Katrina Refugees Welcomed Here

NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

They climb up the broad brick
steps to the building —
some hesitantly, some skeptically.
One small group of adventurous
new arrivals enters through
the doors of the John A. Davitt
Administration Building to begin
their studies at Glendale College
hoping for a better future, nearly
2,000 miles away from the disaster
that upended their lives.

The second week of the
semester had already started
when David Mince, Catherine
Babb, Brandon McIntyre and
Jack Sigafuss filed their applications
on campus.

Despite their different backgrounds
they all had one thing in
common: their lives in New
Orleans had been torn asunder by
Hurricane Katrina and they had
ended up starting life anew in
Southern California.

Brandon McIntyre and David
Mince agreed to be interviewed
for this story.

When the home of Brandon
McIntyre, a junior at Xavier
University in Louisiana, was
endangered by the storm, his
family moved for safety to a
hotel on higher ground. But the
water continued to rise and they
fled New Orleans.

“When we left our home, they
told us to take enough with us for
two days,” said McIntyre. “And
two days turned into a couple of
weeks, so I ended up with only a
couple of outfits.”

The 21-yearold,
wearing dark blue jeans and
leisure white T-shirt, stares into
space as he talks about his brother
and sisters who have been
scattered to different parts of
Louisiana, Texas and as far as
Iowa. “We’re a pretty close family,”
said McIntyre. “So we talk
on the phone on a daily basis.”

According to the American
Council on Education (ACE), an
estimated 75,000 to 100,000 students
have been displaced by the
damage of Hurricane Katrina and
the subsequent flooding.

When the catastrophe hit,
McIntyre was already registered
for 18 units of classes and had
attended Xavier University for a
month. In the midst of the hurricane,
the mass communication
major was the only one of his
family who was evacuated to Los
Angeles.

“At first it [the evacuation
experience] wasn’t affecting
me,” he said. “But now I’m finding
myself getting headaches.
It’s getting pretty stressful, not
being around my family, the
schooling; I have a lot of choices.
It’s overwhelming.”

In spite of the trauma, two
weeks after he was evacuated
McIntyre was one of the first to
take the opportunity to register
for classes at GCC.

Education has always been
the “number-one priority” in his related or gang-related. I want to
show them that they can be
somebody.”

McIntyre lives by a strict
philosophy: “Stay focused on
your goals, close to your family
and friends and even closer to
God.” Every day he wakes up
and tries to put these things in
focus, said McIntyre.

At GCC, he is able to take his
last two lower division classes,
Spanish and history, which he
needs to finish his general
education requirements.

“We’re happy to have [the
students from New Orleans] and
to help the universities they
come from,” said GCC President
John Davitt. “They lost
everything, so why shouldn’t we
help them?” He hopes that the
courses they take will be
accepted when they go back to
Xavier, Loyola, Tulane and other
universities. He thinks these
students will be at GCC for at
least two semesters.

On their first day, McIntyre,
and the other students from New
Orleans were welcomed with a
breakfast and encouraging words
by Steve White, vice president
of instructional services, and
Sharon Combs, vice president of
student services. McIntyre said
he felt welcomed by his teachers
and also the students in his
classes. “Once they found out
where I came from, they all
wanted to sit down and talk to
me,” he said. “They wanted to
know how my family was, and
where I’m staying.”

Xavier University is expected
to reopen in January. “Hopefully
everything is OK and I can stay
here and finish the semester and
then go home,” he said. “But
depends if they need my help to
fix things on the house.”

He misses New Orleans, he
said. “New Orleans is a unique
city; the downtown buildings,
the French Quarter. It has kept its
style throughout the years and is
a great city to live in. I’m
certainly going home. Because
home is home. There is no place
like home.”

David Mince, another of the
students, is a 49-year-old father
of seven grown children. He was
evacuated from the roof of
friend’s house in New Orleans
after the storm and didn’t have
life, said the son of a carpet
installer and clinical research
worker.

“In our household it wasn’t
like ‘I got a headache, so I want
to stay at home [from school],’
or if it rained,” he said. “Rather,
it was ‘take some medicine and
go to school.'”

He remembers that as
teenagers, he and his siblings
had a curfew of 8 or 9 p.m.
“Though I grew up in a public
complex, I wasn’t subject to it,”
said McIntyre. “And though I
grew up next to drug dealers and
winos, my parents provided a
safe haven.”

Today he is grateful for his
upbringing because it taught him
to persevere through tough
situations and pursue his goals,
he said.

