By Johnny Jackson
Drowned in a rush to aid families in natural disasters, children sometimes lose a little more than material possessions. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, children have lost comfort and security too. And local young people are trying to help them out.
One local family hopes to help rediscover that comfort and security for children. Joanna and Brian Waits are helping their children collect at least 3,000 donated stuffed animals to send to the Jonesboro Salvation Army for the smallest hurricane victims.
They each have favorite stuffed animals, said their mother Joanna Waits. Haleigh, 10, has two stuffed dogs she affectionately calls Canine and Nola. Makala, 7, said she loves her stuffed dog Lucy, while her twin Myriah favors Clifford, the Big Red Dog, and her stuffed tiger Annabelle. Their 6-year-old brother Douglas enjoys the company of his stuffed animals Rose and Rufus.
"We love stuffed animals," they all sang. "We love our stuffed animals."
Joanna Waits said her children wanted to share the things they cherished with children who lost their cherishables during the hurricane. She said that most of their efforts have been by word of mouth. And so far, they have collected 100 stuffed animals.
"I feel bad for the people in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama," Haleigh said. "We want to help the people who lost their stuff."
On Friday, Sept. 9, Raben Symone Teague celebrated her 13th birthday by donating $5 of her birthday money to a hurricane relief effort at Jonesboro Middle School. This she did in addition to sending money and clothes through her church to hurricane victims.
The week of Sept. 5, schools around Clayton County filled boxes with clothes and supplies to send to the American Red Cross for hurricane victims.
From an idea thought up by instructional mathematics coach Betina Hannah-Brown, students and faculty at Jonesboro Middle School did a little extra, raising $2,400 in four days to add to their 20 boxes of donated clothes and supplies.
"I know how people feel," Teague said, explaining she has five close relatives from New Orleans who will share a home with her family in Jonesboro. "To me it seems like people do it to give and get back one day."
Her classmate Katherine Hall, 12, agreed.
Hall and her parents Tara and Raymond Hall wrote two checks worth $100 each to the American Red Cross. And she said, they know no one from that area.
"We felt that since those people need help, God would retaliate and give us help when we need it," she said. "People have lost their lives, and people have lost their homes. That's why we made a greater donation to help more people."
Hall enjoys reading Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings book series; she plans to become a lawyer some day. "I like to argue," she said.
Teague currently enjoys playing the clarinet in the school band and wants to become a pediatrician. "I love kids," she said.
New student Larnell Lemon III is getting to where he can enjoy things again and look toward his future.
Lemon, 12, arrived Friday at his new Jonesboro Middle School. He said his last school, John Quincy Adams Middle in New Orleans, may be closed until January or longer.
Lemon and his family were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He, his stepfather Brian Allen and his mother Sarina Allen drove through flood waters after the hurricane but before the New Orleans metropolis underwent Marshall Law.
"I was kind of scared," he said. "Our house is flooded. And I don't know where my dad and sister are."
His stepfather registered through the American Red Cross website seeking out lost relatives. But Lemons has been unable to find his father Larnell Lemon Jr. and 6-year-old sister Nekia Morgan. He said he talked with his father before the storm but hasn't heard from him since.
During the hurricane, Lemon said his family sought refuge at a Motel 8 in Jefferson Parish. For a week, he and his sister Aja Allen ate what was left in candy and ravioli.
Meanwhile, the family is waiting to receive an apartment in Jonesboro with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Lemon is hoping to make new friends in his new permanent home.
"I think he's O.K., but I don't know," Lemons said about his father. "I'll just find new friends and hope for the best and find my dad and my sister."
Teague and Hall left hopeful messages for 16 new students at Jonesboro Middle School and the others dealing with the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
"I want to say good luck to all the people who have to start their lives over," Hall said.
"Keep your head up. God will see you through it," Teague added.
For more about the Hurricane "K"atrina's V"I"ctims Te"D"dy Bear"S" (KIDS) Project, call Donna Goodson at (678) 645-5653. McGarrah Elementary School at 2201 Lake Harbin Road in Morrow will accept donated stuffed animals.