Volunteers In Miami-Dade Create Collective To Offer Free Tree Removal After Irma

Oct 3, 2017

Laura Everette didn’t know what to do after Hurricane Irma knocked a tree onto her minivan.

Everette, 57, is a double amputee and she lives on a fixed income.

Tree removal and clean-up can be expensive with costs ranging from the hundreds to thousands of dollars. As homeowners and renters across South Florida continue to deal with the aftermath of Irma, that means figuring out what to do with toppled trees on private property.

Everette, a renter, tried calling her landlord but didn’t get a response.

"I was wondering to myself how it was going to be removed," she said.

About a week after the storm, a group of men came knocking on her door in North Miami-Dade asking about the tree. They wanted to cut it down for free.

“People can’t afford the costs,” said Michael Clarkson, one of the volunteers who helped get the tree off of Everette's car. Aside from some scratches and dents, the car was fine.

Clarkson is known as “the general” among a group of men and women who call themselves “Koncious Contractors.” They come from different walks of life—non-profit employees, retirees and community activists.

The 69-year old  retired landscape technician from Central Florida is leading the volunteer efforts, which also include putting up tarps on damaged roofs and helping to fix broken fences.

“We’ve been on the ground and we haven’t taken a day off,” said Clarkson.

They group offers its services for free, but he said donations are welcome to buy more supplies and gas to power tools and the borrowed van he’s driving.

Before Irma, Koncious Contractors helped put plywood on homes. Once the hurricane passed, they found many of the properties they visited were impassable because of fallen trees on the ground and, in some cases, on actual homes.

“We didn’t have a plan, but Irma came and gave us a reason to mobilize,” said Francois Alexandre, who is coordinating volunteers to help with tree removal, clean-up and handy work.

Robert Ruono and Francois Alexandre work on clearing tree branches for a Little Havana home.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN

As the group took on jobs, it started getting more requests through word-of-mouth and the volunteers also knocked on doors in the neighborhoods they were working.

Julie Seraphin, 66, said when she walked out of her Little Haiti home to survey the damage after Irma, all she saw was a hefty bill.

“The mango tree fell down, the avocado tree fell, the coconut tree fell, the fence fell down,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

She said volunteers recently knocked on her door and told her what they were doing in the neighborhood.

“It was a deliverance from God,” said Seraphin. “They spent four days cutting down my avocado tree. May God bless them.”

Alexandre said after the storm he saw many unmet needs that weren’t being addressed by government agencies or large non-profits, so he and his friends decided they would step up.

“It’s not just low-income communities. We help them too, but really it’s  just about people who need help,” he said. “It’s about our love for our neighbors and our community.”