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Finding a New Normal Life

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Stewart reports on how individuals are stepping forward to help families regain their footing and start a new life.

It’s “Friday night lights” for Mitchell and Megial Brown. The two high school students are in the lineup for the first football game of the season at Jackson, Mississippi’s Murrah High School, where they are now enrolled.

Just two weeks ago, the young men, ages 17 and 18, didn’t know if or when they would return to a football field. At the time they were spending nights crammed into a motel room with 36 other people after fleeing the hurricane in New Orleans.

But thanks to Jackson Advocate newspaper publisher Alice Tisdale, they’re doing homework and practicing for the season opener. It’s part of Tisdale’s efforts to help the Brown family, and their relatives, the Costes, build new lives in their post-storm home of Jackson, Mississippi.

“We had the students tested to see if they needed tutoring and we got computers donated for them to work on,” Tisdale says. She contacted friends at Sylvan Learning Center for the testing and Jackson State University for the computers. “Everyone has agreed to help,” she says.

Like so many of the families who escaped the hurricane, the Browns had no bank accounts. They were life-long renters who paid their bills with cash or money orders. So Tisdale and her network of “neighbors,” a group of business professionals and elected leaders she organized to help evacuees, began breaking down the barriers.

A local bank agreed to waive its normal requirements, allowing the families to open checking and savings accounts. They have deposited checks from FEMA into the new accounts. In Jackson, there is already a wait for public housing, but they are working with lawyers to purchase vacant houses and perform the work necessary to bring them up to code. Meanwhile, they remain at the Clarion Hotel, now just four to a room, courtesy of FEMA.

But job searches have been tough, as the city is grappling with a flood of hurricane victims all looking for work. Even so, Tisdale is working on a long-term goal of helping the Browns and Costes to establish a restaurant.

“We see this as an opportunity for people to not just get back to where they were,” Tisdale says, “but to have a higher quality of life than they had before. “We’re hoping this really is a new beginning for them.”

Pearl Stewart is a journalism professor at University of Southern Mississippi.

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