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Winter 2006 | Volume 29, Number 1 | Campus

Katrina's Call

Note to self: Bring a flashlight, towels, soap, toilet paper, sleeping bag, snacks, medical kit, waterless hand sanitizer, boots that reach above the ankles (snakes!), and bug spray (lots of bug spray).

When Hurricane Katrina bulldozed a path through the Gulf Region of the United States, members of the Seattle Pacific University community sprang into action to help with relief efforts. Within days, there were faculty, staff, graduate students, and alumni flying east. And before long, four students whose universities were damaged began flying and driving west to Seattle Pacific.

An alumna of Louisiana State University (LSU), Elizabeth Torrence is now an SPU associate professor of nursing and director of the master of science degree program in nursing (M.S.N.). “I lived in New Orleans for nearly 20 years,” she says. “I just felt like I had to do something.” Only days after the hurricane’s winds ended, she and Darrell Owens, a graduate of the M.S.N. program, were on a plane bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Once there, Torrence and Owens, the director of Palliative Care Services at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, began working in a temporary hospital set up on the LSU campus. For more than a week, they assessed and treated storm survivors. They also heard the nightmarish tales, and witnessed the courage, of the area’s residents.

Torrence remembers Mr. Drake, an 80-year-old man, who — as water rose to his home’s second floor — tied himself to his elderly wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease. They jumped off the house’s roof and swam for a boat floating by, still on its trailer. After clambering aboard, he hand-paddled them to a hospital, picking up three more survivors along the way. “I heard so many other stories, too,” Torrence says. By week’s end, she became as much administrator as health care worker.

Staying in contact with Seattle Pacific colleagues, Torrence spoke midweek with Luana Joslin-Lester, a nurse practitioner in the University’s Student Health Services. Joslin-Lester wanted to assist, too, and Torrence encouraged her to contact the Alabama Red Cross, which still needed more medical volunteers. She did, and within 48 hours, Joslin-Lester and three more M.S.N. students had boarded a plane for the Gulf Region. Once they arrived, Joslin-Lester, and M.S.N. students Linda Robinson ’97, Kristen Goetz Jones ’01, and Colette Dahl received their assignments from the Red Cross: Joslin-Lester, Robinson, and Jones went to Pascagoula, Mississippi, to assist at shelters; and Dahl went to Gulfport, Mississippi, where she worked with a team of Floridian doctors in an elementary-school-turned-shelter.

Soon, Joslin-Lester and Robinson were asked to travel to Mississippi’s devastated Jackson County. With Red Cross signs taped to their car doors, the pair drove over downed power lines, steered around houses that Katrina had deposited in the middle of roads, and weaved by heaps of rubble. “The two of us wondered how anyone survived this hurricane,” says Joslin-Lester. Yet all along the way, they met with displaced survivors, many of whom had health care challenges — including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and chronic pain — now exacerbated by a natural disaster.

In one week, Joslin-Lester and Robinson served an estimated 500 people, with encounters that included giving out food bank phone numbers, transferring patients to the hospital, and providing a compassionate listening ear.

Dahl, also working with endless lines of displaced residents, treated people with more acute illnesses. Jones helped set up a medical clinic at a community center and says the devastation took her by surprise. “I felt like I was in a war zone,” she explains. “Even seeing it on TV, it’s nothing like what you see in real life.”

In Seattle, staff and faculty members were working together to help those affected by Katrina, too. Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton established a President’s Disaster Relief Fund to support the University’s partner John Perkins and the relief work of the John M. Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi. Eaton also set up a SPRINT Team Fund to support students, faculty, staff, and alumni who will travel to Jackson in December to assist Perkins in community development work and the construction of long-term housing for evacuees. (To read a letter from John Perkins about the Katrina relief efforts, click here.)

A day after the storm, Seattle Pacific received its first call inquiring whether the University was accepting displaced students from hurricane-affected areas. The answer was “yes.” SPU opened its doors to four students — three undergraduates and one graduate student — allowing them to become “visiting students” while paying tuition only to their home universities.

Carl Lubrano, a master’s degree student in business administration at the University of New Orleans, had begun his last required course when Katrina hit the city. Evacuated to Houston, Texas, and then back to Alexandria, Virginia, with his parents and grandmother, Lubrano searched for a university that offered the class he needed — and that didn’t start until late September. When he contacted SPU’s School of Business and Economics, Associate Graduate Director Debbie Wysomierski took the call. “September 7 was my first contact with Carl,” she remembers. “By the 9th, we had it worked out that he would come.”

Soon, Lubrano was making the long drive from Virginia to Washington. “I drove 12 hours a day for four days,” he says. When Lubrano arrived, he learned Seattle Pacific would pay for his textbook, and he discovered something else: “SPU reminds me a little bit of Tulane University.”

The nurses were back on campus and the visiting students had settled in when John Thoburn, associate professor of graduate psychology, and Michael Tandy, clinical psychology doctoral student, headed to the Gulf Coast with PsyCorps, an agency that provides “psychological first aid.” Thoburn, a co-founder of the organization, says PsyCorps mobilizes a second wave of disaster relief, offering support not only to those left homeless or injured, but also to relief workers. “Psychological first aid isn’t therapy,” he explains. “It’s helping people tap into their sense of resiliency, and instilling hope.”

“Sometimes I ask God why I am so blessed,” says Torrence. “The answer I think lies in the response I must make when others are in need. My response was deeply rooted in my own faith journey.”

— BY Hope McPherson

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A Conversion of the Imagination
2014: A Blueprint for Excellence shows "Seattle Pacific will be a place that knows and understands what's going on in the world, and it will be a place that embraces the Christian story," says President Philip Eaton. [President]

Allowing Scripture to Transform Our Lives
Kerry Dearborn, associate professor of theology, contributes introductions and study notes to the Renovaré Spiritual Study Bible. [Faculty]

Quality Always
Alumni of the Year, Kathi and Jerry Teel, live out their Vitamilk Diary slogan, "Quality Always," in all areas of their lives. [Alumni]

The Gospel According to Miller
Author of best-selling book, Blue Like Jazz, tells SPU students that "engaging the culture is not rocket science." [Books & Film]

Field Goals
Courted by Division I soccer teams while in high school, stand-out Falcon forward, Sarah Martinez, hits goals on and off the field. [Athletics]

My Response
John Perkins writes a letter to Seattle Pacific about God's grace during and after Hurricane Katrina.

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