On July 15, 2009, actress Evan Rachel Wood called the four recipients of the first PLAN!T NOW Undergraduate Hurricane Relief Scholarships ever awarded. The three $10,000 scholarships (one split) were given to students who, despite suffering significant setbacks resulting from a hurricane or tropical storm, demonstrated the fortitude to not only move forward in life but to support and inspire others in difficult situations. PLAN!T NOW is proud to honor these new advocates for the power of preparedness, and to share their stories of perseverance.
Alexander Girau, Senior, Loyola University (LA)
New Orleans, LA
Life changed by Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005 and
Hurricane Rita, September 24, 2005
“Destruction leaves room for creation. Just like Japan took the technological reigns of today’s society in the aftermath of the Hydrogen bomb, New Orleans has a unique opportunity to reinvent itself into a national model for energy-efficiency and sustainability.”
“This scholarship fund has relieved some of the burden of my family’s financial hardship, which began in 2005 after Katrina. It has also motivated me pursue my academic and community service work to the fullest. P!N has given me a chance to pursue my plans for giving back to this city and to everyone adversely impacted by Hurricane Katrina. ”
Alexander’s path to a career in Chemical Engineering was circuitous, and perhaps, surprising.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed Alexander’s home, forcing his family to relocate to Houston. On a drive back to New Orleans from Texas, Alexander passed through Beaumont, an oil refinery zone hit hard in the destruction left by Hurricane Rita less than one month after Katrina.
“They weren’t allowing travel through Beaumont because of the concentrated air pollution caused by the devastation of these facilities. I realized then that the future is in clean, renewable energy sources, and I wanted to be a major part of bringing that about,” he says.
This, coupled with an inspiring professor who encouraged Alexander to hone his talents, helped Alexander weave gold from straw, so to speak.
Today, Alexander approaches his studies with a sense of ambition and excitement. He’s now a part of an atmospheric chemistry research group at Loyola and is currently writing his Honors Thesis. The Hurricane Relief Scholarship will help him graduate from Loyola, the first step towards a graduate degree in Chemical Engineering and one day, a New Orleans based Chemical Engineering firm. He’s already working on his public policy campaign, which includes special preparedness laws for industrial areas like Beaumont that pose public health risks to citizens when hit by severe weather. About his future firm, Alexander says, “Houston is the nation’s energy capital, and New Orleans is second. I’ll help make New Orleans the capital of clean, renewable and efficient energy.”
Amanda McGovern, Sophomore, Fashion Institute of Portland (OR)
Life changed by Hurricane Andrew August 24, 1992
Hurricane Andrew made Amanda and her mom homeless. How did her mother cope? By helping others. Today, Amanda models her example, tailoring interview clothes for job-seekers in need. “The P!N scholarship allows me to combine my passion for giving with my love of apparel design. It’s allowing me to help others believe in themselves.”
The day Andrew hit, Amanda, then ten years old, asked her mom to if she could stay home while her mom went to an appointment. Her mother refused. When they returned to their neighborhood several hours later, only the shell of their home remained.
While the eye of the storm had hit Homestead, Hurricane Andrew brought surprises: tornadoes like the F4 wind tunnel that decimated Amanda’s home. In spite of the fact that Amanda’s mother had planned well for the storm, by packing an evacuation suitcase and stocking supplies, they were homeless.
Amanda credits her mother with teaching her how to use their personal hardship as a catalyst to serve others in difficult circumstances. “My mother taught me that there is always something that you can do to help, and that is a surprisingly effective way to cope with disaster. Even if it seems as though you can’t help yourself, finding ways to help others in the midst of their grief is a tremendous way to turn a terrible disaster into a positive experience.”
Today, at age 27, Amanda studies fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Portland. Although she no longer lives in a storm zone, Hurricane Andrew continues to impact her.
“I know what it’s like to wonder where your next meal will come from. I understand how this affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Thus, I have a passion for helping the homeless and other struggling populations,” she says.
