After the storm has passed

Two months ago, Kennedra Raymond had picked out the hall and booked the church for her wedding to Ervin Harris on Nov. 17.

Her eldest daughter, Izhané, had started school, and baby Ekeriyah went to day care.

Kennedra went to school to study radiology while she prepared for the arrival of her third child, due in April.

Hurricane Katrina disrupted a million lives, in a million ways. Kennedra and Ervin had planned to move after their baby's birth, and they discussed Seattle. Ervin has family in this area, and "he's always said how great it is here and how great the people are," Kennedra explained.

They planned to move eventually until the storm turned "eventually" into now.

Kennedra and her daughters formed part of a group of 30 family members - including her parents - who fled her hometown of New Orleans on Aug. 28, just ahead of the hurricane. Crowded into three vehicles, they drove to Memphis.

"Heartbreaking," she recalls, "to see where you lived destroyed."

Kennedra found the days following the storm even more difficult, "not to know where to begin."

Before leaving New Orleans, Kennedra had packed three days' worth of clothes for each of them, along with her Bible and the obituary notice for her uncle, the family patriarch who passed away last year.

"You think you're going home," she said, never imagining rain and wind damage would make her condo unlivable. Except for her parents, none of Kennedra's large, extended family plans to return. They've spread out over Memphis, Dallas and Shreveport, La.

Kennedra brought her daughters to Seattle. The Red Cross provided a motel voucher for a month, but she didn't rest there. She called the Refugee Assistance Program of Catholic Community Services (CCS) her first day here.

While Kennedra couldn't remember Linda's last name, she does recall the way the program staffer took her information, encouraged and advised her and finally led her to our local Catholic church, St. Benedict's.

Diane Cornell, development director at St. Benedict's School, explained that the Archdiocese of Seattle asked all the parishes to identify any resources that could be used to help. St. Ben's donated a rental house it had to the CCS registry.

The whole parish lent a hand to fix up the house with painting, landscaping and minor repairs. The students held a collection to stock it with "whatever kids might need" before Kennedra and her family moved in.

Linda Chulaparn answered my call to the Refugee Assistance Program, as well. So far, the office has already helped 67 families - consisting of 170 people - and calls keep coming. The day I spoke to her, she'd taken three calls from families in need.

Still, Linda's work doesn't stop there. The Refugee Program needs more homes for other waiting families. If you can help, call 725-2090.

Linda recognized the determination and strength of character in Kennedra. "I have to do something for this lady," she thought when they first spoke. She's expects to see Kennedra triumph over such a catastrophe.

"I'm the type of person [who] can adjust to anything because I put my mind to it," Kennedra said.

This smart, motivated young woman has faced the realities. "Every year has a hurricane season," she explained. "I don't want my kids to grow up with that."

Now, Izhané comes home happy each day from St. Ben's, thanks to a scholarship. She chatters nonstop about the wonderful things she's learned. She misses her grandmother, but she entertains herself with her new friends and her new books and games.

Baby sister Ekeriyah has no idea of the enormity of what has happened. According to her mother, Ekeriyah remains content to eat and watch Elmo, with her family close by.

She and Ervin married in Renton on Oct. 3. Kennedra postponed her big wedding for two years, "when we get on our feet." Still, they were married "on holy ground" by Pastor Stowers, and Ervin's family took pictures to share with the loved ones who couldn't attend.

"I have to have a strong mind. It's been a real big change," she said. Kennedra appreciates the magnitude of what she's received from St. Ben's and the Wallingford-Fremont community. "It's a blessing."

However, in the two weeks she and her family have been here, she admits she hasn't seen much. For now, she, the girls and her new husband spend their time meeting family here, trying to heal.

It's all a far cry from where she stood two months ago, but thanks to a lot of people - and her own strength - she and her family have weathered the worst of the storm.

Kirby Lindsay applauds the work of the millions of volunteers who have given their all to help the hurricane survivors. She invites your comments at fremont@

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