"The best is yet to come."
Sometime in the weeks following Hurricane Irma, Palm Coast resident Ashley Zinna and her husband sat inside their mini van with their two toddlers in a Walmart parking lot without an idea of where they were going to stay that night.
The hurricane had caused them to lose weeks of income, and when they couldn't afford the rent in their Jacksonville home, the Zinnas were forced to leave the property with one week's notice. Zinna's hours at her job went from 45 hours a week to barely 13 before she was let go, and her husband Michael, who was an Uber driver at the time, wasn't able to work.
The Zinnas went from living in a gated community to crashing in various family members' homes. They were very close to giving up and going to a homeless shelter, but they persisted.
“If you’re strong through those moments, you can really turn your life around," Zinna said. "If you give yourself that courage to go out and seek help, then you can get better. There are people out there that want to help you — you just have to keep looking.”
The Zinnas were repeatedly told by FEMA that it couldn't help them. They went to various organizations and resources for help, but Zinna said people would look at them like they were "nasty, horrible people."
“We were just hopeless at that point," Zinna said. "We just had lost all hope of being able to get out of the situation with our kids, and it was just so difficult.”
Then, they called Salty Church, where Courtney Hammock and Jeff Chaisson lent them the hand they needed to push through. Hammock worked with the couple to connect them with extra resources and even taught them how to budget.
“She’s helped so many people, and the way that she comes in when you meet her, it’s like you’re her best friend," Zinna said.
Things started to look up at that point. One day, Zinna's husband called her to tell her FEMA, who had just turned her away that very day, would give them a whole month's stay at a motel. That allowed time for Salty Church to help the Zinnas find a place to live.
Now, they're at peace, Zinna said. She's able to touch her countertops in the kitchen and realize that they're hers.
“You appreciate everything more, and I think that a lot of times in this society people just overlook the simple things that they have that are luxuries, like shoes and clothes and your oven," she said laughing. "You don’t think about those things.”
The whole experience has brought their family together, she added. Her bond with her husband is stronger. Her children, she said, were the reason they didn't give up.
The future looks bright for them. Zinna teaches Sunday school at Salty Church and is on the path to go to law school. Her husband is trying to become a pilot.
“There’s always a way out," Zinna said. "Don’t feel like you’re trapped and like you’re never going to get over this. What you’re going through right now is just seasoning you for what’s to come and that phrase, 'the best is yet to come' is really true, honestly.”