“I’ve always wanted to be a
journalist,” McIntyre said with a
smile. “I’ve been watching the
news since I was 3 years old.”
He’s determined to continue his
education and wants to be a role
model for younger children.

“Most images of African-
American men are bad. They are
either drug-related, prison-related or gang-related. I want to
show them that they can be
somebody.”

McIntyre lives by a strict
philosophy: “stay focused on
your goals, close to your family
and friends and even closer to
God.” Every day he wakes up
and tries to put these things in
focus, said McIntyre.

At GCC, he is able to take his
last two lower division classes,
Spanish and history, which he
needs to finish his general
education requirements.

“We’re happy to have [the
students from New Orleans] and
to help the universities they
come from,” said GCC President
John Davitt. “They lost
everything, so why shouldn’t we
help them?” He hopes that the
courses they take will be
accepted when they go back to
Xavier, Loyola, Tulane and other
universities. He thinks these
students will be at GCC for at
least two semesters.

On their first day, McIntyre,
and the other students from New
Orleans were welcomed with a
breakfast and encouraging words
by Steve White, vice president
of instructional services, and
Sharon Combs, vice president of
student services. McIntyre said
he felt welcomed by his teachers
and also the students in his
classes. “Once they found out
where I came from, they all
wanted to sit down and talk to
me,” he said. “They wanted to
know how my family was, and
where I’m staying.”

Xavier University is expected
to reopen in January. “Hopefully
everything is OK and I can stay
here and finish the semester and
then go home,” he said. “But it
depends if they need my help to
fix things on the house.”

He misses New Orleans, he
said. “New Orleans is a unique
city; the downtown buildings,
the French Quarter. It has kept its
style throughout the years and is
a great city to live in. I’m
certainly going home. Because
home is home. There is no place
like home.”

David Mince, another of the
students, is a 49-year-old father
of seven grown children. He was
evacuated from the roof of a
friend’s house in New Orleans
after the storm and didn’t have much time to pack. “I left all my
pictures, thinking, ‘no, I’ll be
back tomorrow,'” remembers
Mince of the day he last saw his
house.

The electrical installation
engineer with a youthful stride
and quick smile only frowns
when thinking back to what was
lost. “I lost everything,” he says.
“I rented a four-bedroom house.
Everything in the house, I lost it
all. All had water damage. I lost
two cars, a ’96 Chevrolet and a
’96 Cadillac. I lost my job. The
company is out of business.”
When he heard that Glendale
welcomed victims of the hurricane,
Mince decided to make the
best out of a devastating
situation.

He has been out of college for
30 years, “but I’ll come back,”
laughs Mince confidently. “I’m
excited,” he said two days before
his first class. “I’ll open books
and read a little bit to catch up
with the rest of the class.”

For 30 years, Mince had
installed radar systems in Navy
ships, but lacking computer
skills he had always been passed
over for promotions. Now he’s
trying to fill that gap in his education.
“I feel like I’m computer
illiterate,” he said. “That’s why
I’m so excited to go to this
community college.”

Every Monday through
Thursday, he now takes a one-hour
bus ride from the Los
Angeles Dream Center, the
church in Echo Park that took
him and the others in, to take his
two computer science classes.

Unlike McIntyre, Mince
looks forward to finishing all his
classes at GCC and then maybe
later obtaining a bachelor’s
degree in electrical engineering.
He said he might stay in Los
Angeles and apply for a job here.
He would eventually like to
design electrical systems rather
than install them. “I’m looking
forward to sitting behind a desk
and having some air conditioning,”
he smiles.

To support the evacuees,
Glendale College waived nonresident
fees and tuition. The college
also provides scholarships
to cover enrollment and other
fees, as well as book vouchers
and help with counseling
and tutoring.

Also on campus, the honors
club Alpha Gamma Sigma
(AGS), was one of the first
groups on campus to initiate
projects for the hurricane victims.
Right after the hurricane,
Ebelio Mondragon, vice president
of AGS, “came up to me to
ask me what my opinion was on
starting fundraisers to collect
money for Katrina,” said AGS
president Elsa Urquilla. “Very
soon the collections started, and
soon different cans were located
all throughout school.”

The Admissions Office crafted
Katrina ribbons, raising about
$5,000 from sales. Most of the
proceeds went to the Red Cross,
but the organization may also
support Dream Center, which
houses McIntyre and Mince and
other displaced people.

“GCC is very pleased that
we’ve been able to offer help to a
few people who suffered the
trauma of Katrina. We’ll continue
to offer help where appropriate,”
said Combs.