The end of the semester can be a time of reflection for college students. For some at West Virginia University hard by summer floods, it’s also a time to give thanks to donors whose generosity helped them get back on their feet.
Back in August as WVU students prepared for back-to-school, many in southern West Virginia were trying to rebuild their homes and put their lives back together after devastating flooding. The torrential rains claimed the lives of 23 individuals and left many communities in devastation.
Some students impacted by the flooding were able to receive financial assistance through contributions made to the Kenneth D. and Carolyn T. Gray Emergency Fund. Created in 2013 at the WVU Foundation and administered through the WVU Financial Aid Office, the fund assists students who experience a sudden financial hardship. To date, more than $38,000 has been awarded to current WVU students for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Siblings Brooklyn and Tyler Gould left Clay County to return to Morgantown for classes in August after their family lost their entire home in the flood. Old family photos, baby clothes, furniture and other possessions were lost and their home unsalvageable.
Brooklyn, a WVU sophomore studying elementary and special education, said leaving her family and starting school was one of the hardest experiences she has endured.
“It was terrible coming back to school. I left my family, and to leave them in that mess still, I felt really bad. And I still feel that way,” Brooklyn said. “The house that my family was living in was not a good house. It was jimmy-rigged and it could burn down. That was probably the worst part for me.”
Brooklyn dedicates much of her time to volunteering in local schools. She has 60 hours of volunteer experience working with pre-school, kindergarten and first grade students. She was worried about how she would manage to come back to school in the fall herself, but when she received aid from the Student Emergency Fund, she felt a sense of relief.
“I don’t think I could be here without it, honestly,” Brooklyn said. “I would have been in debt and I can’t afford that because I don’t have a job. I am really thankful for the assistance.”
Tyler Gould is a master’s student studying agriculture and extension education. A member of Mountaineer Collegiate Future Farmers of America and a 4-H member for as long as he can remember, Tyler hopes to become an extension agent in the future.
He recalled experiencing the flooding and trying to protect their family’s home.
“We had actually just finished remodeling our house. It was the last day and we were cleaning up and it just started raining,” Tyler said. “Water kept coming up, and we kept watching out the window. But we weren’t worried about it because it never gets past a certain point.”
Next, they saw items in their yard being carried away. The Goulds tried to move their possessions to higher ground, but the water continued to rise.
“We watched the bridge get taken out. It was actually hit by the neighbor’s garage, up above us. It just came down, floating by, bobbing around and just slammed right into the bridge,” Tyler said. “It sounded like thunder when it hit. There was a little under four feet in our house. All of our beds, furniture and clothes were all ruined.”
Tyler said the assistance from the Gray Emergency Fund was incredibly helpful as the family has been stretched for resources and focused on rebuilding in Clay County.
“It was definitely a difficult start to the semester because we were still trying to go home as much as we could and help. And there are still some tough days,” Tyler said.
Travis Butts, a senior criminology major from White Sulphur Springs, was 10 minutes away from home when the rain began to pour on June 23.
“When I realized how bad it was, I went to White Sulphur and noticed that out of 25 houses that were on my block, about 12 were left,” Butts said. “My house was one of them that was still there, but the inside was destroyed and everything that was outside of the house was gone. But nobody was injured, which I’m grateful for.”
Butts said the entire experience was overwhelming. He is happy to see the community come together in such a challenging time, but overall disheartened by the circumstances.
His decision to return to WVU to finish his degree was made after he received through the Student Emergency Fund.
“The financial assistance is actually the entire reason I came back to school. I had thoughts about not coming back, but then a friend e-mailed me and told me that they were offering applications for scholarships for people affected by the flood,” Butts said. “That was my motivation to come back.”
Butts hopes to become an officer in the Navy after graduation and would like to pursue a career in the field of juvenile delinquent counseling after retirement. He said describing his thankfulness for the scholarship is difficult.
“It’s helped so much and it’s really hard to put into words. With everything that’s happened, it kind of brought me down, he said. “But then, with the help of the scholarship, it picked me right back up and allowed me to pursue what I’ve been trying to do for years.”
Lance Rhodes is a sophomore English major from Clendenin. The apartment he was living in with his grandma at the time of the flooding was completely destroyed, leaving him without most of his clothes, personal possessions and items he had brought home from college.
Rhodes said the help he received through the emergency fund enabled him to return to WVU.
To donors of the Student Emergency Fund, Rhodes gave a special thanks.
“Thank you for helping me to continue my experience at WVU, and I hope one day to show just how much it helped.”
CONTACT: Bill Nevin, WVU Foundation
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