Floridians thankful for shelter in Parkersburg

When Hurricane Irma roared toward Florida’s Gulf Coast last month, a family of five fled to Parkersburg.

Sharona Robinson, her children Ja’Niya, 10, Za’Riah, 6, and Keyshawn, 5, and Sharona’s mother, Brenda Robinson, received a warm welcome in Parkersburg after leaving their home in Bradenton, Fla., two days before Irma hit on Sept. 10.

“I prayed and talked to mom” before the Robinsons decided to drive to Parkersburg early Sept. 8, Sharona told me this week. “We didn’t want to wait around” to see how powerful Irma turned out to be, she said.

After first being predicted to strike the East Coast of Florida, Hurricane Irma veered toward the West Coast of the Sunshine State, with Bradenton in its path.

The Robinsons reached out to Betty Camp of Parkersburg, Sharona’s cousin, for help.

Camp secured a place for the Robinsons to stay at the Sanctuary House at Beechwood Presbyterian Church, 703 30th St. in Parkersburg. Camp said she talked to a member of the Beechwood church congregation about the Robinsons staying at the Sanctuary House until after Irma left Florida.

Since 1998, the Sanctuary House has been providing free temporary shelter for people who have lost their homes to fires, faced other calamities or are staying in town while relatives are having surgery at Camden Clark Medical Center. The house, which has two apartments, relies on donations and fundraisers to operate.

Although shelters were set up in Florida, Sharona, a U.S. Army veteran, believed Parkersburg would be a better place for the children to stay during the hurricane.

“I told the kids we would be safe and all together,” Sharona said.

It took the Robinsons 24 hours to drive from Bradenton to Parkersburg, with Sharona and Brenda sharing the driving. “Wolfgang,” the family’s pet lovebird, a species of parrot, went along for the ride in a cage held by the person in the front passenger’s seat.

Driving was slow at times in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina as motorists tried to escape from the impending storm, Sharona said.

This was Sharona and the children’s first visit to West Virginia. Brenda was born in Parkersburg but moved to Florida at a young age.

“We loved it … we were in awe of the mountains. So many trees; it was beautiful,” Sharona said of her stay in West Virginia. They visited Blackwater Falls State Park and Charleston.

The Robinsons attended a cookout at Belpre’s Civitan Park, a picnic at Fort Boreman Park and a pizza party in Vienna with cousins Brian, Beth and Eric Congrove. Sharona said she probably would never have met these cousins if not for the hurricane trip.

Sharona appreciates the kindness shown by the volunteers at the Sanctuary House in Parkersburg, who provided some food and toys for the kids during the family’s week-long stay.

The Robinson children now have some young friends in Parkersburg, Sharona said.

“We enjoyed their visit,” Camp said of the Florida relatives, “and appreciate the Sanctuary House.”

Ginger Carrano, Sanctuary House secretary, said it is a “wonderful blessing” to be involved in the volunteer ministry. “All for God’s glory,” she said of the work at Sanctuary House.

The Robinsons were “very nice people,” Carrano said.

The family’s apartment withstood Irma’s arrival, although their home lost electricity for several days, Sharona said. Downed trees and debris were everywhere in Bradenton. “The neighborhood was torn apart,” she said.

The Robinsons want to visit West Virginia again someday.

Maybe to see some snow, Sharona said.

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The Doug Hess Big Band has a new location for its first dance of the season tonight — in the family life center at Stout Memorial United Methodist Church, 3329 Broad St. in Parkersburg.

The 15-member band had been playing its Big Band and swing music once a month, October through May, at the Lubeck Civic Center but moved the dance to a more centrally located venue in town, said Felice Jorgeson, who is band director and plays the piano.

The band was formed in the 1970s by the late Doug Hess and has performed at dances at several locations over the years. Hess’ three sons remain involved with the band: Whitney plays the saxophone while Doug Jr. and Nathan help with the band setup. Their mother, Lois, handles the ticket sales at the concerts and dances.

People from throughout the area enjoy the ballroom dancing. Young adults are welcome to attend the dances.

Participants can bring food and non-alcoholic beverages to the dances. The dances last from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Marsha Parsons is the singer with the Doug Hess Big Band.

Contact Paul LaPann at plapann@newsandsentinel.com

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