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Displaced Mississippi Student Finds Refuge at Chesapeake

Posted on Thursday, September 08, 2005


WYE MILLS – Ten days ago 19-year-old Tiyania Johnson was enjoying her new job at the Imperial Palace Casino in Gulfport, Miss. and looking forward to starting her freshman year at

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Instead, she was starting classes some thousand miles away at Chesapeake College with no idea of what her future holds.

Displaced from their Mississippi home, Johnson, her mother, her stepfather and two teenage siblings have moved in with her maternal grandmother in Greensboro.

"It´s really difficult because so much has changed and it all happened so fast," Johnson said this week after attending her first classes at Chesapeake. "All I can do is just focus on the day-to-day stuff. I feel like I can´t plan for the future right now because everything changed -- overnight."

As she processes all that has occurred in the last week, Johnson will begin her college career at Chesapeake as a guest of the college. Dr. Richard Midcap, Chesapeake´s vice president of Student Success and Enrollment Services, said the Caroline County Board of Education contacted the college Wednesday about Johnson´s plight.

"We´ve just kicked off a fundraising campaign for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and we´re in the final stages of processing a plan to offer displaced Gulf Coast college students a place to study during the fall semester," said Dr. Midcap. "When this challenge presented itself, we felt we had to act quickly to assist Tiyania and her family."

Johnson is taking three credit classes for free this semester, according to Midcap. In addition, Barnes and Noble book store is covering the bill for Johnson´s textbooks this fall.

"It felt good to be in class today because it forced me to think about something other than the hurricane for a while," Johnson said. "Everyone at Chesapeake has been friendly and helpful."

Still, Wye Mills wasn´t part of Johnson´s plan.

Johnson and the rest of her family evacuated Gulfport on August 28 and rode the storm out with friends in Mobile, Ala. Three days later, they decided to head back to Gulfport to face what they thought would be an unpleasant clean-up. Instead, they found destruction.

"Even though we´d been trying to follow the news about the hurricane damage, we were hoping that it wasn´t really going to be that bad. We figured that we´d have a lot of cleaning to do. We expected to go home to SOMETHING," she said. "But when we got back to Gulfport it was like everything we knew was either changed or just gone."

Her family´s first-floor apartment was trashed, with windows blown in by the fierce winds and water lines nearly to the ceiling. With only the clothes they´d packed for a short evacuation, the family decided to leave.

"There really wasn´t anything left to save. Everything was just ruined. We could already smell the mildew and the mold. We couldn´t stay," Johnson said.

So, the family headed north to seek refuge in Greensboro and try to establish a normal routine. Johnson´s 16-year-old sister and 14-year-old brother have enrolled at North Caroline High School. Johnson said she will soon begin looking for a part-time job.

"I lived in Caroline County when I was little, but we´ve been in Gulfport for the last seven years. I graduated from high school there last spring," she said.

Despite having Caroline County roots, Johnson said it is hard to be away from Gulfport. She misses her friends and the plans that she had for the future.

"It´s hard to keep in touch with friends because just finding them is difficult. We´ve all been scattered and we don´t know how long we´ll be gone," she said. "It´s impossible to make plans because we just don´t know what the future holds for us."


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