Videos and pictures don’t do Southwest Florida justice. You have to see it up close but don’t get too close because you might fall in love.
“You have to find a positive outlook and everything,” said Irina Mirabales, who is moving to Southwest Florida.
Mirabales fell in love with Southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian. She did not see the hurricane up close, but she felt it.
“I have been a relief worker since 12 hours after the storm,” Mirabales said.
She came over from her home in West Palm Beach just to help out. She didn’t know anyone. She didn’t have a place to stay but was inspired and moved by what she saw and felt here.
“I’m staying, and I’m moving. So I’m going to move here to Fort Myers and continue working,” said Mirabales.
She felt so compelled, so moved by the pile that the hurricane left Southwest Florida in, that she “Left my career, my home is over there, my dogs are over there, my aunt’s taking care of my dogs. And I just go home, check up on them, spend time with family, and then come back and get back to work. And everything has been volunteer-based. And it’s been the best work I’ve ever done in my life.”
When she said she had left her home, she was not lying. “I’m here more permanently now.”
Thanks to a business owner underneath the Matanzas Pass Bridge, Mirabales has been able to set up a home away from home.
She does miss home in West Palm Beach, though. “I miss my family. I miss my dogs, but I love being here. I love what I’m doing. It’s just I go home, and I say, ‘I’m going to go for five days.’ And I’m back in 24 hours. So this is home now.”
What inspired Mirabales to stay in Southwest Florida?
“Moments like this, when you see big businesses that were completely destroyed by the storm, and then you see that they’re about to reopen. And you know, you played a role in that. I don’t think there’s any paycheck that could be of more value than to know that you’ve been in service.”
Her paycheck is the moment, the feeling, the joy of helping others.
Mirabales now works at the Buttonwood Distribution Center near Fort Myers Beach, helping the underserved community while she searches for her new, permanent home in Southwest Florida.