Amya Cornin looks like any carefree first-grader who loves to play with…plastic bugs. At the school entrance, she bounces past her mother and two older brothers toward the family car, twisty braids held by colored hair-bobs buoying with each sprite step.
She stops suddenly to ask, “Where did my bugs go? I can’t leave my bugs.” Her mother places the bugs in Amya’s hands. Happy to have her “familiar friends” back, the girl returns to play with her brothers.
It’s in moments like these that her parents Malcolm and Renata Jones say they see Amya’s progress since her enrollment in the Extended Learning Program, an aftercare program at Ossun Elementary School in Lafayette, La. Her parents had experienced a dramatic change in their daughter’s behavior since Hurricane Katrina forced them from their flood-destroyed Metairie neighborhood and Amya’s beloved Bissonet Elementary School in August 2005.
Amya with her father Malcolm and mother Renata and her brothers Ronjae (left) and Malquiesse (right) in front of her grandmother’s FEMA trailer, which sits on her great-grandparent’s front lawn in the Westbank neighborhood of New Orleans. Amya’s father helps with gutting the house and restoration work on evenings and weekends, Aug. 24, 2006.
(Photo Credit: Ruth Davis/American Red Cross)
Through this and similar programs, the American Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Program (HRP) has been able to partner with Louisiana Family Recovery Corps (LFRC) and other community-based organizations along the Gulf Coast to support the emotional recovery of children and youth impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Collectively, these program partnerships make up the HRP Youth Enrichment Activities Program.
“The staff is wonderful—always patient, always saying ‘whatever we can do’,” said Renata. “Amya’s reading and writing has improved. And, she’s showing more discipline.”
To Carol Thomas, who directs the Extended Learning Program in nine schools serving at least a hundred hurricane-displaced children, Amya represents one of many precious children that the Red Cross partnership with LFRC has helped to nurture toward recovery.
“If not for [LFRC and Red Cross], we wouldn’t have had the resources to handle all the children coming in from Texas,” said Thomas, referring to the droves of children whose displaced families returned to Louisiana in June, when the 2005 school year ended. Thomas has used the program to provide specialized learning support and recreational activity first during summer break, and then during the school year.
Don Burns of Louisiana Family Recovery Corps remembers the day in early July that Thomas first brought him to Ossun.
“When Carol went to a classroom and opened the door, a child came running out,” he said. “All the people who were there took the time to give this child attention.”
That child was Amya.
“Every time we opened the door, she would be running to the street,” said Thomas. “She would have normally been put out right away…Her fears are what the running is all about.”
“She really wanted to go back to her old school in New Orleans,” said Renata, who did not know what to do to help ground her little girl during the hours that she and her husband were at work. “Two weeks after this school year ended, she was telling her teachers she wanted to go home.”
Amya and brother Malquiesse race down the street in front of her great-grandparents’ home in Westbank, New Orleans, Aug. 24, 2006.
(Photo Credit: Ruth Davis/American Red Cross)
“Now look at Amya,” said a beaming Thomas, “she’s getting stars today.”
In addition to supporting the recovery of Amya and her brothers Ronjae, 7, and Malquisse, 6, the school staff and Thomas have linked the family to community resources, easing their integration. The connections help to restore a sense of home and heal feelings of loss, as Katrina has forced the geographic separation from her grandmother and great-grandparents, who have returned to rebuild their lives in the Westbank neighborhood of New Orleans.
Malcolm and Renata recently made the difficult decision to move back to New Orleans to restore the support system that has kept their family strong for generations. It is a big trade-off for them. Lafayette housing, although scarce, is more affordable than Metairie on his construction and her medical records clerk salaries. Rents have risen at least 300 percent since the floods destroyed more than 200,000 homes in the New Orleans area. The couple has felt more secure against crime and flood risk in Lafayette.
But, Renata’s mother Yvette needs help caring for a once active grandfather who became chronically ill since Katrina. Living through what continues to be the most challenging experience in all their lives, they feel a need to pull together. For Amya, it means that she gets to see grandma everyday—just like before Katrina.
As families and individuals continue their long journeys toward recovery, Red Cross programs like the Youth Enrichment Activities Program will continue to provide meaningful community and emotional support for children and their families.
Ruth Davis is with the Public Affairs team of the American Red Cross Hurricane Recovery Program.
The American Red Cross has helped people mobilize to help their neighbors for 125 years. Last year, victims of a record 72,883 disasters, most of them fires, turned to the nearly 1 million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross for help and hope. Through more than 800 locally supported chapters, more than 15 million people each year gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies in their homes, communities and world. Almost 4 million people give blood—the gift of life—through the Red Cross, making it the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The Red Cross helps thousands of U.S. service members separated from their families by military duty stay connected. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a global network of more than 180 national societies, the Red Cross helps restore hope and dignity to the world's most vulnerable people. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.