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October 14, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, October 14, 2005

Ole Miss after the hurricane Ole Miss after the hurricane (October 14, 2005)

Former Los Altos High School student tells of charity, celebrity in the South

By Danielle Marcoux

Six weeks ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans and many of the coastal cities, towns and hamlets of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Millions of people who lost everything are now beginning to rebuild their homes and lives.

A native Californian attending the University of Mississippi at Oxford, I had never been through a hurricane and did not know what to expect. I have a few sorority sisters from the New Orleans area who called me when their parents were evacuating the city to tell me of the tragedy that was about to happen. The next few days the weather began to drastically change. The skies turned gray and the temperatures warmed up. The night the hurricane hit there were blustery winds and sporadic power outages in and around the city, but by and large, Oxford and the Ole Miss campus were unscathed, unlike Tulane and Loyola universities in New Orleans.

Steadily, students began matriculating to Ole Miss from various colleges whose campuses were either totally or partially destroyed. Whitman Smith, director of orientation at the University of Mississippi, said so far 95 students have been admitted to the university and 75 have enrolled for classes. These students, he said, are primarily from community colleges, universities and high schools along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Smith has been helping these displaced students through the enrollment process by holding special orientation sessions.

I really witnessed the Ole Miss and Oxford communities at their best when they came together and helped through donations of money, clothes and food, and through the opening of evacuation centers on campus and in the town. The basketball stadium and the former WalMart building, which is now owned by the university, were both turned into emergency shelters for the more than 3,000 evacuees who came to Oxford.

Then, on Oct. 1, Ole Miss was turned into a miniature Hollywood when it played host to the Mississippi Rising gala. Some 4,000 people attended the benefit concert, which was broadcast on national television, and $15 million was raised for the state of Mississippi and its Gulf Coast. Many A-list celebrities performed at the event. Mississippi natives Faith Hill, Sela Ward and Morgan Freeman came to help out their home state, while celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Ray Romano, Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Alexander flew into Oxford to donate their time and talents.

Ward, a native of Meridian, told the audience at the event, "This is where I grew up, ran barefoot in her dirt, fished in her muddy waters. I was born here, baptized here and was modeled by her music. A piece of my heart has always been in Mississippi and now that heart is broken. I want you to help make Mississippi whole again."

My sorority has sponsored Alyssa Strauss, an adorable 4-year-old evacuee in Bogalusa, La., whose family lost everything when their trailer was crushed by a tree. Alyssa, along with her 8-month-old brother and 5-month-pregnant mother, are currently living in an extra room at a family member's home. My sorority sisters and I have been collecting clothing, shoes, toys and school supplies for Alyssa and her family. She is so appreciative of every small item we give her. At four years old, I did not have to go through anything like this.

Things in and around campus appear to be back to normal. I feel blessed to have not been harmed by the hurricane, and to be able to help those who have. My father's company donated $15,000 to the Red Cross, in response to a tearful phone call home from me after talking to a sorority sister who lost her home and three family members. Donations to the Red Cross are still needed. Every little bit helps, as so many people are still in need.
Editor's Note: Danielle Marcoux, a Mountain View resident, graduated in 2002 from Los Altos High School, where she was a member of the track team and the only girl on the football team. She is a senior journalism major, a member of the track team and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta women's sorority and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.

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