Okeechobee wife helps neighbors rescue hurricane-damaged home


OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – As a result of a big heart and small determination, an Okeechobee man won the battle for his home.

It was damaged beyond repair after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017. It was a woman’s struggle to help the man who was once a stranger who changed the path of his life.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Inspirational for South Florida

“If I hadn’t met her, I honestly don’t know where I would be today, and that’s the truth,” said James Challancin.

Challancin speaks of Tonya Ford.


Tonya Ford was determined to get help for James Challancin after his home was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The two neighbors knew each other after she came through his line at Home Depot. She helped him apply for a credit card years ago, but that was about it.

Fast forward a few years later to 2017 when Ford was driving home from work when some neighbors pinned her down. They were gathered in front of Challancin’s trailer on busy Highway 78. If she hadn’t turned her head, she would have missed her.

Challancin is forever grateful for quitting.

“If it wasn’t for her and the determination and hard work … she did a lot for me,” said Challancin.

Upon stopping, Ford was shown the severe storm damage inflicted on Challancin’s house. The windows on one side of his house were completely blown out, a wall collapsed and the roof collapsed.


It took more than three years, but Tonya’s help could help James find a replacement home.

Ford wasted no time figuring out how to help Challancin get help.

“We made the application, [but] of course he was refused. If you are rejected, you have the option to appeal. So we appealed and appealed after and after and after, like three times to FEMA after the original motion, “Ford said.

It was daunting and challenging. Ford didn’t give up, nor did she let Challancin, who lived in poor shape, lose hope.

“My mother ran a law firm for 25 years and she was always determined and persistent in her goals, and that’s where I got that,” said Ford.

After three and a half years there was finally some progress.

Ford and Challancin recently learned that a Tallahassee judge ruled that he was eligible for storm damage assistance. You are now waiting for a damage assessment to be carried out, which can lead not only to the repair but also to the replacement of his house.

“I really appreciate it, but I hope it works out for me. If not, I’ll hate it worse than anything because of all the hard work and dedication she put into helping a stranger” Said Challancin.

The neighbors, who are now lifelong friends, agree that the way they were brought together should serve as inspiration, evidence, and hope for what can come when people look out for one another.

“The world would be a better place if everyone just helped each other when they needed help,” said Ford.

Challancin was a mechanic for 32 years and spent most of his career with Jupiter Dodge. Four hip replacement surgeries and five heart attacks have laid him off the workforce and become disabled, which is now his only means of income.

Ford also created an online fundraiser for him.

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