by Bonnie Butcher
University of West Georgia’s Center for Public History and Office of Community Engagement recently created an exhibit titled, “A Safe Haven: Responding to Hurricane Katrina.”
Located in the Bonner House, the exhibit explores UWG and the Carrollton community’s
compassionate response to Hurricane Katrina evacuees. When tragedy struck, most of
these people lost everything they owned. They did not just lose their houses and material
possessions. They lost their sense of home, their community, and the places where
so many memories were made. UWG served as a resource where evacuees could feel safe,
connect with others, and find hope for brighter days ahead.
“Carrollton became a part of this history by being host to evacuees,” said Julia Brock, assistant professor of history and co-director of the Center for Public History. “It really was this moment of community-university connection and partnership, something that happens often and in a number of ways, though the scale of partnership here is impressive.”
“This project really began with Melanie McClellan—director of the Office of Community Engagement who was then Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and Dean of Students and who helped to lead the initiative,” Julia said.
Faculty, staff, and students of UWG came together to help evacuees find stability after the storm. Roberts Hall was converted into a temporary shelter for nearly 200 displaced people. UWG and community members gathered to help provide comfort, nourishment, and resources.
Children made up 40 percent of the population housed in Roberts Hall. These children
were immediately able to attend school with the help of parents, UWG staff, and city
and county public school systems.
Graduate students from the counseling department helped connect families to resources, search for local housing, and facilitate activities for the children.
Carrollton served as a place where individuals and families could rebuild their lives with the help of others.
“I was moved by accounts I read in which evacuees were so impressed with the town and their reception that they decided to make Carrollton their permanent home,” said Julia.
“A Safe Haven” exhibit will run through July 31 and is free and open to the public.