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LU’s community-wide response to Hurricane Laura

Nearly as soon as Hurricane Laura’s winds stopped howling, Lamar University Cardinals were helping in the recovery efforts, assisting each other and the community.

Although, the Lamar University campus, along with most of the Beaumont area received minimal damage, some of LU’s students, faculty and staff were impacted. Immediately, LU circulated a survey to ascertain the Student Athlete Groupdamage to its university community and how best to help Cardinals recover.

“More than 1,400 students completed the “Laura form” letting us know how the storm impacted them,” said Tracie Craig, director, Welcome Center. “We called students individually and provided food vouchers, direction to financial assistance and assurance that they would not be left behind.”

Fatemeh Rahmani, an international student earning her doctorate in electrical engineering, who has no local family and friends to evacuate to, was forced to incur the expenses of a hotel and dining out in Houston.

“I spent a lot of money and have a financial problem so I asked Lamar University to help with the cost of the evacuation,” said Rahmani, a native of Iran. “It was a very, very bad time but by Monday after the storm, I was home and everything was normal. I had everything I needed.”

Kiasia Wilson’s family lost their food supply due to the storm. The Wilson family’s farm was devastated in the storm and they were without power and water. Wilson personally received food and food vouchers from Lamar University. LU also provided emergency food and shelter information for her entire family.

“We just came to college and didn’t get settled in and then the hurricane came and took us away from college,” said Wilson, a first-generation freshman majoring in pre-nursing. “I was scared that my professors wouldn’t be understanding but many of them extended deadlines and tests.”

Coaches and IceLU faculty were notified to “extend grace” to students most impacted by the storm by allowing course work deadlines to be pushed back.

“We asked faculty to listen to students empathically, to encourage them and serve as a resource to them,” said Brenda Nichols, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “We knew each student's needs would be different than the next, but the greatest need would be for students to stay on track toward their degree goals. We asked faculty to help ensure this happened by being understanding and somewhat lenient with deadlines.”

Some of LU’s faculty were significantly impacted by Hurricane Laura. Several members of LU’s Joanne Gay Dishman School of Nursing faculty, who reside in Orange County, Vinton and Lake Charles, lost water and power for extended periods of time. A tree fell into the home of one faculty member’s house causing significant damage.

Dr. Ruthie Robinson, director of Graduate Nursing Studies, immediately launched a fundraising campaign to help impacted faculty recover. Contributors to the fund used Venmo, Zelle, cash and checks to help support the recovery effort of their nursing students.

Pike group“The money from our staff and faculty continue to come in,” said Robinson. “We have about $2,160 as of Sep. 9.”

For more information on how to donate to the fund to assist the nursing faculty impacted by Hurricane Laura, contact Dr. Ruthie Robinson at rrobinson11@lamar.edu.

First-year nursing students Keena Candies, Amber Pearson and Takeena Simpson went to Vinton, La to participate in hurricane relief efforts. The students teamed up with Lumberton residents, Codi Burgess and Hurricaneeffort3Summer Courville, who prepared food for the students to distribute in impacted areas.

“We provided 20 hurricane relief kits, 50 meals and sandwiches,” said Candies. “We are also trying to get more resources to go to more of the smaller towns such as Westlake, Sulphur and Ragley, who are not receiving as much help.” 

Student organizations, like LU’s Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKEs) lent a helping hand. On two consecutive Saturdays. The fraternity members organized called the event "Neighbors helping Neighbors" and they Keena and Friendcooked and prepared and distributed hundreds of hamburgers and hot dogs to victims of the storm as well as help with overall general needs of the community. 

LU’s student athletes got involved in the effort. Athletic Director, Marco Born, sent an email out to all LU coaches apprising them of volunteering opportunities for their student athletes and the needs of the community.

“This is our community so it’s important that we serve in time of need,” said Born. “I have been extremely proud of the coaches and student athletes who have given so much effort and time. I made them aware of the opportunity and need but they came out and did the work.”

Hurricaneeffort2Sunday morning, Aug. 30, members of the LU baseball, men’s golf, men’s tennis and men’s track and field and cross-country teams and the LU external staff met at Griffing Park in Port Arthur to clean fallen tree branches and debris from residents’ yards.

Also on Sunday, members of the LU softball, women’s basketball, women’s tennis and women’s track and field and cross country teams helped distribute 1,000 bags of ice (approximately 20,000 pounds of ice) at Regional Square Plaza in Port Arthur.

Monday, the LU men’s basketball team arrived at the Southeast Texas Food Bank and began loading boxes full of food from the food bank’s warehouse and then helped residents get the supplies they need.

Thursday morning, LU football coaches, along with the women’s tennis coaches and team spent four hours at Walmart in Port Arthur collecting bottled water, baby wipes and toiletries to be delivered to Lake Charles Friday. In just four hours, the Cardinals collected more than 300 cases of water, 49 jugs of water, 49 packages of toilet paper, more than 35 cases of baby wipes and 21 bottles of hand sanitizer to go along with Hurricane Effort 4numerous other toiletries.

In addition to donations, patrons also donated money, which was immediately used to purchase items to be delivered.

LU football coaches spent Friday, Sep. 4 in Lake Charles grilling burgers for first responders and distributing the collected supplies.

"When the hurricane came through it basically avoided us – in terms of the real serious damage – but it went right through Lake Charles," said LU head football coach Blane Morgan. "I think a lot of people in Beaumont feel fortunate, having been through so many situations like this that they want to help those in Lake Charles. When something like this happens, you look at those affected and we felt as a group something needed to be done.”

Additionally, teams have been donating athletic gear to be distributed to McNeese’s athletics department.

"What happened to the city of Lake Charles and the surrounding area during Hurricane Laura is very tragic," said LU head coach Tic Price. "Folks had their lives flipped upside down in an instant. These are our neighbors, and when you see your neighbors hurting you want to help in any way you can."

On Thursday after the storm, members of the LU women’s basketball team met at Antioch Baptist Church and loaded cases of water onto the U-hauls and an 18-wheeler. They also created “essential bags” for folks in Lake Charles.

Donations for HurricaneCoach Price, and his wife, Jamie, purchased gift cards, water, non-perishable foods and toiletries to be delivered to those affected. Members of the community also pitched in to the effort and donated money as well as essential items. Everything collected was loaded onto a van and distributed at a church in Lake Charles Sunday morning after the storm.

Some students worked solo volunteering when their schedules allowed. LU senior football player, Myles Wanza, learned about a need at The Salvation Army warehouse in Beaumont. He spent the better part of a day helping clean out the warehouse.

“The city needs help and there’s a lot that’s been going on,” said Wanza, a general studies major with a minor in business. “There’s nothing wrong with helping out. I always like to help and I felt like there was more I could do to help the city.”

The entire LU community has committed to the effort. LU’s Montagne Center is housing members of the U.S. Coast Guard involved in the maritime recovery efforts in Port Arthur and Lake Charles, and the Montagne Center parking lot is being utilized by Entergy for its power recovery efforts.

“Lamar University is proud to be a part of the greater Southeast Texas community, and to that end, a partner Myles Wanzawhen it comes to recovering from natural disasters,” said Ken Evans. “I’m proud of the unified, campus-wide effort and commend our faculty, staff and the students for their volunteerism.”

Have you volunteered for the recovery effort, let us know? Email Shelly Vitanza at svitanza@lamar.edu to be added to this story.