Today, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced the 2019 National Small Business Week Phoenix Award winners for their resilience in the aftermath of a disaster.
Since 1998, the SBA has presented Phoenix Awards to business owners, public officials and volunteers who displayed selflessness, ingenuity and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of their communities.
This year’s recipients include a Florida business owner who rebounded after massive inventory and equipment losses from Hurricane Irma; a California County Supervisor whose coordination efforts helped displaced residents after the Woolsey wildfire; and two Puerto Rico volunteers who organized a community kitchen for fellow Hurricane Maria survivors.
The awards will be presented to the winners in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, May 5, 2019, to kickoff National Small Business Week celebrations that are taking place across the nation. The D.C. award ceremonies will be livestreamed on the SBA’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/sbagov at 6 p.m. (EDT).
The SBA congratulates the following 2019 National Small Business Week Phoenix Award winners:
Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery
Stephanie Vitori, President
Miami Beach, Fla.
In September 2017, Hurricane Irma nearly ended the success of Cheeseburger Baby (CBB). Stephanie Vitori had built a thriving eatery that grew to 20 employees, two food trucks, and annual revenues of $800,000. That all changed in the wake of the mega-storm, Hurricane Irma, that destroyed CBB’s marquee sign, air conditioning units, freezers, cooking equipment, and damaged the roof of a food truck. Lost sales and property damages caused an economic hit of $150,000.
Thinking on her feet, Stephanie used a generator from one of the food trucks to power the restaurant and begin the recovery process. The CBB team cooked food for local officials and volunteers helping with the post-hurricane clean-up. Stephanie received an SBA disaster loan for $197,000 to cover working capital needs and repair costs. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida International University helped restructure CBB’s financial operations and develop a business continuity plan. The SBA assistance powered CBB to get the staff and revenue back to pre-disaster levels.
Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official
Ventura County Supervisor, District 2
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
The quiet of Thousand Oaks was devastated Thursday, November 8, 2018, when the Woolsey Fire erupted in Ventura County. By Saturday, the fire had expanded to 70,000 acres, with no end in sight. By the time the fire was contained, nearly 97,000 acres had been scorched, three people lost their lives, and more than 295,000 residents, including Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, were evacuated from 105,000 homes.
Parks cleared out her office and loaned it to county officials for their use as a Victims Assistance Center. She coordinated several fire recovery town hall meetings for displaced residents. In addition to attending fire briefings with the California Governor’s office, the Department of the Interior and FEMA, Parks held numerous press conferences urging residents to follow evacuation and safety orders.
Parks worked to authorize a California Office of Emergency Services debris removal program, and supported firefighters by helping water agencies craft messages urging residents to reduce water use. In the months that followed, she, along with five mayors from nearby cities, co-authored a fire preparedness Op-Ed that called for the future use of underground utility lines, since many fires are caused by sparks from overhead power cables.
Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Volunteer
Christine Nieves Rodriguez and Luis Rodriguez Sanchez
Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (PAM) (Mariana Mutual Support Project)
Humacao, Puerto Rico
In early 2017, Christine Nieves Rodriguez returned to her childhood home in Mariana, a mountainous area of Humacao, with her husband Luis. On September 20, 2017, the couple found themselves huddled in a tiny bathroom for three hours, with windows and doors exploding, as Hurricane Maria tore through the island with winds of 155 mph.
The damage to their home, they felt, paled in comparison to the destruction of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The lack of power, communications, food and water accelerated the physical and emotional decline of the hurricane survivors. Christine and Luis shook themselves out of their own exhaustion and grief and decided to help the Mariana community recover.
Christine and Luis found a large space to set up a community kitchen, recruited volunteers to cook and serve meals, accepted food donations, and found a neighbor with a working pickup truck to load large containers of water from a nearby oasis. Their initiative, the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (PAM), ultimately fed more than 5,000 people.
Christine and Luis expanded PAM’s operations and recruited more volunteers. They used their local contacts, social media and news coverage from media outlets around the world to get free Wi-Fi for Mariana residents. The couple was also able to secure the largest solar generator on the island, three water towers, several health clinics, and meal deliveries for the sick. Christine and Luis’ resourcefulness, courage, and determination made it possible for the people of Mariana to challenge their circumstances and emerge as victors, prepared to support the rebirth of Puerto Rico.
In addition to national awards ceremonies in Washington, D.C., SBA offices in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam will celebrate National Small Business Week May 5-11, 2019, with additional events for small business owners and entrepreneurs. For more information on National Small Business Week, visit www.sba.gov/nsbw.