The Networking Hurricane of FloridaACE

Tara Stevenson, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers 

captureThe past week shook me up a bit, to say the least.  I realized in a split second, the city and college I dedicate more time to than I really want to calculate, quickly came into focus a little more clearly.  Flagler College and Saint Augustine have been my home away from home for about seven and a half years now.  I love coming to work (and I am not afraid to say it!).  Of course, there are times I get frustrated and angry, just like everyone else, but I can honestly and wholeheartedly say, I love what I do.  I even wrote about it before!

I followed the media on the impending and approaching Hurricane and it made me think back to one of my first weekends as a graduate student at Florida International University. This New Jersey transplant had just moved from Colorado and spent a few of her first days in Florida watching Hurricane Katrina go through the state, feeling overwhelmed by what Louisiana was experiencing.  I quickly got a taste of hurricanes myself as I sat in the dark while Hurricane Wilma came through campus.  By candlelight, I worked on my responsibilities as a graduate assistant, simply to pass the time after watching other students play dominoes in the residence hall courtyard.  But by comparison, this was nothing to what others experienced, in other areas and as time went on.  Over the past 11 years, I was extremely fortunate to not experience another hurricane.  It all changed over the past week.

matthew_track_zoomAs we all watched Hurricane Matthew make its way to the Florida coastline last Monday, I contemplated our events scheduled for the week.  Our biggest Career Expo to date was planned for Wednesday, October 5th and as employers began contacting me in the beginning of the week, I made the executive decision to still host our event.  The storm was far enough away at that point (perhaps in the future we can talk more about decision making and whether or not this was the right one to make!).

It was Tuesday, October 4th when the true meaning of FloridaACE became an instant sensation and will now forever hold a place in my heart.  Three different colleagues from various institutions across the state reached out to me personally to see if we would be rescheduling our Expo as they contemplated cancelling their own.  I felt heartache for them as one by one I saw massive events, months of planning, staff dedication and overtime come to a startling halt as career offices began cancelling their events due to the storm.  FloridaACE provided a network to safely reach out to others and, even if briefly, discuss the pros and cons of event planning and hard decision making processes.

Hurricane Matthew slowly made its way closer to Saint Augustine and I watched as the state prepared each city filled with my fellow FloridaACE members.  On Thursday, October 6th, we began preparing locally for a storm, in my own opinion, I do not think many of us were prepared for.  These friends, not simply people I know from other colleges or Annual Conferences, started texting and messaging again to see how we were doing in our small, historic town.

Then a simple, yet powerful, video surfaced showcasing exactly what was happening to the heart of campus.  Again, my FloridaACE family reached out to me one by one through texts, social media outlets, emails, all of the above!  My heart warmed as people cared about our safety, our school, the place where we came together to celebrate 50 years as an association.

More photos from the area came through various media channels and still, more communication came from my FloridaACE network.  People checking in on people.  It was not even asking about how the school was…it was asking how I was doing, how my home was doing, how my family was doing.  I tried my hardest to continue reaching out to other FloridaACE members just as they did to me.  I wanted to check in on our member schools up and down the coast and see how they were doing, how were their homes, schools, families.

It’s tough times like these I realize FloridaACE is more than getting together a few times a year to chat about what we do everyday.  It’s about offering support to one another in our personal lives, checking in to see how we are doing in the aftermath, and even opening our office space as a shelter for others (don’t think that email went unnoticed and you better know who I am talking about!).  Flagler opened back up this week and we look forward to continuing to move forward.  I look forward to being a part of the planning of the upcoming Drive-In just 3 weeks away and beginning the preparations for #FloridaACE17 in Tampa.

From the bottom of my heart I hope our FloridaACE members, institutions, and employers are safe following the storm.  It affected us all as a state and from it, we can only become stronger.  I look forward to connecting with you all again at future events.  I can’t wait to chat more with people about various aspects of our jobs, the struggles we all face, the ups and downs we persevere through each day.  Why else are we a part of this great organization?!  If you experienced any similar story or would like to share your FloridaACE success, please reach out to me soon.  I hope to hear from you soon.