After catching wind of the catastrophic destruction Hurricane Irma whipped up in the Caribbean island of Saint Martin earlier this month, Petaluma’s Jake Bonds knew he had to help rebuild.
The storm made landfall Sept. 6, when the Dutch and French island was hard hit with punishing winds and flooding that gave way to loss of power and phone lines, a dampening of the island’s tourism appeal and widespread looting and violence. The hurricane has been described by weather officials as one of the strongest storms in history.
Bonds, a 48-year-old general contractor who owns Santa Rosa-based Quality Builders, searched for ways to make an impact through what he’s best at: building communities. He’s set up a GoFundMe account to raise $25,000 to cover transportation and expenses to take a work crew to the battered island to lend a hand in whatever capacity is needed.
“We thought, let’s go do something to help people out,” he said. “The whole place is trashed. We volunteer in other degrees — we’ve sent money to Houston and gave blood. We try to sort of put out into the world what we want to get back. I could send more money, but I’d have a much greater impact by taking my skill set down there.”
There’s much left to plan about the voyage, including dates and exactly what projects to tackle, Bonds said. The island’s major airport was ravaged by the storm and communication is still difficult, but Bonds is now working with the nonprofit K1 Britannia Foundation to identify needs.
Since he’s taken to social media and a crowd-funding site to share his cause, he’s attracted the attention of other Sonoma County-based tradesmen who want to tag along. He hopes to complete outreach to airlines about the potential for free or reduced-cost airfares for the humanitarian mission while also propositioning local business owners about supply donations. Freidman’s Home Improvement plans to donate $500 in tools to leave on the island to help reconstruction efforts, Bonds said.
Bonds last year moved from Santa Rosa to Petaluma, where he lives aboard his boat on the Petaluma River along Lakeville Highway. He and his wife have plans to retire by September 2021 to split time between exploring the world and spending time with family in Sonoma County.
Bonds and his wife had plans to travel to Saint Martin to scope out a catamaran for their upcoming sailing adventure. With that in mind, he said it made sense to repurpose that trip for rebuilding efforts. This season has ushered in destruction across the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean with a series of deadly natural disasters, but he said the small island seemed a prime candidate for help.
“The U.S. has got so much depth in resources, you can say bad things about the government or FEMA, but there’s a lot of help. When you look at a lot of those countries … resources are really far away,” he said. “Who cares what flag they fly — they need help and I have the time and the ability and I should do it.”
He hopes the mission will help spread positivity while making an impact in the lives of those struck by disaster.
“I feel a duty and an obligation — I’m fortunate to do what I love and be really good at it and it doesn’t do that thing justice to not share it,” he said. “I would hope that if something happened around here and my family was in dire straits, someone would come help us.”