While sitting around the table at the Wesley House Family Service’s Adoption Day luncheon in November, Kelley Porter shared her Hurricane Irma evacuation story. Her two children, Lance, 11 and Kassie, 12, added funny little anecdotes along the way.
“When we saw the satellite photos of our house, I knew we weren’t coming home until we could provide a safe roof over their heads,” said Kelley, nodding to the siblings, whom she and her husband, Carl, adopted Nov. 15, 2016. The roof failed over the master bedroom and office area and Kassie’s room’s hurricane shutter was blown off, breaking the window. “Shards of glass were stabbed into her mattress,” said Kelley. “She lost about 99 percent of her stuff.”
What started off as an easy evacuation chased the family (two parents, two kids, one grandma, three dogs, six birds and a cat, in two vehicles!) all the way to Gatlinburg, Tenn. “The trip wasn’t bad,” she said. “The whole town had free events for Florida evacuees, so we got to go to a comedy show, bowling and the county fair.”
But after the storm passed, reality set in. They needed a place to live while they repaired their Big Pine Key home.
“We seriously test drove 15 RVs on the way back to the Keys,” she said. They settled on a 30-footer the kids quickly nicknamed the rolling turd. Right after buying, 15 miles away, the RV blew a tire. After that was fixed, 10 more miles down the road, another one blew. “Just give me all new tires,” Kelley said, exhausted.
George Sheldon, of Our Kids, the funding partner of Wesley House, was sitting at the table while Kelley was telling their story. “After hearing stories like this, I really realize the critical condition the Keys are in,” he said.
Kelley and Carl married six years ago, on Sept. 10, you know, D-Day for Irma. They spent their anniversary keeping their mind off the hurricane by exploring the Smoky Mountains. “Irma was nothing,” she said. “When we married, Carl was diagnosed with cancer four months later.” He is now in remission, but the medical issues led them to look into adoption.
Lance and Kassie moved in with them in April 2016 and completed their family. The one thing they are learning from the storm: “It’s teaching the kids to be resilient, that’s for sure.”
As for the holidays, Kelley expects they will be back in their home midway through December, just in time for Christmas. They spent last weekend painting, with tile and carpeting coming next week. And she said she heard Santa is bringing the kids a super special surprise this year, but we won’t spoil the news.
“We have been so blessed and helped by so many people,” she said. “But, this RV is feeling smaller every day, so we really can’t wait to be back in the house.”
Their sense of humor and perpetual optimism keep them going. When asked if they needed anything, Kelley just said they were doing really, really well and if their story inspires anyone, to make a donation to Wesley House, Sugarloaf School, Girls Scout Troop 9 or Boy Scout Troop 573.