Three years ago all I had left was a suitcase and my family, and then I was forced to move away to find schooling, leaving my family behind. This is when I came to believe in the kindness of strangers and the beauty in losing everything and having a second chance to start over.
I am one of the millions of Hurricane Katrina victims. When I was a junior at the Louise S. McGehee School for girls in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina swept through and washed away everything I had known. When, months later, I returned to the lot where I had lived most of my life, all I could see for miles were piles of people’s lives. My life was in a pile as well; I was living in Bridgewater, Virginia with old friends of my mother. I was thrown into a public school for the first time and outside the gates of my private-school-girl life. Now I was living in a country town with tractors on the road and cows in every field. The smell of manure greeted me as I walked out the front door rather than the dead fish smell of the marsh that I was used to. I was scared and feeling very alone.
A few months after my arrival I received a package in the mail. That box was filled with clothes from Premium Blend, the all-female a-capella group at Ithaca College. They had heard from the family I was living with in Virginia what had happened to me. The high school I was attending, Tuner Ashby High School, started a fundraiser and sent perishables down to Louisiana and Mississippi. This school took me in when I had nowhere else to go with no questions asked. The teachers were kind and the students included me quickly. I will never forget the day after school during play rehearsal when it started to rain. It was the first time I had seen rain since I had lived in it for a week. I was a basket case and Mr. Dias, my drama teacher, took me outside and we jogged around the school in the rain, looking at the expansive hills and beautiful mountains that were in our backyard, and I was okay. Later, his church would raise money for me, and his wife and friend would take me shopping for winter clothes since I had never experienced much of winter in the swamps of Louisiana.
I am forever indebted to those that helped my family and got us back on our feet. Something as small as a quilt from North Dakota all the way to a check from the Red Cross in Harrisonburg, VA, put hope in our hearts. That is the reason I drop whatever money I might have in the buckets of the people I see sitting on the streets or give my leftovers if that is all I have to give. The saying is true, every penny helps, and if you don’t have a penny, an outstretched hand is sometimes even better.