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Katrina victims find home at Union

Christy Denney is one of 11 students who transferred to Union this semester because of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Morris Abernathty)
Christy Denney is one of 11 students who transferred to Union this semester because of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Morris Abernathty)

JACKSON, Tenn.Nov. 21, 2005 – Like thousands of other residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, Christy Denney fled ahead of Hurricane Katrina’s path. She and her parents made their way to Alamo, Tenn., to stay with Christy’s aunt and uncle.

“We only usually get to see them during hurricane season,” Denney joked

What Denney didn’t realize at the time was that she’d be staying much longer than she expected. A freshman in college, Denney originally planned just to take some online courses this semester until she could return home to Moss Point, Miss., and finish her schooling there.

But Denney soon decided to enroll as a full-time student at Union University. Now she’s decided to stay and graduate from Union in four years.

“I love the school,” Denney said. “I love the atmosphere. I feel like I’ve been here for years instead of just two months. It just kind of fits.”

Denney is just one of 11 college students who transferred to Union University this semester because of Hurricane Katrina. To accommodate students who had been affected by the hurricane, Union extended its enrollment deadline this semester and also did everything possible to help such students academically, socially and financially.

Steve Tien, of San Jose, Calif., previously attended Louisiana State University. A computer engineering major, Tien isn’t sure yet what his long-term plans will be. But he knows if he stays in Jackson, Tenn., he’ll stay at Union.

“Union is like a small family where everybody knows everybody and everybody is very helping,” Tien said. “If you need help they’re willing to help you. It’s a very nice place to be. It’s a good study environment, and the professors are very helpful.”

Chrissy Esnault of New Orleans echoed that assessment of Union’s professors. A nursing student who heard about Union from a friend, Esnault said Union’s faculty members have been “outstanding.”

She specifically cited the help of nursing faculty members Tharon Kirk and Jill Webb, who have helped Esnault by soliciting donations and providing her with gift cards to purchase some necessities.

“They’ve been helping in a lot of ways,” Esnault said. “Hopefully, if everything works out, I might just stay to graduate from Union.”

Naomi Larsen, chair of sociology and family studies at Union, and her husband Jonathan opened their home to students who had transferred to Union.

“We have empty rooms upstairs, so we thought that was a way we could help,” Larsen said.

With an empty nest, Larsen said having two college students living with her has taken some adjustment. But it’s also been a good experience, because it’s given her a chance to interact with people from a different background and culture.

Larsen added that people from local churches have been generous with their support by providing donations to the two students living with her.

“I think it helps people too because they have a face to put with where they’re money is going,” Larsen said. “It’s not just a faceless organization but it’s going to people they know.”

For Denney, it’s the assistance of faculty members like Larsen, Kirk, Webb and others, as well as from many of the students who have helped, that means so much.

“They just loved me and took me in,” Denney said of the Union community. “It was really good to feel that love.”

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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