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You do the best you can

 

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Kimberly Stewart and her daughter, sixth-grader Kennedy, lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, surviving a dramatic rescue and more than two years of displacement.

   

Kimberley Stewart and her daughter, Kennedy, did not evacuate as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast five years ago. Unsure of where to go—and unable to afford a hotel room—Stewart decided to ride out the storm in her mother’s second-floor apartment in New Orleans East.

As the situation grew graver, she changed her mind and tried to leave the city, but it was too late. Stewart and Kennedy had to be rescued by boat four days after Katrina, and then were transferred to an Army truck and finally to a bus bound for the Cajundome in Lafayette, where 10,000 other displaced people were seeking shelter.

Local residents were eager to help, but housing and resources were scarce. Church organizations in the area rallied, coordinating transportation and financial assistance to send evacuees to more distant cities that had offered to help.

On impulse, Stewart accepted an offer to go to Dawsonville, Georgia, where members of the Father’s House church embraced her and her daughter, setting them up in an apartment, providing a used car and helping her get a job.

The Stewarts lived in Dawsonville for two years, before the pull of home became too great.

“We were blessed in Dawsonville, but I was so homesick,” Stewart said. “You know, home is home.”

Stewart qualified for a home with St. Tammany West Habitat for Humanity and in August 2009 moved into her new home in Mandeville. Since landing a good-paying job at Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, Stewart makes the 40-minute commute every day across Lake Pontchartrain.

Kennedy, now a sixth-grader, is close enough to ride her bike to school, where her best subjects are spelling and English. She loves to write stories—“mini-books,” her mom calls them. She wants to be a veterinarian or a nanny when she grows up.

Stewart, meanwhile, is going back to school in August. She needs only two semesters to get a degree in counseling.

“Every life is a constant battle,” she said. “That’s what this whole experience has taught me. You get through each thing, one day at a time. And you do the best you can.”

Stewart and Kennedy maintain ties with the friends they made in Georgia. Kennedy goes to visit her best friend there every summer, and her friend’s whole family came down for Mardi Gras this year.

“We’ll always be connected,” Stewart said.