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Hurricane brings family to Winnebago

Jack LaMere (right), an elder from St. Augustine Parish in Winnebago, puts a blanket on the shoulders of Hurricane Katrina victims Joseph Catanese, Amber Roper and Roper's son, Logan. For some Native American tribes, the gift of a blanket says, "I wish all your needs are met." This is the message St. Augustine Parish has for its newest members.
Principal Joe Fustos (left) and Father Dave Korth, mission director, welcome 11-year-old Logan Roper to St. Augustine Indian Mission School. Roper, a fifth-grader, said he looks forward to going to Mass and attending a Catholic school. Pictured with Roper is Jospeh Catanese, his mother's boyfriend.

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

It had been almost 22 years since Georgia Gomez had seen her niece when the two were reunited this summer at Gomez's home in Winnebago.

Now the two are roommates.

Gomez took her niece, Amber Roper - along with her niece's 11-year-old son, Logan, her boyfriend, Joseph, and the family cat and dog "“ into her home after Roper's home was washed away by Hurricane Katrina.

'I'm glad to do it," Gomez told The Catholic Voice. 'It made me think of the blessings that I've got from the Creator. I'm lucky."

The group traveled from their home in St. Bernard Parish, La., just east of New Orleans, and arrived in Nebraska Aug. 30, the day after the hurricane hit. Roper's mother and many of her friends are still missing.

Father Dave Korth, executive director of the St. Augustine Indian Mission in Winnebago, said Gomez's welcoming response is common in the Native American culture.

'The way that Native Americans reach out to one another and the generosity of this family, that's the typical Native American response," he said. 'If a family member is in need, they have this understanding that what I have is yours. It's a beautiful lesson they've been teaching me."

Father Korth said the opportunity to have Roper and her son participate in parish and school activities 'brings the tragedy that happened down there closer to home for our community here."

It also gives them the ability to make a hands-on difference for the hurricane victims.

'Things are better for us here," Roper, 31, said.

St. Augustine School in Winnebago waved tuition and uniform costs for her son, who is attending fifth grade at the Catholic school. He is already active on the school's football team and at the parish.

'He is so excited for Mass and Catholic school," said Roper, who plans to donate her time at the school and church to help offset the costs. 'I just hope that I can do as much for this community as they have done for me."

'Back home I was usually the one people came to for this and for that and I raised other people's children and helped the kids who needed extra help in Logan's class, so it's really hard for me to take help from other people."

With Roper's hometown devastated and water in the area full of spilled oil from the neighboring oil plants, she plans to stay in Winnebago until school ends. She doesn't, however, intend to return to New Orleans. Instead, she is considering getting a house and staying close to her aunt.

'Some people I've talked to say they're moving back and I think they're crazy," she said. 'Even if it is 10 years from now, who wants to see everything they've worked for wiped out?

'This is a tragedy, but it's the best thing that could have happened to me. My son is here in a better school, I'm with family, and it's a more positive environment," Roper said. 'We're going to have a better life here."

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