Through the Eyes of the Children

Justin Weaver
Justin Weaver

In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, destroying thousands of homes, cutting off water, electricity and other services, forcing one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.

Of the thousands who fled the area, more than 300 found a temporary refuge at Camp Dawson, in Preston County, W.Va., about 25 miles from West Virginia University, where I am a studying journalism.

My first trip to Camp Dawson was during the second week of September 2005 as part of a reporting project for WVU journalism students. While driving to the military camp, I thought about the stories not making their way into local papers and broadcasts. I did remember one story concerning whether the children at Camp Dawson would begin attending school in Preston County. I wanted to dig deeper; I wanted to find out how these kids were holding up on a daily basis at Camp Dawson.

When I arrived, I received a small tour of the base by Kim Coleman, a public information officer at Camp Dawson. I came across an area that looked like a well established children’s activity center. I found out that four days before I had arrived, volunteers emptied a storage room filled with supplies and turned it into the activity center.

The Red Cross created a place of emotional relief for these children. The old storage room now held baskets of stuffed animals, a board game table and a “no-shoes” area where a big soft zebra designed rug lay in front a television playing movies about superheroes and fairytale lands. It was very touching to watch these children, who had all gone through so much in the previous weeks, relax and feel as if they were in their own living rooms at home.

While interviewing the children, I felt like I was talking with a group of kids who were completely in their element – not kids who had just been removed from an area they had known their whole lives. These kids were starting over, building new friendships and attempting to discover who they were in their new environment.

While there I noticed one young girl in particular. She was wearing a bright yellow shirt covered with handwritten magic marker greetings. Her name was Trenace Tyler, or “Toni,” as her friends called her. Trenace was 11 and arrived at Camp Dawson with her mother, stepfather and brother. Trenace told me she was scared when she first arrived. After discovering the youth center and making new friends, life was going a little better for her.

Trenace’s story is one of many being documented by the students and professors working on this project. It is my hope that this combined effort will result in a small snapshot of the effects a large disaster such as Hurricane Katrina has had on everyday people and what it takes to begin a new life.