The Hurricane Relief Scholarship grant is helping Amanda earn a degree in Fashion Marketing, which she will use to continue her community service. Amanda plans to replicate a service project in St. Petersburg, FL where volunteer seamstresses tailor interview clothes for low-income job seekers to help them interview with confidence.
“The Hurricane Relief Scholarship Program is allowing me to fulfill a goal that is very close to my heart. It’s helping me combine my love for apparel design with my passion for helping those in need. I hope to impact people’s lives by helping them believe in themselves. If creating a tailored personal appearance helps a person interview with confidence, then I could not be happier to do it. I’ve learned that sometimes the most seemingly insignificant step becomes significant.”
William Stoudt, Junior, Tulane University (LA)
New Orleans, LA
Life changed by Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005
Before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, William Stoudt evacuated with his family to Houston. The home he shared with his parents, three brothers, and pets was severely damaged but not totally destroyed. After returning to New Orleans the next year, he joined Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO), a student-led, home rebuilding organization then comprised of students from private, Catholic boys’ schools.
“Most government and non-profit groups then were not allowing teenagers under 18 to participate in home rebuilding process due to liability concerns. So we decided to start our own project: gutting, insulating, and sheet-rocking homes,” he says. As the group grew, William became a YRNO leader, working with his brother, Patrick, and others to expand the group’s reach.
Today, YRNO is an official 501(c)3 with chapters in fifteen public and private schools throughout New Orleans. In addition to reviving neighborhoods, YRNO tries to restore a sense of normalcy to the neighborhoods it works in. “We break the rebuilding days up. Mornings are for work, but we stop in the afternoons to barbecue, play football, or relax.” says William. “When we began, for some neighborhoods, our events were the first time kids had played outside in the neighborhood since the storm.”
As a junior at Tulane University, William remains involved in YRNO at the executive level. YRNO was recently granted deeds to 4 houses in the Gentilly neighborhood. These homes will be donated to local public school teachers. William still participates in YRNO rebuilding projects, and is active in several on-campus community service projects.
A Business and Political Science double-major, William is using his P!N Hurricane Relief Scholarship to complete his undergraduate degree. When P!N celebrity partner Evan Rachel Wood called William to announce him as one of the award recipients, his mother began to cry. Her emotion, William says, was due to the pomp of having a celebrity reach out to them personally. But also, the award was a source of joy and relief for his entire family. “The scholarship ensures that I won’t have endless debt upon graduation. Being a member of the inaugural class of the P!N Hurricane Relief Scholarship is a special honor because I have been given the opportunity to raise awareness about a cause that has impacted me personally.”
Jessica Alvey, Senior, University of Alabama at Pelham
Life changed by Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005
“Life goes on, and you have to as well. I hope to use my family’s story to spur others into action.”
A senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Psychology and Criminal Justice, Jessica Alvey says the Hurricane Relief Scholarship is helping further her education and service goals. “I am honored to have been chosen for this scholarship and plan to use it to further my goal of helping others through my education. ”
Originally from Slidell, LA, Jessica, her parents, brother and uncle evacuated to Birmingham, AL, on the eve of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. Their overnight bags were the only possessions remaining after the storm passed.
Jessica says it was her parents who taught her how to face her family’s homelessness post-Katrina with positivity. The experience also deepened her commitment to community service as she encountered stranger after stranger who helped her family recover. Although she has been involved in many service activities since Katrina, today her volunteerism centers around work with the elderly. She is currently a hospice volunteer, spending several hours per week with an elderly couple in Pelham.
“While there have been a couple fiascoes, the couple and I have always worked things out – often getting a laugh out of it. Keeping the mood light is very important with people in bad health, and it is my goal to make them laugh often, “ she says.
A newly minted P!N storm-preparedness advocate, Jessica says of her new role, “I hope to use the story of my family’s tragedy to spur others into action. ”