We’re still in awe
On March 13, 2010, Nate Campo turned 11 in typical birthday style, surrounded by family and friends, eating cake and ice cream, opening presents. What made this party special was the setting: his family’s first real home since their apartment in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood was swamped in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“That was the best party of my life,” Nate said with the breathless hyperbole of a happy child.
Carla Campo and her three children—Nate, then 7; Ryan, then 4; and Angel, then 6 months old—fled the city two days before the hurricane struck, packing only enough clothes to last about three days.
“We thought it was going to be another hit-and-miss kind of thing,” Campo recalls. “But it’s been a journey from that point on.”
For nine weeks, the family wasn’t allowed to return to their rental home, which had taken on several feet of water. By the time they returned, looters had ransacked the place, and mold had grown halfway up the walls.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Campo, a former preschool teacher who helps care for elderly and disabled people.
Running out of money for hotels, Campo and her children went to a local shelter, where they were told about other states that were willing to help evacuees.
“We wound up going to a little town in Oklahoma called Kingfisher,” Campo said. “Those people took us in and treated us like family.”
Good Samaritans in Kingfisher set the family up in a house and made it possible for Campo’s oldest son to finish the school year in classes there.
Nine months later, the Campos’ FEMA trailer arrived in Lafayette and the family returned to Louisiana. Though they were happy to be closer to home, all of the children immediately started suffering from health issues related to the FEMA trailer.
“My kids were in and out of the pediatrician’s office every other week,” Campo said. “My daughter would break out in rashes from head to toe. I knew we couldn’t stay there.”
In addition to worrying about her asthmatic children, Campo was struggling to commute at least once a week from Lafayette to Jefferson Parish—about 220 miles round-trip—to take care of her mother, whose health was failing. She scraped together enough money to rent an apartment in Metairie, but also applied with East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity for a more long-term solution.
“Rent was so expensive everywhere,” she said. “It had taken me four months to find something I could afford, and still we were living paycheck to paycheck.”
Now, with a mortgage payment that’s less than half the rent on her three-bedroom apartment, Campo has settled onto a quiet street flanked by Habitat homeowners, where her children are free to ride their bikes and play outside with the neighbors’ kids.
“I’ve always wanted a house to call my own,” Campo said. “I knew it was going to happen, because God finds a way.
“I don’t want to move anymore,” she added, laughing. “This is it. Every time we pull up in the driveway, we’re still in awe. This is our home. This is our home now.”