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With school start looming, Bay District Schools helps house employees left homeless by Hurricane Michael


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BDS Director of Communications Sharon Michalik has been matching employees left homeless by the storm with those willing to take someone in. So far, she’s matched around 10, but there are well over 80 families still in need of help.

LYNN HAVEN — Less than three weeks after her husband and brother desperately held the French doors to their living room closed for three hours against Hurricane Michael’s howling winds while she and her sister-in-law frantically placed buckets under every vent, chandelier and light fixture to stem the leaking tide, Lisa Cryderman knew two things — she would need to find a new place to live for an undetermined amount of time, and she needed to report to work.

The Mowat Middle School teacher, like all district employees who were able, returned to work on Monday — 19 days after the third strongest hurricane on record slammed into the Florida Panhandle with Bay County in its sights. The landscape, and life as many know it, might have changed, but one thing remains the same, students have to go to school.

“I see it both ways,” Cryderman said while packing up her belongings Thursday. “Students have to go to school and get back into some sort of routine and some sort of normal.”

But while Cryderman insists she and her family are fine — they had been staying in the ruined rental house but recently found a place on the Beach to stay while repairs are carried out — many of her co-workers at Mowat have lost everything and have no idea where they’re going to stay or how they’re going to get to work.

“The hardest part for a lot of teachers is living so far away because they weren’t able to find a place to stay in town and they’re expected to commute to work starting this week,” Cryderman said, adding that she expects her commute from the Beach to Lynn Haven to take about two hours with post-Hurricane traffic. Some teachers, she said, are putting together carpool groups to help get everyone to work on time.

It’s not just Mowat, said Sharon Michalik, district director of communications. It’s all of the more than 40 schools in Bay District dealing with this issue. And it’s not just teachers, but everyone from bus drivers, front office clerks, administrators, food service workers and paraprofessionals, she said.

“This storm didn’t discriminate,” said Michalik. “All of our employees have been impacted by this and all of our employees are mission critical.”

Recognizing that need, Michalik has begun a sort of matchmaking service, if you will, taking district employees who need homes and matching them with other district employees, or friends or even neighbors, who are willing to take them in. As of Saturday, Michalik said she had 86 families needing emergency housing assistance, but she expects that number to grow as employees report to work for the first time since the hurricane.


“We’re just making these connections, one by one,” Michalik said. “We’re going to solve this one by one. There’s no great secret apartment complex that is waiting to take in 200 families.

“We’re going to do this one home at a time. That’s how we’re going to solve this.”

Michalik said so far she’s been able to match about 10 families with temporary housing, including a couple she’s taking into her own home. On Saturday, Michalik was clearing out space on her second floor for the Bay District Schools employee and her husband to move in.

“It will be interesting and just another phase of the adventure,” Michalik said. “But we lead by example and I can’t ask anyone to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

Last week, Michalik sent out an email blast to all employees, making them aware of the situation and asking them to “step up” if they’re able to help out their co-workers. They run the gamut of needs — from single men and women to older couples to small families with pets — and abilities to pay, with some eligible for FEMA or insurance benefits and others with nothing but the clothes on their back, so matching has been a “laborious” task, but it’s one Michalik has been glad to take on. She’s even recruited several of her neighbors in the largely untouched West End neighborhood where she lives to take in other employees.

“I know it’s important because I can’t imagine being homeless,” she said. “And if that’s what I can do, if I can take that off someone’s plate and find them a home, I can think of no more important task.”

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