Kenyon Responds

Hurricane Katrina brought an instant new focus to the Kenyon campus just as the first week of fall-semester classes was getting under way. As students from the Gulf Coast sought to reach loved ones and reports began coming in from alumni living in the disaster zone, members of the College community found ways to help.

"The support was immediate," says senior Katy Zeanah, a New Orleans native whose home was flooded when the 17th Street levee broke after the storm. Zeanah is one of several students from Louisiana who received e-mails and calls from concerned faculty and staff. "They offered our families places to stay, offered to make us dinner. It was just amazing."

Initially, the most urgent need was for information. Responding to requests from both on and off campus, the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs created a special online discussion board where alumni could share news about themselves and their families.

Almost at the same time, relief efforts began, first in the form of fundraising. The student affairs staff coordinated a drive to gather donations for the American Red Cross. Staff members established a collection site during the Activities Fair, an opening-week event in which campus organizations set up tables in downtown Gambier to generate interest. Several local businesses agreed to accept contributions as well. In all, nearly $6,000 was raised.

Meanwhile, the Kenyon administration--like the leaders of other colleges and universities across the country--found ways to offer institutional help. Two students from Tulane University were welcomed to the College for the fall semester, and their tuition was waived. The Library and Information Services Division learned that libraries throughout Louisiana were overwhelmed by residents who needed computer access to locate family members and apply for federal storm relief assistance. Kenyon donated more than thirty computer systems to help meet the need.

Geoff Munsterman '07, a New Orleans resident, organized several drives to collect clothing for storm victims. Faculty, staff, students, and Gambier residents--including children at Wiggin Street School, as well as their parents and teachers--donated enough clothes to fill a van. Munsterman and fellow student Andrew Kingsley '06 drove to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in mid-September to deliver the clothes personally.

The alumni community also got involved. Colette Pichon-Battle '97 of Washington, D.C., posted an update about her family in Slidell, Louisiana, a town north of New Orleans that was ravaged by Katrina's storm surge. Pichon-Battle's mother, as well as several aunts and uncles, lived in Slidell; the family had been there for generations. Every member of the family lost their home.

Help poured in from all over. Alumni donated funds, clothing, and supplies. In Gambier, Elizabeth Keeney, a member of the College's Board of Campus Ministries, held a yard sale, using the proceeds to purchase an $800 gift card from Home Depot to help Pichon-Battle's family in their rebuilding efforts in Slidell.

"The support my family has received from the Kenyon community has been overwhelming," Pichon-Battle says. She noted that members of the 1997 and 1998 graduating classes donated $3,100 to the Louisiana Network for Katrina Relief, a nonprofit organization Pichon-Battle helped launch.

Katrina is no longer on the front page, but Kenyon continues to reach out. As this issue of the Bulletin was going to press, a group of students was organizing a relief trip to Louisiana during winter break. Working with Gambier's Harcourt Parish and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, the students were planning to clean up and repair homes or salvage usable items from houses slated for demolition.

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