YOUNGSTOWN, Fla. (WMBB)– A local family weathered the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in a tent but even in their darkest moments they never lost hope.
“It has changed our lives for the better,” said Youngstown resident, Avril Cooper.
The Cooper family lived in Callaway before the storm. During Hurricane Michael, they braved the strong winds and rain at a family member’s home in Lynn Haven, but when they returned home it was unrecognizable.
“It was not safe to live there, my daughter was pregnant, we had to leave. And then he wanted to raise the rent on top of that so we ended up deciding that a tent was safer than living where we were,” said Cooper.
Their family found a campground in Youngstown, paying $75 a week to live in a tent on the property. “That was really hard. We paid rent to stay there in a tent,” said Cooper.
Their stay went into the cold winter nights and times got tough, but the Cooper family says they never gave up.
“It was okay we made through it. We had food we had what was needed, we were safe. It was an experience, of course, I would never wish upon anyone and something I would never want to go through again,” said Cooper.
While rain and severe weather was a constant factor, they repeatedly had to re-steak their tent to the ground as their belongings were blown away almost daily.
The Cooper’s realized they had to get help and Avril began a trek with their family dog.
“I remember seeing signs for supplies here, and thinking ‘oh that’s not that far’. It was about five miles. I walked here with Romeo (their dog), he was about this big at the time, itty bitty. So we walked here and that’s when I met everyone here at Hope. They were absolutely incredible to me,” said Cooper.
From there, the Cooper’s luck started turning, starting with a stranger donating a car to their family, and her husband, found work in subcontracting, while Avril started working for the Hope Project.
The Hope Project is an equine-assisted therapy group that helps people suffering from PTSD, anxiety, and depression– with the help of their animals.
“I have become a large part of Hope, I take care of the animals here, I take care of the ranch, I take care of the fundraisers and events. Not solely, of course. They became very involved in my family and did everything in their power to help us,” said Cooper.
The Hope Project staff invited Avril and her family to stay there while they figured out the next step.
“After I walked down here for supplies, I was like ‘oh that would be really cool to get involved with, do some volunteer work’. You know at that time I didn’t think I would become this involved,” said Cooper.
She says the Hope Project saved her family.
“I can say that hope has changed my family’s life dramatically. Without them I don’t know where we would be,” said Cooper.
While the storm seemed like the end of the world, she says it was far from it.
“Like I said the hurricane was devastation. But to my family, ultimately it was a blessing,” said Cooper.