Boys & Girls clubs collect money for Katrina victims

By Reggie Ellis

Nobody knows the awesome destructive power of a hurricane better than John Hobbs. The marketing director for the Exeter Boys & Girls Club has lived through four of them - first Camille in 1969, Hugo in 1989, then Gilbert in 1998 and Andrew in 1992.

"They always seem to come ashore at night," Hobbs said. "That makes it scary because it sounds like a freight train coming through your living room but you can't see anything."

He said only Camille rivaled the destruction left by Katrina, already listed as the third most intense hurricane to hit the United States in recorded history. Many estimates predict that Katrina, which came ashore on Aug. 29, is the costliest storm in history to strike the United States. In terms of fatalities it was the second deadliest named storm to hit the US, and may be declared the deadliest after more casualties are discovered.

Katrina also caused the first total devastation of a major American city since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires. With winds recorded at 175 mph, Katrina was well beyond the 160-mph threshold for a category 5, the highest for hurricanes.

Hobbs began discussing his experience with the club's executive director Joe Engelbrecht and program coordinator April McCormick last week. Almost simultaneously the three suggested that the club raise money locally to send in relief of the victims.

They also took the opportunity to educate club members about current events. The staff gave a presentation to the club about what happened in New Orleans. They tried to relate the information to something familiar asking them to imagine what would happen if Lake Kaweah's dam broke and flooded Exeter, or if Highway 65 were washed away through town. Hobbs noticed one of the children was staring at the ceiling.

"I figured he just wasn't listening," Hobbs said. "But after we answered questions from the kids, he was the first to walk up, dig into his pocket and give us all his change to help out the survivors. That really touched my heart because I have seen what these people are going through."

Anyone wanting to donate can make checks payable to the Exeter or Farmersville Boys & Girls Club at 360 E. Pine St., Exeter, CA 93221. For more information call 592-2711.

"The community here has been extremely generous and demonstrated their dedication to making sure there are opportunities for youth," Engelbrecht said. "Now we are talking about the basics of life - water, food, shelter, clothing. These are things we take for granted but have been taken away from thousands of children in that area."

The money will be put into a special account set aside by the local clubs and will be donated as one large check directly to the clubs hardest hit by the hurricane. As of Sept. 2, BGCA estimated that 17 Gulf Coast Club facilities - with a total annual enrollment of more than 20,000 children - were impacted by the storm. Of this number, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast in the Gulfport/Biloxi, Miss., area lost six of their seven units, which served 14,000 kids along, to the hurricane.

"This situation is phenomenal," said Arlene Armentor-Bonner, chief planning officer for a Boys & Girls Club in Lafayette, La., about 100 miles northwest from New Orleans. "What we are dealing with now is the influx of kids being evacuated from New Orleans. One of our clubs, a city facility, is being used to house evacuees, so we are relocating our program to a school next door. From there we'll figure out how to integrate the visiting children into our program, or conduct club programs at shelters. Kids arriving here will be registered into our schools because, obviously, they won't have school in New Orleans for quite some time."

You can also send donations payable to Hurricane Relief, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 1230 W. Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta GA 30309. Write “Hurricane Relief” in the memo line of your check. For more information go to www.BGCA.org.

"BGCA has really spearheaded the effort to provide relief to the youth of the affected areas," Engelbrecht said.

Devastation

According to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia funded by the federal government, Katrina affected areas in southern Florida, Louisiana (especially the Greater New Orleans area), Mississippi, Alabama, the western Florida Panhandle, western Georgia, the Tennessee Valley and Ohio Valley regions, the eastern Great Lakes region and the length of the western Appalachians. As of Sept. 2, more than 300 deaths have been reported in seven states, a number which is expected to rise as casualty reports come in from areas currently inaccessible. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin estimates hundreds, and as many as thousands, are feared dead. Two levees in New Orleans gave way, and 80% of the city is now under water, which in some places is 20 to 25 feet deep.

Those most affected or stranded are predominately poor people, the sick and the elderly as those groups didn't have the means or ability to evacuate before the storm hit, many of them trapped on their rooftops waiting for rescue. This is the primary demographic that Boys & Girls Clubs serve throughout the nation. Hobbs said the youth in the area will be some of the most affected because they may have lost their home, parents and friends, may be hungry and dehydrated and under extreme mental duress.

"We are dealing with the basics of life," Hobbs said. "And that's not even getting into other issues such as these kids all being a year behind in school, not having access to books or just a place to play and be a kid."

Due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the vast majority of schools in the city of New Orleans as well as southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi have been shut down until further notice. Many of these schools have faced extensive structural damage, and schooling on all levels has been put on hold.

- All hurricane information was obtained from Wikipedia.org.

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