Family members who survived Katrina reunited and rebuilding

Published: December 27, 2005 | 3116th good news item since 2003

Schewon Kelly’s house is noisy and a bit messy.

But she likes it that way.

In fact, she leaves a few cups out in the living room to make it feel “lived in.”

She’s not even that mad about the music blaring from her son’s stereo upstairs.

“It’s almost like home,” she said. “I haven’t put the pictures up yet, though.”

Framed portraits of her four children lay on a couch that still has price tags attached to it.

Schewon’s two youngest children, Nicole, 17, and James, 15, were reunited with her Wednesday night, after having been apart for about three months.

The unsuspecting family was at home in Gretna, La., on Aug. 29 when Hurricane Katrina hit. The following week was like being in the reality TV show “Survivor,” said James Adams, Schewon’s son.

“We had to cook everything on a grill,” he said. “And I had to eat hard rice because I was hungry.”

A week after the storm hit, Schewon realized that their lives wouldn’t be returning to normal anytime soon. In a caravan of two cars filled with 10 family members and neighbors, they headed for Texas.

Soon after, she made the decision to come to Los Angeles, where she was born, and start over.

Once here, she and her family moved into a shelter. Schewon sent James and Nicole to live with her sister in Chicago until she got back on her feet.

It took three months and the diligent help of members of La Mirada’s St. Paul of the Cross Church, but Schewon is finally reunited with her children. She is also enrolled in school, studying to be a pharmacy technician.

Their first night in Whittier, James and Nicole ran through every inch of their new, three-bedroom town home, inspecting everything.

Schewon gave them Christmas gifts that night, even though it was four days before Christmas.

“It just felt good to see that joy,” she said.

The next day, the family set out to discover their new hometown – Whittier. They drove around, looking for landmarks, shopping centers and to familiarize themselves with the area.

“It’s like starting a whole new life,” James said. “It’s scary and exciting.”

JCPenney donated furniture to the family, and St. Paul of the Cross staff member Donna Ponce and the Rev. Roger LabontÈ helped Schewon find the town house apartment and to move in.

Now, they are helping her find a job.

“You can’t just forget hurricane evacuees,” even months after the hurricane is over, LabontÈ said. “It’s a relationship, not just a handout.”

The church also offered free tuition for Nicole and James at St. Paul of the Cross Catholic School.

Published in Hurricane Katrina
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