Hurricane Michael Impacts ARA Employees in Florida - Donate Today

ARA establishes donation fund to help impacted employees
11/8/18

Hurricane Michael damageTo make your donation through ARA's Employee Assistance Fund, please visit: https://emergencyassistancefdn.org/ara-employee-assistance-fund/.

Giant trees snapping like toothpicks. Violent winds. Shattering glass.

These are the sounds Brandi Tagirs, a junior marketing generalist with ARA's Engineering Science Division, heard as Category 4 Hurricane Michael passed over her Panama City, FL home while she took shelter with family and two dogs in her bathroom Oct. 10.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Brandi recalled. “It was very powerful. It was very scary.”

Brandi lived in a non-mandatory evacuation zone, and decided to ride out the storm at home, believing they were far enough inland that they would avoid the worst of it. But, like many Floridians, they would soon discover the storm was far worse than they could have imagined.

“It looked very ominous, but at first we felt like we were safe,” she said. “As the storm built up strength, we were like ‘okay, this is it, this is going to be the worst part,’ but it just kept gaining strength,” she said.

Eventually, the powerful wind shattered a window and blew out an exterior door in her bedroom, sucking personal belongings out into the yard. Later she’d discover a wall was knocked off the foundation and was hanging from the roof, and the roofs had been ripped off her sheds.

When the storm finally passed, “we stepped out into our neighborhood and we saw this destruction and it was just breathtaking.”

“It’s hard to explain the devastation,” she said. “You look at it and it’s truly like a horror movie.  It’s just not the same city anymore.”

Hurricane Michael damageWhile damages are still being assessed, the hurricane, the strongest storm on record in the Florida Panhandle with winds reaching 155 mph, has caused dozens of fatalities and billions of dollars in damage due to the severe winds, heavy rains, and storm surges.

With offices in Panama City and on Tyndall Air Force Base, numerous ARA employees like Brandi were impacted by the hurricane; some experienced considerable property damage, and a few lost their homes completely, enduring many days without power, running water, and other basic necessities.

“The day after the storm, it was very surreal,” Brandi recalled. “That was when reality hit. It’s heartbreaking.”

Thankfully, all ARA employees were safe, but the hurricane damage and recovery efforts have put a huge financial strain on many. Brandi’s home, like many others, sustained significant damage. “Really, the house should be knocked down,” she said.

In order to help relieve the financial burden, ARA has donated $100,000 into a newly-established disaster relief and hardship fund, The ARA Employee Assistance Fund, to directly support employees' needs. In addition, ARA will match employee donations 1:1 up to $20,000.

Since the storm, Brandi and her significant other have been have bounced around to four different hotels, initially paying out of pocket, and have a two-hour commute to work each way. They planned to stay in the hotel until the end of November, but lost FEMA assistance two weeks earlier than anticipated.

Thanks to The ARA Employee Assistance Fund, Brandi, who has no family in the area to stay with, will now be able to afford a place to stay.

“I can’t express my gratitude enough because if not for that money, I would literally be homeless,” she said.

Despite all Brandi has been through – the chaos of the storm’s aftermath, the loss of her home and many personal possessions, the financial burden, and the uncertainty of what the future might bring – she has kept a calm and optimistic outlook.

“I feel like it’s just a matter of counting the blessings and looking at it in a positive light,” she said. “Good things are going to come from it and despite how bad the situation is, there is a lot to be grateful for. That’s what each day really is about, counting blessings. I feel a lot of sadness for having to lose my home, but there’s a lot to be thankful for. So many others, they don’t have jobs to return to, they really struggled, and they took a serious hit.”

Brandi said she’s grateful that ARA leadership took swift action to support its employees. In the early days after the storm, ARA leaders rallied together to organize assistance, providing generators, coordinating personal leave donations, and more. Now, ARA leaders hope employees companywide will come together to continue to support their colleagues in ARA’s Florida offices in their time of need through donations to The ARA Employee Assistance Fund.

“The leaders here at ARA were just extremely compassionate,” Brandi said. “They were very quick to get us back to a feeling of normality.”

American flag in Hurricane Michael aftermathShe said her neighbors banded together after the storm to clear a path out of the neighborhood so they could seek resources, and she believes ARA will come together in support just the same.

“We’ll be able to help each other out, rebuild our community, and move forward,” she said. “A hurricane doesn’t have to destroy our spirit. That’s really what it’s about, and that’s what our company is about. Being able to work together as a team and move forward.”

Brandi had an American flag hanging outside her home, which she took down prior to the storm. After the storm, she flew the flag again. To her, it was a symbol of resilience.

“We’re a strong community,” she said. “We’re made up of people who are resilient and passionate about the community we live in, and while we are hurting and it’s been devastating and heartbreaking to see the community suffer such a blow, we will rebuild and return to work and make our community even better than what it was.”

She added, “We’re survivors.”

How You Can Help

We are relieved and thankful to share that all of ARA's employees in Panama City have reported that they are safe and unharmed following the devastation of Hurricane Michael in early October. However, the destruction has impacted everyone and the financial needs are great.

To help meet that need, Applied Research Associates, Inc., has established a disaster relief and hardship fund, The ARA Employee Assistance Fund, to directly support our employees' needs. The fund will be administered by the Emergency Assistance Foundation, Inc. (https://emergencyassistancefdn.org/). EAF specializes in administering this type of fund and helps corporations make emergency hardship grants for their employees when they face unexpected and unavoidable financial hardships or disasters. EAF is independently audited and specially authorized by the IRS to administer tax advantaged disaster relief funds. Working through EAF, the donations are tax deductible, and most importantly, grants given are not taxable to the recipients.

To make your donation through ARA's Employee Assistance Fund, please visit: https://emergencyassistancefdn.org/ara-employee-assistance-fund/.

ARA Employee Assistance Fund Donation Methods