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United Arab Emirates Gives $2.7 Million to Help in Hurricane Irma Recovery

The donation will go to Grace Place for Children & Families, the Collier County School District and the United Way of Collier County.



United Way of Collier County President Steve Sanderson introduces Dana Al Marashi, head of heritage and social affairs for the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington, D.C. Al Marashi traveled to Collier County to pledge $2.7 million from the UAE for Hurricane Irma recovery.

 

If you drove through only coastal Collier County, you might never know that, 11 months ago, a hurricane had smacked the region and created an epic mess.

But as soon as you pull into Golden Gate Estates, you’re greeted by blue tarps, stretched tight and laboring to keep out the summer rains.

The neighborhood just got a boost from the most unexpected of places—the United Arab Emirates. Dana Al Marashi, the head of heritage and social affairs for the UAE’s embassy in Washington, traveled to Collier today armed with a gift: $2.7 million to help the Golden Gate-based Grace Place for Children & Families; the Collier County School District; and the United Way of Collier County.

“Last year the entire world, including the United Arab Emirates, watched with heartfelt concern as Florida was hit by one of the state’s most destructive and costliest hurricanes,” Al Marashi said during a media conference at Grace Place. “As a close friend of the United States and the people of Florida, we were motivated to pitch in wherever we could, to try to help the communities recover.”

(If you are not up on your international relations, especially when it comes to the Middle East, the U.S. State Department lists the UAE as a “key partner” in numerous issues, including trade, energy policy, security and non-proliferation.)

The Collier contribution is part of a $10 million gift from the UAE to the state of Florida for Irma relief.

The tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf nation has helped American communities recover numerous times before, including New Jersey towns following Super Storm Sandy and the town of Joplin, Missouri, following a devastating tornado in 2011.

Part of the money going to Grace Place will be used to help 30 families repair roofs and homes. Tim Ferguson, the CEO, estimates Golden Gate Estates families—many of whom work low-wage jobs—will need some five to seven years before they fully recover from Irma.

But Al Marashi says the UAE seeks to enhance communities—not simply rebuild them to pre-storm specifications.

That’s why at Grace Place, the $1.2 million gift also will cover a new playground and soccer field (she noticed there wasn’t one for soccer-loving Latino children), new technology and a new generator so that the organization will be ready to serve as a community hub when the next big storm strikes.

Collier County Public Schools will dedicate its portion, $1.1 million, to providing internet service in rural and low-income communities where children have school-issued laptops but may not have internet service at home. The district will install WiFi transmitters on several schools in Immokalee, plus the Everglades City School.

Superintendent Kamela Patton called the gift an “opportunity to change children’s lives” and says it helps create academic equity.

The final $400,000 will go to the United Way’s ongoing hurricane recovery efforts. That organization will also serve as the fiscal agent overseeing the entire pledge.

“These are ‘game-changing’ opportunities,” United Way President Steve Sanderson says.

 

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