Okay readers, and by readers I mean Mom because she may be the only one bothering to read this anymore, its been quite some time since I invaded your cyberspace. How come? Well three weeks ago my university, town, and entire state was rocked by a natural disaster. We experienced and EF-4 tornado that destroyed half our town, killed many, destroyed homes and businesses and left us all in a state of shock. I've never openly stated where I go to school but I'm sure from the few Roll Tides and mentions of sporting events and cities you've figured out I attend the University of Alabama. I was trying not to mention the name of the University for a couple of reasons but I'm over that. Besides very few people who don't already know me are reading my posts. Anyway, I had planned on writing about the end of my first semester as a RA and my overall impression of the job but April 27th changed everything, including my experience as a resident advisor.
I'm not going to write much about the storm. Its been well covered and my story is far less important than those who have suffered personal injury or loss. I will say that it was and will remain one of the defining events of my life. I've never experienced anything like it. There have been a few dangerous moments in my life but this was one of the few were I actually thought I was going to die. I'm not trying to be morbid, just better understand the gravity of the situation. I was huddled in a closet with four friends watching the storm cut a path straight toward our building via video coverage on someone's phone. I called my family, prayed, and braced myself for the worst. At the last minute the storm changed directions and hit an area about a half mile from where we were. I don't know why it happened like it did but I thank God that I'm alive and able to help those who were not as lucky as I was.
Shortly after the storm our dorm lost power. We came together as a staff under the direction of our amazing Community Director, Graduate Assistant and Office Manager. We maintained our 24 hour desk, offered assistance to residents in anyway that we could and began the longest week of our lives. So many things happened in those few days and to be honest I'm not even sure I can remember them all, much less record them in chronological order.
I remember waking up every 7 hours to makes rounds of the building with an RA partner. Climbing 13 floors of stairs with a flashlight. Sweating in the heat and tripping over discarded items from residents who chose to go home early and be with their families.
I remember collecting clothes and toiletry items to send to our on campus shelter for storm victims.
I remember the University closing operations and realizing my semester was over.
I remember helping residents coordinate a way to get home.
I remember not crying. I couldn't let myself cry. If I just went to bed exhausted then I could rest and not have to cry.
We began an express check out process so we could get as many residents out of the dorm (and as many people out of Tuscaloosa) as soon as possible. At the end of every school year the dorm operates a give n' go donation center so girls can donate the items they can't or do not wish to take home. This process took on a whole other meaning this year. We unofficially became a donation and drop off center. It started out with residents donating clothes, toiletries and furniture. The next thing I knew I saw a guy walking in with two armfuls of groceries asking if we were accepting food donations. When I asked where he was from he told me Mississippi State. He finished his exams, went to the store, loaded up with supplies and drove all the way to Tuscaloosa to drop them off. I don't know why he chose to stop at our dorm. At that point we had not publicized the fact that we were taking donations. All I know is it warmed my heart.
The first time I left Tuscaloosa after the storm on Wednesday was Sunday morning. I decided to drive up to Birmingham to see my family and attend church services at my church back home. I had held it together since the storm. I'm not a crier. I don't cry often and I rarely cry in front of other people. So when I got to church Sunday I was not expecting to cry. If I had known what was to follow I would have packed four packs of tissue and sat on the back pew so no one would have had to see me ugly cry. And ugly cry I did. I went up to my usual spot and sat with my friend Meredith. Her neighborhood (about 60 miles from Tuscaloosa) was also hit by the same storm. We hugged and I held it together. I thought I'd be okay. Then church began and it was time to sing. The song leader announced the first song, Count Your Many Blessings. I couldn't think of a more appropriate way to start the service. Except, all of a sudden my throat is tight, and my lip is starting to shake, and now I'm making the ugly "I can't cry now" face. And now my face is all wet because I am crying. Ugly crying. And now Meredith is crying and she only has two tissues left. Well so much for holding it together. Turned out to be just the emotional release I needed, I just wish I had been a little more prepared for it. Thanks for sharing your kleenex Mer! It worked much better than my sweater. I met my family for lunch after church and then drove back down to school.
On Monday, May 2nd the University resumed normal operations and our dorm became an official drop off and donation center. I spent the next week alternating between working in the dorm and working in the community. I saw the best and worst images over that week. Its an event that will always be a part of me.
Well I said I wasn't going to write much about the storm. I guess I lied. It was unintentional I assure you. Please continue to pray for my community and state. The healing process has just begun but as has been said "We are Alabama, and we will rise again."
If you're interested in helping there are many ways to volunteer. One of the best tools for me so far has been Twitter. Way to go social networking! There is an account called HelpTTown. They post daily about where volunteers and supplies are needed.
Also, I have a lot of new things to tell you about regarding my RA adventure and where it has taken me this summer but this post is already too long. I will tell you that I'm still on campus, working with a new community, and already having a blast in my summer position. More details to come shortly!