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We didn’t have anything else

 

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Kizzy Brown and her three children endured months of displacement and hardship after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in New Orleans.

   

Like many survivors of Hurricane Katrina, Kizzy Brown still grapples with feelings of loss, sadness and something close to guilt.

“There was a hurricane right before Katrina, and everybody evacuated,” she said. “Nothing happened. We left and nothing happened. I should have left for Katrina, too.”

Because the expense of another evacuation was an untenable burden, the Brown family hunkered down in their apartment in New Orleans’ 7th Ward to ride out Katrina. They ended up being trapped there for four days, with no power, water or phone.

After being rescued, the family made its way to a shelter in Kenner, about 18 miles west of New Orleans. For days, Brown and her children slept on cots and ate prepackaged food.

“In the shelter, the kids didn’t want to eat,” Brown recalled. “I had to keep reminding them that we didn’t have anything else.”

A friend offered Brown and her children—Isaiah Brown, then 9; Tyrone Davis, then 6; and Tyra Davis, then 4—a ride to Baton Rouge. With few options, Brown accepted the ride, setting in motion a journey that culminated with a new house for the family, built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge.

“It makes me feel good to know that there are other people out there who have the same heart that I have—to help and give,” said Brown, 31. “I really feel blessed about that.”

The Browns moved into their new home in February 2010. Retired NFL running back Warrick Dunn, who grew up in Baton Rouge, had helped fund construction of the three-bedroom house and donated all the furnishings. To everyone’s surprise, he was standing at the end of the driveway on the day the Brown family moved in.

“He handed me the key,” Brown said. “It was so special.”

Since moving in, the family has settled into their everyday routines. Before Katrina, Brown worked as a housekeeper for a chemical plant. She lost that job after the storm because she didn’t have transportation. She is now in management training at a McDonald’s restaurant in Baton Rouge.

The children are doing well in school, happy to put the nightmare of displacement behind them and live in a real home. The two boys share a football-inspired room, while little sister Tyra sleeps in a bright-pink, Hannah Montana-inspired space. Tyra, now a fourth-grader, is the only one with a clear career plan at this point: She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.

Some of the Browns’ relatives have returned to New Orleans since Katrina, but others are more far-flung. Brown said she misses her native New Orleans occasionally, but has enjoyed putting down new roots in Baton Rouge.

“I’m here,” she said, smiling. “I’m not going anywhere. I told these kids: We’re going to be here till we’re old and gray.”