WESTERN STUDENTS, FACULTY, STAFF                                                                                                    

Image: Burton Ogle speaks at the town hall meeting
Burton Ogle (foreground) of health sciences speaks at the meeting.
Image: Thomas Peters (center) and his family

Thomas Peters (center), assistant director of intramurals at Western, shares a moment with members of his family, who are now safe in Western North Carolina after Peters drove to the New Orleans area to pick them up after Hurricane Katrina. With Peters, from left to right, are nephew Deante Pechon, mother Amelia Watts, cousin Jaron Watts, and nephew JaShawn Pechon.


CULLOWHEE – About 100 members of the Western Carolina University community came together Friday, Sept. 9, to brainstorm on ways to help hurricane-battered Gulf Coast residents in the aftermath of the cataclysmic storm, rail against the bureaucracy for its slow response to the disaster, and meet in person some refugees from the catastrophe.

The “Katrina Town Hall Meeting: From Awareness to Action,” sponsored by Western's Division of Student Affairs, brought together an array of panelists speaking on a variety of complex issues related to recovery, including representatives of service learning, emergency management, campus ministry, counseling and psychological services, and health sciences.

The event was designed as a chance for members of the university community to share and discuss reactions, thoughts, issues and, most importantly, opportunities for campus action to help meet dire needs related to the crisis, said Bill Haggard, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.

During the meeting, Tom Frazier, manager of the University Print Shop, told the group that he had challenged the staff forum organizations at all 16 University of North Carolina campuses to adopt 10 to 12 families from the affected area.

“As a university community, we can experience the essence of scholarship by bringing these people into our communities. If we don't step up to the plate and do something to help them, it brings into question our reality as institutions of higher learning,” Frazier said. “This would help put a human face on this disaster by welcoming some of its victims into our midst.”

Some Hurricane Katrina survivors already are finding assistance in Cullowhee. Paul and Yvonne Biro of New Orleans evacuated before the hurricane hit and headed to Western North Carolina. The two are now working for Aramark, the university's food service provider, in Dodson Cafeteria.

Thomas Peters, assistant director of intramurals, drove down to the New Orleans area after the storm to check on members of his family who lived there. He brought back to WNC a dozen relatives. Four of them – including his mother, his cousin and two nephews – are living with him in Cullowhee, while others are residing with other relatives in South Carolina.

“It was a blessing for me to be able to go down and get them,” Peters said at the town hall meeting, introducing his family members. “And while you think you might know how bad it is from watching it on TV, it's a whole different thing to see it in person. All I can say is, please keep these people in your prayers, because they mean a lot at this time.”

Rob Young, a hurricane researcher who flew over the battered coast as part of reconnaissance work he has been doing from some 20 years, reminded the crowd that Hurricane Katrina is a disaster unprecedented in U.S. history. “Four states were impacted by the storm, which makes the logistics even more difficult to coordinate,” Young said. “There will continue to be a major problem of access for individuals looking to do good.”

That's why individuals and campus groups should pool their resources, he said. “The best thing to do is to send money, because that can be diverted to exactly what is needed by the Red Cross or faith-based relief efforts, or to combine resources to send large quantities of diapers or bottled water or canned goods, rather than a can of corn here, a can of baked beans there. Those smaller donations, while well-intentioned, can be difficult to sort through and deliver to the people who need them.”

Glenn Bowen, director of service learning, commended the campus community for its outpouring of support to hurricane victims. “Our students are enthusiastic and eager to help,” Bowen said. “At the same time, we need a more concerted effort to have the most positive impact on the people of the Gulf Coast communities.”

Marie Cochran, who joined the art department faculty this fall, said she was impressed by response of faculty, staff and students to the disaster, and she encouraged her fellow faculty members to incorporate lessons from the hurricane and the relief efforts into their classrooms. “Remember, this is a university,” Cochran said. “This is a place where we teach and shape young minds. This is a place where we discuss diverse viewpoints.”

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Last modified: Monday, September 12, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Western Carolina University