Features

Riding out the post-storm

Hurricanes | With private help, families can ride out red tape and relocation

Issue: "Trailer park blues," Nov. 26, 2005

COPPELL, Texas-Someday soon, Anthony Weathersby's basketball coach will realize the 16-year-old's basketball talent. Anthony, a high-school junior transplanted from Slidell, La., after Hurricane Katrina changed the southern landscape, knows he's better than a junior varsity player, but he'll have to convince coaches who don't know him at Coppell High School in suburban Dallas to promote him to varsity. "It'll happen hopefully tomorrow or maybe over the weekend," Anthony says, relaxing at his Coppell apartment following the first junior varsity basketball practice.

Together with his mother and father, Irvin and Nancy Weathersby, Anthony has spent the past few months waiting on a great many things. Thanks to the efforts of a local church, housing, furniture, and a smiling face aren't among them.

The Weathersbys are one of 231 families hosted by Dallas' Park Cities Presbyterian Church-one of many congregations that joined with hurricane victims in the fight to restore order and stability to lives wrecked by Katrina. In the 5,000-member church, 746 families have partnered with Katrina survivors to aid in everything from furnishing an apartment to help in finding jobs to making sense of the Metroplex's confusing highway system.

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Ten weeks after Katrina, thousands of hurricane survivors are still trying to cope with physical and emotional losses while trying to forge a new future away from the Gulf Coast, either for a few months or forever.

By the end of October, Project Exodus, a Dallas faith-based project spearheaded by megachurch Potter's House and the mayor's office, moved the last 250 of 1,500 Katrina evacuees who landed in Dallas shelters out of temporary housing in hotels and into more permanent housing.

But the storm is past and many survivors have other problems now. According to the Texas Apartment Association, 15,000 Katrina evacuees could face possible eviction with free rent expiring and FEMA resources either exhausted or slowed by red tape.

The Weathersby family has escaped those problems with faith-based help. The church that adopted them helped provide an all-expenses-paid six-month lease at a suburban apartment complex. Members from Park Cities met them with furniture, a television, and other items when they left their temporary home in a Jackson motel. Mr. Weathersby said one of the boys from the church used a Google search to help his family track down Mrs. Weathersby's father, who was evacuated from New Orleans to North Carolina.

Now that all family members have been located, the Weathersbys are working on catching up with friends. Mr. Weathersby even drove 60 miles south of Dallas just to see a familiar face, a friend who was only the second friend he had seen since the storm forced them to abandon their Slidell apartment during Katrina's approach.

And it's not likely they'll see more familiar faces soon. But Anthony is in a school he likes: "It's a lot better than where I used to be. In Louisiana I had a lot of associates, but here I'm making actual friends. I'll probably get a better education here too."

Both Mr. and Mrs. Weathersby have found work in Dallas (Nancy back on her usual overnight shift with the post office and Irvin driving a forklift for Heritage Bag). Neither seems eager to leave. "Oh, we're here to stay," Mr. Weathersby said. "Coppell is a little expensive for us, but we want Anthony in school here."

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