Katrina survivors praise University support
Hurricane Katrina's winds were gathering force in the Gulf of Mexico when Slidell, La., native Kenny Human packed to leave for his freshman year at U-M.
Two years later, the University's efforts to help New Orleans area students like Human, whose academic careers were threatened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are drawing renewed praise.
"The University of Michigan deserves recognition and credit for the difference that it has made in our life and the lives of so many in this area," wrote Ken and Kim Human of Slidell, La., in a letter to President Mary Sue Coleman on the second anniversary of the catastrophe.
Ken, father of LSA junior Kenny Human, continued, "I want to thank all of you at the University. We appreciate what you did for us; words are inadequate to express our gratitude."
Beverly Brooks of Hattiesburg, Miss., similarly arrived for her freshman year just days before the storm hit and immediately returned as Katrina devastated her house and her hometown, more than 100 miles from the Gulf Coast. The storm also impacted her family as her father was severely injured while helping with storm relief.
"I went right back and missed the first day of classes," Brooks says. "Sue Eklund (dean of students) hugged me and they actually told me to go, it was awesome, they said they would get a plane ticket. The dean contacted my teachers and let everyone know."
While money to continue school was a problem for many afflicted by Katrina, Brooks had earned a full scholarship. For her, the emotional support provided by staff was vital. "The dean of students and her gang Sue and Claudette Brower, and Chris (Butchart-Bailey) were like family," says Brooks, who continued to visit and talk with staff while she was a student here.
U-M provided or located financial aid for more than 80 New Orleans-Gulf Coast area students enrolled at the University, in addition to temporarily enrolling roughly 100 students displaced by Katrina. Kenny Human was among those who had already enrolled: "I was looking through a book and saw that the University of Michigan ranked highly; I applied on a whim and didn't expect to get in," says Kenny, who seeks a career with the FBI.
"It was his first choice," says his dad. "As it turned out Michigan has been a wonderful choice, they couldn't have treated us better."
Kenny and his dad were preparing to leave for Ann Arbor as the hurricane formed. "We had bought a plane ticket six months before Katrina. That turned out to be the very last plane out of the New Orleans airport," Ken Human explains.
As he helped son Kenny move into his dorm room over that Labor Day weekend, Ken followed news reports of the storm's impact on their home.
"I had gone to the Internet at looked at a satellite photo of our house. It was still there," says Human. While talking with neighbors, they told him of serious flooding. "When I got home the water was gone, but it left behind this horrible residue all over my house. It was totally overwhelming."
The impact on Kenny's college finances were similarly devastating. While Ken, a NASA chief counsel, still had a job, he would have to move at least for a time. Kenny's mother, divorced from his father, suffered even more damage to her home in mid-town New Orleans, as more than 6 feet of dirty water sat in her home generating mold and mildew. The result: While his family waited for flood insurance and government loans to come through, Kenny was going to need financial aid to continue his schooling.
Thankful for help
"Savings intended for Kenny's college education were sidetracked to the rebuilding of our homes and our altered living situations, amid all the uncertainties of our financial plight," Ken Human wrote, summing up the experience in his letter to the president. "Financial aid officials at the University were sympathetic and concerned about Kenny's situation and the payment of his fall and spring tuition was immediately suspended and eventually offset by generous grants of financial assistance. Kenny was contacted with additional offers of assistance from University alumni and the people of Ann Arbor."
"It's been fantastic, this school gives me a lot of stability," Kenny says.
Brooks attended consecutive semesters and graduated in April with a bachelor of arts degree in English language and literature. She now attends William Carey University in Hattiesburg working on a master's degree in hopes of becoming a teacher.