By Abby Cloud | Photo: Alex and Chelsea Workman
On Wednesday, October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a category 5 hurricane. At the center of Hurricane Michael’s path of destruction was Mexico Beach, a “small-town, family-friendly” community just 2 hours southwest of Tallahassee. Residents of Mexico Beach were left with virtually nothing; their homes and businesses were destroyed. As this coastal town began the long process of rebuilding, Tallahassee residents Alex and Chelsea Workman stepped in to help. By partnering with other individuals who were passionate about getting Mexico Beach up and running, the Never Forgotten Coast campaign was created in 2018.
Alex and Chelsea Workman were personally affected by the storm; Chelsea’s father, Kevin Lanier, lives just north of Mexico Beach and owns KC Sportfishing Charter, which was damaged in the hurricane. As the Workmans visited the Mexico Beach area to help Lanier, they knew that they wanted to assist the community as they recovered from the storm. Soon, they began brainstorming how they could start helping the coast. No strangers to t-shirt fundraisers, the Workmans knew people would invest more money into a high quality shirt, and in turn, wear it frequently.
Oddly enough, Jesse Taylor had reached out to Mr. Workman about collaborating on a project around the same time, and their idea was shared with him. Over the course of 3 days, the campaign was born. After working through multiple designs, Taylor took to sketching and the “Forever Florida” design was developed.
“Anyone can connect with this design,” Taylor says, “it’s a strong, simple mark that can be worn to remember and celebrate the spirit of the Panhandle and Florida itself.” No one involved truly thought the campaign would expand as quickly as it did. “We were thinking we’d sell 50 shirts to friends and family,” Taylor admits. However, as the logo’s impact grew more recognizable, the creative team behind Never Forgotten Coast progressed into a storytelling project for who remained the most affected part of this coastal community: the residents of Mexico Beach.
The Workmans partnered with Jeremy Cowart, an award-winning photographer, and Jonathan Smith, a Tallahassee drone pilot, in order to “put faces to the city that has been a home and a destination for people all over the world.” The team behind the Never Forgotten Coast campaign used their skills to highlight 18 different businesses in Mexico Beach through various photographs and aerial views of the town, videos, and interviews with the business owners.
These profiles consist of a variety of businesses such as the Mexico Beach Welcome Center, the Driftwood Inn, Peoples South Bank, and Castaway Southern Cuisine. You can find these stories and more featured here on the website. Through telling the stories of these local businesses, the Never Forgotten Coast campaign is ensuring that their stories are never forgotten in the midst of this disaster, almost three months shy of a year later.
The campaign had been featured on many local and regional news stations and outlets around the Big Bend, as well as the Weather Channel in April. Due to this exposure, the t-shirt popularity and their donations increased. With the constant stream of merchandise sales and some general donations, the Never Forgotten Coast campaign has given around $30,000 to the small businesses in Mexico Beach. These funds are used by local nonprofits to distribute micro-grants to businesses and individuals so they can pay for the things that insurance does not cover. “When you look at it, it’s not an exorbitant amount of money,” explains Mrs. Workman. “A business is not going to reopen its doors off of one $1,000 grant, but the grants have helped with little things the businesses need.”
In an attempt to be as transparent as possible about their fundraising, Never Forgotten Coast releases press releases for each business that gets grants and explains what they intend on using it for. For Killer Seafood, owner Michael Scoggins used his grant to open a food truck. Other ways some businesses used the donations were for website hosting in order to keep their website running, or for marketing to let people know that a business was still open or in the process of reopening. “We just want to champion that recovery, no matter how big or how small,” states Mrs. Workman.
Although this campaign was established with intentions of raising money for Mexico Beach through t-shirt sales and donations, there is nothing more important to the Workmans than making sure the focus remains at the residents of Mexico Beach. “At the end of the day, it’s not about us, it’s not about this campaign,” comments Mrs. Workman. “It’s about these people and making sure that their stories are getting told and that they’re not forgotten.” The Workmans want this to serve as a model for others when it comes to giving back to the community. “I just really hope that this project is an example that you can do something.” Mr. Workman says.
Recently, through a collaboration of people, the Never Forgotten Coast campaign team painted a mural on the side of Nate Odum’s business, the Mexico Beach Marina. While the original conversation included having the mural for the marina’s reopening, it instead commemorated the first big event in Mexico Beach since the storm: the 8th Annual Gollywhopper Fishing Tournament. With some doubts about participation, the marina decided to host the event for its eighth year. However, the night before they managed to exceed their typical maximum amount of boats by having over 70 boats registered that night. The mural of the Never Forgotten Coast logo highlighted a step in recovery for Mexico Beach and reminded the community how far they have come since October 10.
Ultimately, a lot of lives were changed in the course of this project. “I’m thankful to have been able to use my skills for design and passion for people to be a part of something bigger,” remarks Jesse. The Workmans are in awe of how this little coastal community has impacted their lives. “I never thought I’d be so invested in this little town that I once knew nothing about 3 years ago,” Mrs. Workman says. “The most remarkable thing for us is the relationships we’ve built with the people in Mexico Beach.”
The Never Forgotten Coast campaign served as a catalyst for the once-nicknamed Forgotten Coast of Florida; a way for the region, the state, and the nation to never forget the way this coastal town overcame—and continues to overcome—the effects of Hurricane Michael. While Mexico Beach may not have everything it once did, the community is the same one that everyone knows and loves, and it’s ready to welcome its dedicated visitors back with open arms.
To continue supporting Mexico Beach’s recovery, visit the Never Forgotten Coast site or the City of Mexico Beach’s site. Additionally, it is encouraged for people to visit the area in order to directly help these businesses get back up and running.