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Child evacuees find temporary home through connection

 


Child evacuees find temporary home through connection

Sept. 21, 2005        

By Betty Backstrom*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — Keith Rhodes, executive director of the Methodist Home for Children in New Orleans, had planned to take a relaxing fishing trip on Saturday, Aug. 27.

Instead, that morning Rhodes was rapidly arranging the evacuation of 36 residents and 13 staff members of the home to its sister facility in Ruston, La., the Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home. Hurricane Katrina was approaching.

“We knew this storm was going to be a serious event,” Rhodes said. “The children prepared for the trip to Ruston, packing three sets of clothes and medication. We hoped that the storm would take the route of other storms and veer away from New Orleans, but we were wrong.”

The storm made landfall Aug. 29, causing widespread devastation and spurring flooding in the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.

As with previous storms, the children’s home in Ruston welcomed its New Orleans counterpart with open arms. “We all hoped that our stay would be for just a few days. We hunkered down and waited for the storm to hit. When the worst happened, we knew our group would be in Ruston for much longer,” Rhodes said.

Officials with both children’s homes predict the evacuees could remain in north Louisiana for up to six months.

Terrel DeVille, president and chief executive officer of the Ruston home, has worked hand in hand with Rhodes to meet the needs of the displaced children and staff.

“We quickly realized that we needed more permanent housing for our guests,” DeVille said. “Volunteers stepped in to clean out and renovate several buildings on the campus previously used for outreach programs or storage. I can’t say enough about the staff, many of whom have pulled double duty throughout this transition.”

Not all of the residents of the New Orleans home are in Ruston. “Our system is part of a large foster care program,” Rhodes said. “Some of the children are with their families on home passes. Others are scattered throughout the country with family in cities like Houston, Nashville and Little Rock.” 

The children are well cared for but are having trouble adjusting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “Their losses are great,” Rhodes said. “Some have lost family members, and others are missing. Many of the families are not computer savvy and don’t know how to search the Web for their missing loved ones.”

In the face of this disaster, the evacuees are fortunate to have this particular refuge. “The La. Methodist Children’s Home is a state-of-the-art therapeutic facility,” DeVille said. “Our staff is well versed in dealing with children in crisis, and our counselors are working overtime to help them with their concerns. Everyone is going out of their way to make the children feel at home and as safe as possible.”

The children are familiar with the staff and facility because of previous evacuations, including one last year during Hurricane Ivan. “They enjoy it here so much that one 9-year-old didn’t want to leave after the last storm,” Rhodes said. “They are more secure here than they would be in a lot of places.”

The staff and teachers at the school have worked hard, but DeVille stressed that the facility needs more help. “We are interviewing people right now for extra positions.”

DeVille spoke highly of the staff and children who are the newest residents of the Ruston campus. “This is truly a partnership. Everyone has been extremely cooperative and has given sacrificially to make things happen.”

Offers of help have also streamed in from members of the United Methodist Association of Children’s Homes. “We’ve heard from the homes in Georgia, Pennsylvania and others. Dozens of other agencies have sent materials and money,” DeVille said.

Rhodes, whose wife and twin 19-month-old daughters are with him in Ruston, is grateful for their situation. However, he suffers from the same emotional strain experienced by the evacuated children of New Orleans.

“This is like a nightmare that you just can’t wake up from,” he said. “You hope that you can close your eyes, and that in the morning, things would be back the way they used to be.”

One of the realities both administrators are facing is a significant loss of their donor base. “Of course, a major number of the New Orleans givers have been displaced,” DeVille said. “We in Ruston are also affected because 8 percent of our donor base is from the Crescent City area.”

Donations to the children’s homes may be made to Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, P.O. Box 929, Ruston, LA 71273-0929. For a non-monetary donation, contact Jane Ellen Boothe at (318) 242-4638.

Donations to support the United Methodist response to Hurricane Katrina can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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