On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, forever changing the lives of many thousands of individuals and families. For 33 people stranded at a boys’ home in New Orleans, their lives would again change forever five days later when a caravan from InfoMart arrived to take them to safety in Cobb County. Five years later, these individuals have not merely survived; they have thrived in the wake of an unimaginable disaster.
The InfoMart rescue mission came to fruition when an InfoMart employee, Marlene Murphy, relayed the following to her associates: her sister and brother-in-law were stuck at the Waldo Burton Boys’ Home in New Orleans with extended family including several children. InfoMart’s founder and president, Tammy Cohen, and several of the company’s employees made the treacherous journey via cargo van to the devastated Crescent City with help from the Coast Guard, Congressman Phil Gingrey, Louisiana police, GEMA and a number of other community leaders.
Once in Marietta, the community rallied around the group to provide food, clothing and shelter, and to help them adjust to life away from home. But now that five years have passed since Hurricane Katrina, where are these survivors now?
Claude Wilkerson, Murphy’s brother-in-law and the Program Director for the Waldo Burton Boys’ Home, has returned to New Orleans. “The whole city has changed. Rebuilding has taken quite some time,” Wilkerson reflected. “Some things will never be the same, and that’s both good and bad.”
The boys from Waldo Burton Boys’ Home are now all grown up. Some of them recently graduated high school and others are preparing for marriage or the arrival of children. While a few of them returned to New Orleans briefly, most of them now live in other parts of the country.
Wilkerson is grateful that InfoMart evacuated the boys from New Orleans following the hurricane. “If there was no place for them to go, there’s no telling where they would have ended up. InfoMart gave them a chance to stay together as they dealt with the trauma following the flood. They helped secure housing and made sure the boys continued attending school. We were amazed by the outpouring of affection and support.”
Katrina survivor Delilah Keligond fears what would have happened had she stayed after the hurricane hit her hometown: “If we had stayed in New Orleans, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My house had over nine feet of water in it. When I went back a year after the flood, it was still boarded up.”
Today, Keligond has relocated permanently to Georgia, has a three year-old son, is engaged to be married in the spring and is one of InfoMart’s dedicated employees. She said, “InfoMart gave me the chance to start over. When I first came to work here, everyone was very supportive – both my co-workers and managers. I like knowing I have a stable job and that I can grow with the company. I feel like I’ve been able to build a foundation here.”
Since leaving New Orleans, Keligond’s definition of home has changed too. “Home is where my family is. After the flood, my family got split up all over the country. But now, InfoMart and the friends I’ve made here are my family.”
InfoMart’s Cohen reflected on the rescue mission, “I still feel so blessed that we were able to make the journey to get these wonderful people out of harm’s way, and I will never forget the look on their faces when they were finally in the vans heading away from their devastated city. Everyone here at InfoMart was touched by that experience. We are all thankful for the way it changed our lives and how it expanded our InfoMart family and our definition of what it means to truly make a difference in another person’s life.”