Days before Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas as a category 5 storm, Whitney Melton Laney was already coordinating relief efforts. Using her background as a former radio host with a large social media presence, she began to put the call out for donations. With every share, the initiative grew larger and she found herself on the ground in the Bahamas helping to deliver supplies to the people.
Whitney grew up in Winter Park and is very active in the community. She was a radio host for more than 10 years and loved the opportunity it gave her to meet so many people. She then transitioned to real estate after her divorce to have more time with her two children.
Having traveled to the Bahamas, she knew the outcome of Hurricane Dorian was not going to be good. Compelled to help, she reached out to a few people on Facebook to see if anybody was doing anything. She connected with David Yergey, Brian Doonan, Dan Drummond and a few families with private planes who were organizing a flyover. So, she put the call out for donations, to be delivered to her home, Florida Paints locations, and her employer, Keller Williams Winter Park – several other local businesses volunteered as drop-off locations as well.
“It’s a grassroots operation, but I knew it was going to get much bigger,” she explains. “That post got shared and everyone started coming out of the woodworks telling me they had this to offer, or the ability to get over here, or this plane they would donate. Somehow, I got at the center of all of this.” By Wednesday after the hurricane, she got a call from Air Unlimited, local aircraft charter business, and within 45 minutes the first plane was off the ground with 3,000 meals.
Her friends in radio started calling her and having her on-air to spread the word. “I was working logistics with Air Unlimited here and I would be putting all-calls out on Facebook and radio stations,” she says.
But her focus shifted to getting the supplies directly in the hands of the Bahamian people. So, Mark Neubauer, co-founder of Air Unlimited, flew her there and she started working on the ground. Whitney worked with HeadKnowles (the largest nonprofit in the Bahamas), Duane Kuck of Regal Boats, Samaritans Purse, Medic Corps, the Dutch Navy, and many other NGO’s to run logistics and get the initial aid into the country.
“I was in Eleuthera [where they could fly into] and from there we found a container we could put supplies in and a warehouse. We had about 70 boats and a bunch of helicopters and jet skis that would then get the supplies and start taking them to the outer cays. Instead of sending planes back empty, we’d send back people who needed to be rescued,” she explains.
About a week after Hurricane Dorian hit, she was able to get to Marsh Harbour (the most affected area). “Once we got into there, it was working out bigger logistical issues. We started identifying what they needed. There was a boat harbor that we were trying to get up and running so we could have more boats deliver supplies. We ended up getting a big water pump working and fuel going,” she says.
She would then go on side missions to help mothers and children, delivering diapers and formula. The devastation, the stories, all incredible, she says. She even rescued a dog, aptly named Abaco, and brought her home to live with her family. The dog, she discovered, had belonged to a family that she evacuated the week prior.
“I feel like it was a calling of what I was supposed to do right now. And things magically worked out. Because half of the things I was doing I’ve never been trained to do. I just jumped in and figured it out as I went,” Whitney admits.
Her mission and relief efforts are far from over as the areas devastated will be so for a long time, but she’s grateful for the community support she’s received and continues to receive. “It’s just not going to end for years to come. It’s hard to get back to your real life when you know what’s going on there and you’ve seen what’s happened. Even when I’m here and I’m trying to work, my phone is blowing up the whole time with things that need to get done there,” she says.
Many of the businesses donating their time and services had to resume normal operations, so Whitney started a GoFundMe (Abaco Relief: Bahamas Strong) to continue relief efforts.
AdventHealth Teams Support Bahamas Recovery Efforts
A team of physicians and physician assistants from AdventHealth is helping provide relief to the medical teams on staff at Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport, Bahamas. This will be the first of several AdventHealth teams that will be rotating through the hospital, working with staff doctors to provide much needed medical care to those impacted by the hurricane.
In addition to medical staff and at the request of the government of the Bahamas, AdventHealth is providing technical assistance for the rebuilding of Rand Memorial Hospital as it suffered damage in the hurricane and needs substantial repair.
Through its Global Missions program, AdventHealth continues to donate medical equipment and supplies. Nearly $80,000 has been raised for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts through AdventHealth team members’ payroll deduction donations, private contributions and through donations at AdventHealth.com/Bahamas. Monetary donations continue to be needed to provide support to the Bahamian people.
Busy? Access Assistance for Your Healthcare Needs
One call to AdventHealth for Women’s Health Navigator Doreen Forsythe, BSN, RN, can help you coordinate all your health care. AdventHealth for Women understands the intricate role women play in their family’s healthcare decisions and needs. Doreen is a specially trained registered nurse who is available to help women access AdventHealth’s extensive network of services across Central Florida. This coordination specialist not only provides expert, clinical assistance, but also helps manage your overall care and identifies ways to speed up the process of scheduling physician appointments and procedures. The health navigator acts as your personal advocate — creating a seamless healthcare experience that focuses on health, wellness, hospitality and convenience.
As a registered nurse, Doreen has been a valued member of the AdventHealth team since 2001. Graduating from Villanova University in Pennsylvania, she has more than 15 years of experience in multiple nursing disciplines including cardiology, neurology, surgery and nursing education. No matter what kind of women’s health services you need, Doreen can connect you with the right doctors and resources to ensure you receive the best treatment available. This complimentary service is available to all women.
Learn more at HerHealthNavigator.com.