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Boys Town welcomes evacuees

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

Father Steve Boes welcomes displaced residents of Girls and Boys Town of Louisiana to Omaha Sept. 8.
Photo by Lisa Schulte

They came to Girls and Boys Town tired and uncertain of their future, but were welcomed with enthusiasm and open arms.

Sixty-five displaced residents of Girls and Boys Town Louisiana arrived in Omaha Sept. 8 to the sounds of cheers and encouraging words.

'Every kid that comes to Girls and Boys Town is a courageous person because they've made a choice to get better," Father Steve Boes, executive director of Girls and Boys Town, told the crowd gathered. 'For the kids from Girls and Boys Town Louisiana, they're especially courageous. They've weathered one of our biggest national disasters ever and they're still choosing to get better."

The Louisiana group included 35 children, 18 staff members and 12 children of the staff. They traveled 87 hours to get to Omaha, stopping at a different place each night. 'You are already citizens of Girls and Boys Town," Father Boes said.

Girls and Boys Town of Louisiana has four residential group homes in New Orleans, as well as two emergency shelters, one for boys near the French Quarter in New Orleans and the other on the West Bank in Gretna, La. Last year, the site provided direct care and treatment to nearly 500 Louisiana children.

Besides taking care of children and staff needs, Girls and Boys Town is dedicating employees and resources to help many of the children and staff locate their family members who are still missing in Louisiana.

'We weren't really sure what was going on. We knew the hurricane was coming and we knew that it was going to hit, but we didn't know it was going to be like that," said Kevin Odom, one of the displaced teenagers from Louisiana. 'We're just grateful we're alive."

Odom, 17, said the ordeal has been stressful and frustrating, but that he hopes things will get better.

'So many nights I want to cry but the tears just won't come out," he said. 'I have to be strong for my peers. I have to be strong for the staff and just let God deal with it. That's all I can do about it."

All of the displaced residents will live in homes at Girls and Boys Town until arrangements are made for a safe return to Louisiana.

Dwayne Strawder, a staff member at a short-term residential facility in New Orleans, traveled with the group, leaving behind his house, car and all of his belongings.

'The only family I have is these kids and my co-workers," he said. 'A lot of us didn't have to be here. I was going on vacation, but I wanted to stay back and help with the hurricane evacuation."

Strawder said the reality of what happened back home hasn't hit him yet.

'I'm kind of numb to it because we've been on the go so much, but when I do have a chance to sit down and just analyze the situation, it's going to be devastating," he said.

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