As someone who raised her children on the beaches of St. Thomas, Ashley Willis' heart is still with the people in Caribbean affected by Hurricane Maria, some of which have yet regained power since the storm battered their homes in late September of 2017.
“It’s going to take ongoing effort, continuous by everyone," Willis said. "This is not going to be a quick fix.”
She and her husband John Smith have decided to take action. They will be hosting a fundraiser in May to help families in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. They're both members of Calvary Christian Center, and this won't be the first time they have extended a hand to people recovering from Hurricane Maria.
In December, they were connected with Catherine Diaz from Puerto Rico, who was relocating her family from the island to Florida. She stayed with Willis and Smith for about a month before her two children and husband were able to join her. Now, the Diaz family is happily settled in Altamonte Springs.
Diaz and Willis also shared a special connection. Diaz's mother married Willis and Smith on St. Thomas in November of 2016.
“It’s like her daughter is our daughter without even knowing her because we’re family, and that’s how it works in a family of believers," Willis said.
Willis and Smith met on Beach Street in Daytona. Smith was drumming as a greeter for Kale Cafe and Willis had opened a store inside Jakob's Well. When Smith met Willis, he said her kindness toward strangers inspired him.
“It’s a joyful thing, you know, to know that you’re doing something to really help others,” Smith said.
Keeping the effort going for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is important to Willis, and she said every dollar helps when there are still people with damage to their homes in these islands who went without months of revenue in the aftermath of the storm. Many of them live or work in a community or industry that is crippled, she added.
“It’s going to take many different efforts on many different people’s parts at different times and you know, we don’t want them to be forgotten," Willis said.
They're motivated by their love for people.
“We just want to show our love to everybody,” Smith said.