A Home Away from Home
|Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor|
Sept. 20, 2005 -- Many New Orleans families are feeling right at home in Hopkins County due to the generosity of community members who have provided evacuees with temporary housing and jobs until matters calm down along the Gulf Coast.
�It�s just the right thing to do,� said Julie Barrows, a volunteer at the Salvation Army shelter set up at Wesley United Methodist Church, who has also provided housing for one of the evacuated families. �I think many of the people are finding they may want to relocate here.�
Audrey Powell, her daughter, Dawn, and grandchildren, Angelique, 18, Marcell, 16, and 12-year-old Jazmine Satchebell, were among the first Hurricane Katrina evacuees to arrive in Sulphur Springs, and are, in fact, considering a permanent move to the area.
�My kids just love it here,� said Dawn, a single mother. �I had been thinking about moving anyway. In the big city, everyone is leery of everybody else. It�s very different here. It just feels great.�
According to Powell, ever since she and her family arrived in Sulphur Springs on the day before Hurricane Katrina hit, they have felt welcomed by the community.
�This is a very caring community,� said Powell, who said she will be returning to New Orleans, her home of more than 30 years. �I�ve seen and experienced it first hand. It feels real, very genuine.�
According to Powell, she had never heard of Sulphur Springs until she called a Shreveport hotel trying to get reservations after New Orleans officials called for a voluntary evacuation of the city.
�They told me the nearest place you�ll find a room is in Sulphur Springs,� said the recently retired Powell.
After downloading a map and directions off the Internet, the family made their way to the local Holiday Inn to wait for the storm to pass and for information of when they could return to their homes. As news spread of the storm’s devastation, it became apparent they were in for a long wait, and would need to seek refuge elsewhere. After four days in the hotel, the family ended up at the shelter, worrying and wondering about what they should do next.
�I had never experienced anything like this,� said Powell. �I�ve always been very independent. And to have to depend on someone else for your next meal, and wonder where you�re going to go and what you�re going to do is very unsettling � humbling.
�I don�t consider myself prideful, but I was taught to do things for yourself, because nobody�s going to do them for you.�
But upon entering the shelter, she was forced to realize the magnitude of their situation, and that for the the first time in her life, she was going to have to depend upon the kindness of strangers.
�I think I worried them (volunteers) to death,� laughed Powell. �I was always asking if I could help them do something. It was hard to just sit around,� not doing anything.��
The restlessness and sleepless nights at the shelter soon began to take a toll on Powell, both physically and emotionally.
�I had to quit even watching the news,� she explained. �It bothered me so much emotionally, wondering about my things and wondering if I even had a home to go back to.�
She said she finally realized that she needed to sit back and let the volunteers do what they were there to do, even if it was being taken care of for a change.
�I had to just tell myself somewhere down the line, as I grew stronger, I would be able to, in turn, help somebody else,� she said.
Up at 5 a.m. every morning reading her Bible, she said it seemed like everything she even thought about or mentioned would just miraculously appear.
�I said, �I miss my sewing machine,� cause I was just trying to think of something that would keep my busy, and within the next half-hour I had a sewing machine, material, everything I needed to sew with,� she recalled. �Somewhere along the way my faith kicked in and I knew everything was going to be all right. Everything just seemed to start falling into place.�
Dawn’s oldest daughter had been a student at the Delgado Community College in New Orleans and was able to transfer, quite easily, to Texas A&M University-Commerce.
�I told one person that she had been studying music business, and they got on the phone and made a couple of phone calls,� said Dawn. �A man and his wife from the Admissions Department came and picked us up on Saturday and took her to see her room. He already had her transcripts and all the paperwork done.�
In the meantime, Dawn’s younger two children were thriving at Sulphur Springs High School and Middle School, so she and her mother sought employment in the community.
Powell was hired to work part-time in the office of First United Methodist Church, and Dawn was hired by the Texas Workforce Commission after applying through them for employment elsewhere.
�So many businesses from our community have been kind enough to offer employment for these people,� said Barrows. �And people like LaVelle Hendricks have worked endlessly trying to find homes for these families.�
After a couple of weeks in the shelter, the Powell family was in desperate need of a place of there own.
�Privacy is a wonderful thing,� said Dawn. �We really began needing some space.�
�We just wanted to help somebody,� said Kay Fowler, who along with her husband, David, decided to donate their family cabin to a family at the shelter. �It was just such a tragedy in New Orleans, and that house was just sitting there with everything you need in it to live � really, more.�
Barrows had come to know Powell and her family, and let them know the Fowler house was available.
�Ms. Powell is such a sweet lady,� Barrows said. �When you talk to her family, you know right away they�re good people.�
Also important was that they had arrived in town with their own transportation, unlike so many of the other evacuees.
�Whoever got the house would have to have their own car because the house is a good ways out of town,� Barrows explained.�
�We felt like it was just a miracle,� said Powell, of the fully furnished three bedroom, one bath home. �We feel so blessed. When we got there they were cleaning it up for us. They said, �Use anything you need.� They even had food in the refrigerator. That family has been so wonderful and gracious to us.�
Living in someone else’s home and using their belongings did, however, take some getting used to, according to Powell.
�We�re settling in, but it�s taken some getting used to living in someone else�s house with their furniture and things. We want to be very careful of everything that they have here. But I�m beginning to feel more comfortable. I�m finally feeling a little more rested and my nerves are calming down.�
Though Dawn will likely stay in the community, Powell is anxious to return to New Orleans to check on her two-story town home and other possessions.
�We still haven�t been able to go back and assess the situation,� said Powell, who lives on the West Banks of New Orleans.� According to news reports, the West Banks did not flood, but mostly sustained structural damage due to the 175 mile per hour winds.�
�We just thank God for the people of Sulphur Springs,� Powell emphasized. �Even though I don�t know what condition my house is in, and I�ve had worries like that, we have felt very welcome here. I have found out that it even feels a little like home because of the way the people have opened their hearts and poured out love for us. This is a wonderful community, and it will be a nice place for me to come visit my daughter and grandchildren.