A sense of community is what makes a place, and it’s this togetherness that made Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) a home to Iowa native Ben Hermiston when he arrived at the school in 2019. “I love where I’m from,” says Hermiston, who is a senior cross-country runner at FGCU, “but I found this place, and it felt like home.”
When that home was devastated last year by Hurricane Ian, Hermiston and thousands of his fellow students were distressed by the damage. Wanting to help, he rallied five friends and went out to start cleaning up impacted houses in Fort Myers neighborhoods.
Word of his endeavor spread quickly. “First there were five, then ten, and then eventually we would average between 50 and 150 people on the busiest days,” says Hermiston, who estimates that the volunteers were able to clean up 400 or 500 houses during the 10 days after Ian struck. Together, they worked to calm homeowners, remove ruined furniture from residences, and pull toppled trees off houses. “Having everyone come together with all of their unique skills made us like jacks-of-all-trades.”
It was this coming together that impressed Hermiston the most, who takes no credit for his efforts. “It was FGCU doing this, which was the most heartwarming part,” he explains, praising the eagerness of students, administrators, and locals alike. “People would offer to pay us, but we wouldn’t take it. This is our home, and that’s why we did it. We love it here.”