KNOXVILLE –- Thanks to a University of Tennessee extension agent, a Gatlinburg high school student and local 4-H members, school bookshelves have been restocked in one parish badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
When Glenn Turner, UT Extension agent in Sevier County, heard that Emily Hollingsworth, 17, a senior at Gatlinburg Pittman High School, was collecting books for children in the storm-hit area, he suggested the 4-H help.
Through the effort, dubbed “Books for Katrina Kids,” about 11,300 books were collected.
Hollingsworth, the daughter of Russ and Chris Hollingsworth of Sevierville, said she got the idea to collect books while watching news reports of the storm.
“The kids in the storm shelters seemed to have nothing to do. I have a 7-year-old sister, and we read together a lot. I know how important reading is.”
Initially, Hollingsworth planned to gather a couple dozen books to send directly to the evacuation shelters. When some friends got interested in helping, she thought they might be able to collect 1,000 books.
“When everybody got involved, it was amazing. I couldn’t even believe how many books we collected.”
Turner, who estimates about 2,000 students in Sevier, Union and Sullivan counties participated in the project, contacted the Louisiana State University Extension Service for advice about who could use the books. They suggested St. Bernard Parish.
The parish, just southeast of New Orleans, was devastated by the storm. Not one home or business was left untouched, and all of the parish’s schools were damaged. A “unified school” housed in trailers on the grounds of one of parish’s high schools served the community for the 2005-06 school year.
In January, Turner went to St. Bernard Parish to deliver the first 1,200 books.
“I wanted to see for myself where they were going,” he said.
Turner said what he saw in Louisiana assured him the project would make a difference in many children’s lives.
Hollingsworth and her dad, Russ, made the final delivery in February.
“We took the books down in a U-Haul,” she said. They stayed with relatives in the area and traveled around, seeing the storm’s aftermath.
“I thought I was prepared for it, but after seeing it, I was in shock. Almost six months after the storm, it was still so devastated. It was quite a lot to take in.”
Most of the books have gone to St. Bernard Unified Schools to restock classroom and library shelves. A couple of hundred have gone to families living in tent and trailer cities in Baker, La.
Bev Lawrason, assistant superintendent of St. Bernard Parish Public Schools, said Hollingsworth’s “Books for Katrina Kids” was significant and much appreciated.
“Each of our 15 school sites was destroyed, along with each school’s library. Through numerous donations, like those from Emily, we were able to open a library within our one school for the 2005-06 school year and to provide some books for children to take home and claim as their own.
“We are just now beginning to receive dollars from the federal government,” Lawrason said. That money must first go to buying the necessities, such as desks, textbooks, instructional materials, and cafeteria furniture and equipment. Were it not for donations like Emily’s, library shelves might not have been restocked nearly so soon.
Also, Lawrason said, donations like Emily’s have been a morale-booster for the hard-hit area.
“The outpouring of support from our neighbors across the country has been most gratifying and, in many ways, the life that kept us going each day.
“And though our needs remain many, we have been truly blessed by those who cared enough to get involved.”
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org