St. Johns County artists bring needed relief to Bahamas

After Dorian, group of do-gooders determined to make difference with music, art

ABACO ISLANDS, Bahamas – There are still no hotels, restaurants or electricity on the hardest-hit islands of the Abaco, yet volunteers from the Jacksonville area continue to visit the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.

Some are going back and forth on a weekly basis. Others are staying on the island despite the obstacles. News4Jax anchor and reporter Vic Micolucci returned to the Bahamas last week for the fourth time with a group of St. Johns County do-gooders determined to make a difference.

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Children of the Abacos who are finally back in school more than two months after the Category 5 storm tore through their towns had visitors from North Florida and around the world, healing through music and art. Luc Renaud and Benjamin Swatez, both from St. Augustine, have spent the last month in the Bahamas, visiting schools and shelters with their group called the Goodness Tour.

The children are still living without running water or electricity, but things are slowly getting back to normal with certain schools up and running again with generators. There's also a stockpile of supplies to get the families by.

"The aftermath was hard. But at the end of it all, we made it," said Nadia McDermott, a teacher at Fox Town primary.

Mental health is a big concern for Bahamians who have seen so much. Chez Leeby is a therapist from Ponte Vedra, volunteering with the Goodness Tour.

"I feel like just that impact of them knowing that people want to be there and spend time with them, not just drop off water or whatever, but be with them -- I feel like that is going to be something lasting, very lasting," Leeby said. "I think they'll remember it."

"It meant everything," McDermott said. "The whole situation with you guys coming in and giving them a bit of joy and the moments we have not had, it made them feel loved and appreciated."

It’s not a pretty scenario, people burning debris, living in tents, eating canned food. It's dirty. But amid the rubble, there’s art emerging, with Benjamin Swatez painting murals in honor of the victims.

"You just find that every single day, people are more and more hopeful and excited about what is really about to emerge from the hard work and the love and the unity, the community coming together to make something a new out of destruction," Swatez said.

Simple acts of kindness go a long way. The Warren family and volunteers with Abaco Rescue Fund have been flying in supplies -- costumes, care packages and candy -- from Jacksonville, working with retired Navy Seals who have been staying on the islands since the hurricane, teaching the children how to swim and laugh again.

The rebuild process will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars. No one knows how it will be done, but these do-gooders feel every little bit helps as they rebuild hearts and then houses.

Both the Abaco Rescue Fund and the Goodness Tour rely on donations to be able to cover the costs of getting to and from the Bahamas and finding shelter. To learn more about how to get involved or to support them, visit abacorescuefund.org and thegoodnesstourbahamas.org.

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