POLLOCK – Evacuees who have been staying at the LSU AgCenter’s Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center since being forced out of their homes by Hurricane Katrina will soon be moving to more permanent shelters.
Jane Jones, director of the LSU AgCenter facility, said about 650 people sought shelter at different times before and after many of their homes were destroyed and their lives shattered when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast Aug. 29. Many of the evacuees at the 4-H Center came from St. Bernard Parish, one of the hardest-hit parishes in Louisiana.
"People have been here since Sunday, Aug. 28," Jones said recently. "This was a temporary shelter, so now they will be moving to more permanent shelters where they will be given assistance they need to get on with their lives."
Jones said that the 4-H camp staff and Red Cross volunteers are working diligently to help evacuees locate friends and family members who are willing to allow them to live with them. They also are seeking resources to help with needed transportation.
This is about the fifth time the Grant Walker 4-H Center has been used as an evacuation shelter. Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and director of extension, said serving as a shelter fits well with the LSU AgCenter’s goals targeted toward helping Louisiana residents.
"This is just one excellent example of what the LSU AgCenter is doing to provide immediate relief to victims of Katrina," Coreil said. "We also have a pet shelter set up at Parker Coliseum on the LSU campus, and we have agents all over the state volunteering their time and efforts to help people. We are dedicated to helping people overcome this catastrophe."
Because people were checking in and out as they found other housing arrangements, Jones said the maximum number housed at Grant Walker probably was around 585. The camp can accommodate about 600 people on the 50-acre site that includes large cabins, bathhouses, meeting rooms, a dining hall and other facilities.
James Trammel, a former 4-H’er from Montgomery who now lives in Stonewall, said he is glad the Grant Walker facility is being used to help evacuees.
"I was thinking about the Grant Walker site and what a wonderful place that would be for evacuees to go to," he said. "I’m glad to hear how the LSU AgCenter is helping people by allowing them to use the facility."
Trammel remembered the facility from his days of attending 4-H Camp there – one of its major uses during the summers.
To help put some normalcy back into the lives of displaced youth staying at Grant Walker, an activity center was set up for them. Housed in the activity center are different stations where young people can read, play with toys, color, play games and more. Debbie Bairnsfather, an LSU AgCenter regional 4-H coordinator, helped get the activity center up and going.
"The positive and supportive environment that has been offered for youth through having a ‘safe’ area has benefited them as well as made AgCenter personnel more aware of the situations facing these displaced citizens – young and old," Bairnsfather said. "It tugs at your heart to see these youth suffering and not knowing what the future holds for them.
"At least, through providing this opportunity, we can help to make this difficult time somewhat more bearable and let the youth and adults know that we do care about them," she said, explaining the activity center is used mostly in the afternoons after school, since students have at least temporarily enrolled in local schools.
Terril Faul, head of the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H Youth Development Office, agrees with Bairnsfather, saying the activity center is a good way to "keep the young people occupied." There’s also equipment to play softball, basketball and soccer outside, he said.
"This is a great place for the young people to come after school and on the weekends," Faul said. "We have educational as well as physical activity programs for the young people."
Walter Nelson, 17, escaped with his family from Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. Nelson said he and his family left when they were told to evacuate.
"At first, we thought the hurricane would just pass over us," Nelson said. "But it didn’t, and we had to leave. We came here, and it’s wonderful. It’s quiet, and the people are nice."
Walter Nelson’s brother Tyrone, 22, is also at the Grant Walker facility. Tyrone Nelson is deaf and uses sign language to communicate.
"It’s a great place," Tyrone Nelson said using sign language. "It’s not home, but it’s OK."
For more information on dealing with the Hurricane Katrina disaster, go to www.lsuagcenter.com. On that site you can find links to a variety of information on what to do to prepare for or recover from such emergencies as the recent hurricane, volunteering in your community and much more.
Debbie Bairnsfather at (318) 435-2903 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Terril Faul at (225) 578-2196 or email@example.com
Jane Jones at (318) 765-7209 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A. Denise Coolman at (318) 547-0921 or email@example.com