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Hurricane & Safety Expo imparts important life-saving information

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Everyone who lives in Florida knows that this is hurricane season. We also know that in any emergency situation, preparedness is vital. On Saturday, June 3, more than 730 people attended the Hernando County Department of Public Safety’s Hurricane and Safety Expo. In addition, sixty-three vendors participated in the expo. Forty-seven were associated with a non-profit or governmental agency, while sixteen private businesses had tables displaying information primarily geared to safety and preparedness. There were also four food trucks on the premises. The non-profit and government agencies included the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County, Community Legal Services, the PACE Center for Girls, the City of Brooksville Fire Department, and the Hernando County Animal Services.

David De Carlo is the county’s Emergency Management director, a post he’s held for just a few months. He was extremely pleased with the turnout and had high praise for the employees who spent a year planning and putting together the event.

“Teamwork, communication, and early planning are the key because there are many challenges that come into play planning an expo of this size and nature. Contacting vendors, securing a great location, gathering of volunteers, and marketing the event are just a few of the challenges,” DeCarlo stated.

The Hernando County Housing Authority was one of the government agencies represented. Some of its funding comes from the federal government through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while other funds come from the State.

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Executive Director Terri Beverly explained what the Housing Authority does. “We administer the Section 8 rental assistance program funded by HUD. Approximately 420 vouchers are given out each month. The waiting list is closed right now.”

The agency also owns twenty-eight homes that they rent out to people based on family income. For those who qualify, they have a Housing Enhancement Loan Program (H.E.L.P.) whereby they offer loans at 0% interest to people to repair their homes.

Another service that the agency offers is down payment assistance through its SHIP (State Housing Initiatives Partnership) Program. With housing prices skyrocketing, this is an important service for many people.

“Our goal for the near future is to bring more affordable housing developments to the area,” Ms. Beverly concluded. For more information, call 352-754-4087 or log onto https://www.hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-f-m/housing-authority

Theresa Santana is the Outreach Coordinator and Assistive Technology Instructor with the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As Outreach Coordinator, she finds people who need the organization’s services and raises community awareness of the challenges facing the blind and visually impaired.

As an Assistive Technology Instructor, Ms. Santana helps the visually impaired use smartphones, computers, tablets, and devices like Alexa. With smartphones, people with visual impairments can do many things, such as calling Uber for a ride and reading their mail with a scanning app. There is a free app called “Be My Eyes,” which enables them to use video calling to contact a sighted volunteer to read things for them, like the expiration date on a carton of milk.

The organization encourages anyone who has an old smartphone, iPad or other device they no longer need to donate them to use for training their clients. Members of the Hernando Computer Club wipe the hard drive and refurbish these devices.

“We have an independent living class that teaches our clients how to adapt to their surroundings and do whatever they want to do to accomplish their day, such as medication management, money identification, and meal preparation,” remarked Ms. Santana.

Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired also offers support for people going through their vision loss journey, along with support groups for their friends and family. There is no charge for any of these services.

The regional organization serves Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus. There are two offices–one in Brooksville at 6492 California Street (Phone 352-754-1132) and one in New Port Richey at 9130 Ridge Road (Phone 727-815-0303).

For more information, visit their website: www.LVIB, or call one of the offices.
The Dawn Center was another organization that participated in the Expo. The goals of this organization include helping victims of spouse abuse, domestic violence, and sexual violence. They also have a residential facility/safe home for women and their children.

As Community Engagement Coordinator, Courtney Abele recruits volunteers, finds organizations and businesses that will donate money, and works on fundraising events.

One of these events is their annual 5K run held every spring. An upcoming event is their “Night of Hope.” This fun-filled evening will include raffles, a wine and craft beer tasting, a silent auction, dinner, and a DJ. For tickets and information, go to https://www.dawncenter.org/events

“Our goal is to raise community awareness, erase the stigma of domestic violence for the victims and help them escape from an abusive situation,” stated Ms. Abele. If you are a victim of sexual violence or domestic abuse or even feel threatened, there is a 24-hour Crisis Hotline – (352) 686-8430. To find out more about the Dawn Center, call 352 (684-7191 or log onto www.dawncenter.org.

The Veterans HEAT Factory (VHF) was also represented at the Expo. VHF is a non-profit organization that works with veterans and first responders struggling with Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). The name stands for Honoring, Empowering, Assisting, and Training. Among the services they offer is emotional support, including psychological counseling; social activities; career counseling; and help with money management, domestic problems, and substance abuse. All their services are free of charge.

Gus Guadagnino, founder and CEO of Veterans HEAT Factory, remarked, “At the Expo, we gave veterans and first responders information about our services and talked with the public to raise awareness of this problem and what we are doing to help in this area. We also met representatives from other organizations that provide other services that we will collaborate with.”

For more information on Veterans HEAT Factory, call 352-251-7015 or visit their website at www.veteransheatfactory.com.

Regarding hurricane preparedness, Emergency Management Director David DeCarlo offered the following advice:

Make a Plan: Identify and know where you’re going to evacuate to if you need to. Share that plan with family members, especially family members who live out of state. Know what you are going to take with you. If you own a business, have a plan for your building and employees. Share that plan with your employees.

Build a Kit: Gather your disaster supply kit(s) now! Include batteries, flashlights, weather radio, charging cords, personal hygiene products, bedding, change of clothes, important papers, gloves, tarp, first aid kit and personal medication.

Stay Informed: Listen to your local weather reports. The national news will give you an overall situation, while your local station will provide a pertinent specific location to our area. Download a weather app. If an evacuation order is issued, heed those warnings and evacuate. Sign up for Alert Hernando at www.AlertHernando.org. Visit www.hernandocounty.us/em for more information on disaster preparedness.

Get Involved: Take responsibility for your life and that of your family. Start trimming your trees of low-hanging limbs. Clean up your yard of loose debris that may become airborne with high winds. Know if you live in an evacuation zone. Know what wind speed your house can withstand. Install hurricane-proof windows or doors if you can. Know what is in your homeowner’s insurance policy. Start buying non-perishable food and water now, a little at a time, to sustain you and your family for five to seven days in case of long-term power outages. Buying a little each time you go to the store will save you from waiting in line and items becoming scarce because the storm is imminent.

We all hope that severe weather will not hit our area, but the important thing is that we are prepared and don’t ignore the situation, hoping it will go away. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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