily lives. All these people in Panama City are still suffering and you don’t realize it.”
In a blog written by Vincent on the Pivot website, he noted the team subsequently met with a pastor from the church to discuss their experiences. The pastor told them they were planning to rent a Bobcat for $3,000 a month to help with the recovery efforts. Vincent, in turn, said he handed the pastor a check and said, “Well, here is your first month’s rent.”
According to the team’s GoFundMe page, they have raised $4,700 for the recovery efforts, which means a lot to Kishan.
“It’s nice to know that I’m working for someone that actually understands the community comes first sometimes,” Kishan said. “They were willing to do what they had to do in order to help out.”
Since the team’s trip, Vincent and his wife have returned again to help, and he said the area is still completely devastated.
“Every morning you wake up to chainsaws,” Vincent said. “No matter what. Every single morning there are chainsaws at 6 a.m.”
As a result, Vincent and Kishan are encouraging others to do whatever they can to help.
“Obviously we weren’t able to conquer everything,” Kishan said, “but I think if you were able to just give back whatever you can, whether it’s time, a donation, supplies or anything, I think it’s important for us to all come together and really unite as one, not just during a tragedy like a hurricane, but in general as a country. We need to come together when times call for desperate needs.”