Cherine Duncan is still living with her best friend in Panama City, nearly one year after Hurricane Michael destroyed her home as well as thousands of others in the city.
And in some regards, not much has changed for Janarius Robinson’s mom. Construction crews have been overwhelmed by the workload. In just the last few weeks, workers have begun to dig the footers so that they can pour the foundation for the new home for Duncan and Robinson, a junior defensive end/outside linebacker on Florida State’s football team.
“It’s been a journey,” Duncan said. “You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m at that point now where I can see the light.”
Six months from now, and possibly quicker if the weather cooperates, Duncan will be at home again in her new three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. It will be constructed on the same lot where the family home stood for generations before the Category 5 storm changed so many lives on Oct. 10, 2018.
Duncan describes her street. One neighbor’s house was demolished and not rebuilt. To the left of Duncan’s property, the house is “still like the day after the storm.” Another had minor damage that has been fixed.
Life isn’t the same for Duncan and thousands of people in Panama City. But the slow process of picking up the pieces continues a year after the storm.
Robinson and Duncan established a GoFundMe to raise funds for the construction of the new home just days after the hurricane hit. FSU’s compliance department received a green light from the NCAA, and within a week the pledges surpassed the $75,000 goal. The final number: $142,199 from more than 2,300 donors.
“I’m so grateful for the fan base and FSU and whoever else that donated during our time of need,” Duncan said. “My main thing is I didn’t want any of that to go buy clothes, shoes, anything. I want every bit that was raised to go to building that house. And that is what is being done.”
Duncan reflects on it and frequently repeats how grateful she is. There was support from family and friends as well as the extended family at FSU, from coach Willie Taggart and Robinson’s teammates.
When she says, “it’s been a journey” that doesn’t begin to explain the last year. She’s thankful for being able to stay with a good friend because rent is “just so high here.” She has seen apartments go for $1,200, $1,500 or $2,000, well beyond her budget as she is also saving up to buy furniture and other household items.
Duncan has remained as positive as possible, often leaning on her faith and looking on the bright side. But there are difficult moments, too.
“Some days, you’ll have a crying spell,” Duncan said. “And then some days you’re able to, you know, go on without thinking about it. But there are those days that you almost just want to break down and just sit down and cry for a minute, and get it out and then finish your day.”
Part of her day is going to the lot, where a construction sign now stands and the beginnings of work are evident. Duncan visits often.
“I walk the lot,” Duncan said. “I pray every day on that lot.”
Duncan says prayer and God have helped been stabilizing forces in her life. She’s also been able to watch Robinson play, often traveling to his games. “It makes me want to just keep pushing on,” Duncan said.
She finds strength in watching Robinson on the field – he has 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks but will also serve a first-half suspension due to targeting. And she is proud of his actions off it, too. Over the summer, Robinson held a football camp for more than 200 boys in Panama City. And before school started, he also donated 10 backpacks to his old high school for those in need.
“This was the right time to do it,” Duncan said.
Duncan recalled a conversation with Robinson during the last year where he remarked that he didn’t have anywhere to stay when he came back to Panama City. That comment hit his mother hard.
She reflected on his comment again when she saw the sign in the yard recently.
“I was like, ‘Whew, my son can have a room again,’ ” Duncan said. “Trust me. We will always be grateful. We will always be FSU fans, even after he leaves and goes on to whatever, the next level, whatever God has for him. We’re going to always be diehard FSU fans.”
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