A year after Hurricane Michael, the once busy ballfield behind the Gulf Power Panama City Office sits empty and decaying. With a donation to the city, Gulf Power is helping the neighborhood play ball again.

For several years, Sandy Sims, director of external relations, enjoyed walking out of the Panama City Office in the evening and seeing Woods Ballfield behind it teeming with children, coaches and parents participating in football, baseball, cheerleading and soccer.

That scene abruptly ended when Hurricane Michael roared through Panama City on Oct. 10, 2018.  Within a few days, the ballfield became a parking lot for the army of utility workers who descended on the area for the massive power restoration project. Once completed, the field has sat vacant and declining.

“It was often heartwarming to me when I’d leave the office and look over there and see the lights on and the kids playing,” Sims said. “The kids who played there are from around the area of our office that is pretty impoverished. It’s important to us to get that ballfield restored so those kids have a place to play and the youth have an outlet for something positive in their lives.”

Sandy Sims, Gulf Power director of external relations, is looking forward to the Woods Ballfield in Panama City being filled with children playing sports again, under bright new lights the company is paying for.

To make it happen, Gulf Power is presenting a check for $50,000 to the City of Panama City to restore and improve the ballfield’s lighting system with efficient LED lights.

“The city didn’t have the money before to improve the ballfield,” Sims said. “They are using Hurricane Michael and our donation as an opportunity to improve it. This will be a showcase for the children of Panama City.”

Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said with Gulf Power’s donation, the city will be investing in new sod, irrigation and batting cages for the field.

“In addition to Gulf Power’s herculean effort in restoring power after Hurricane Michael, they continue to be an amazing community partner in helping Panama City rebuild bigger, better and stronger,” said Brudnicki. “Gulf Power’s donation to the city will go a long way in rebuilding and improving Woods Ballfield, which is used year-round for youth sports activities.”

The Woods Ballfield restoration project underscores the power of Gulf Power’s community partnerships.

The goal is to have the field ready for games in the spring so the Jackson E. Jones Little League and Glenwood Rattlers youth football can return to their home turf next year.

If there’s an upside to the hurricane, Sims pointed out that it presented an opportunity to build bigger, better and stronger to make Panama City more storm-resilient.

“By opening day of baseball season our employees will come out and have a cookout,” she said. “It will be for more than just the kids, it will be a welcome back to the community. Our team is really excited about grilling some hot dogs and hamburgers and just welcoming everyone back.”

She and the Panama City Office team are eager to hear the cheers from the ballfield and see kids and families filling the office parking lot for games once again.

“It’s been a great partnership over the years, and we want it back,” Sims said. “And a thank you to our employees for always setting the example of giving back to our community.