Finding Students a Home

By Tobin, Katherine | Momentum, February/March 2006 | Go to article overview
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Finding Students a Home

Tobin, Katherine, Momentum

Catholic colleges and universities respond to the aftermath of gulf hurricanes

The mission statement of nearly every Catholic college and university places an emphasis on community service. Through their response to students in need during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Catholic colleges and universities across the nation exemplified their generous and compassionate spirit for anyone who suffered from the devastation.

Hurricane Katrina affected our nation by displacing thousands of residents, destroying homes and possessions and forcing many businesses to close their doors. Along with these displaced families, lost homes and businesses, almost 90,000 college students found themselves seeking shelter. In addition to the Catholic colleges and universities heavily affected by hurricane Katrina, including Xavier University of Louisiana, Loyola University New Orleans and several others, students from Tulane University, Dillard University and the University of New Orleans also were homeless following the storms.

Among the displaced were freshman experiencing their first days away from home and family and seniors who were near graduation and needed the last few classes to complete requirements. There were student organization, fraternity and sorority and campus ministry leaders who had planned events that represented the most important work of their young careers. And there were the high hopes of continuing the meaningful college friendships that historically last a lifetime.

Colleges Reach Out

Countless colleges and universities nationwide responded with great concern for these displaced students. Catholic colleges and universities provided counseling and a warm welcome for many student evacuees. Most held prayer services and Masses, after which they put words into action and converted prayers into meaningful expressions of God's work.

Virtually every Catholic college and university developed an outreach statement on how it would accommodate the evacuated students. Colleges and universities assigned personnel to staff phone lines, answer questions and welcome students who desperately were seeking an academic home.

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities immediately provided Web site information for displaced students and their families. The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the National Catholic College Admission Association (National CCAA) quickly established procedures and programs to organize and communicate the opportunities that were available to these students. "In the days following the Katrina devastation, I was touched by the genuine support of our enrollment directors who began contacting the national office to ask about how they could help our students," said Brian Lynch, executive director of the National CCAA.

"After several emergency meetings and enthusiastic offers of support, we worked with our communications partner, Stein Communications, and created a Web site for colleges to post what they were offering. Meanwhile, we reached out to communicate to professionals at parishes, schools and organizations nationwide about the availability of alternatives for educational relocation. The response of professionals on all levels was overwhelming and inspiring," Mr. Lynch said.

Catholic higher education administrators, faculty and staff dedicated their time to the students, even knowing that their own homes might be destroyed, the whereabouts of their own families uncertain and their own personal and professional futures unclear. Many of these administrators realized that they would all need to rebuild their lives together.

A large number of institutions immediately opened their doors and residence halls to students regardless of the evacuees' ability to pay or immediate documentation of their academic credentials. Faculty members met with students to get them up to speed so that they lost no time in their academic progress.

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