After fleeing from Hurricane Katrina, Jose Alexander, his wife Mia and their four young children came to Centreville to stay with friends in their one-bedroom apartment.
Now, after a month, they've moved into a hotel here, but only temporarily. They plan to relocate to this area for good, and what they'd really like is a home of their own.
"I'M HOPING, within the next two weeks, to find someplace permanent," said Jose Alexander. "We don't plan on going back. Every summertime is hurricane season."
Jose, 26, Mia, 25, sons Joshua, 5, and Caleb, 2, and daughters Seia, 4, and Gabriel, 8 months, are originally from New Orleans, but were renting a house in Marrero, on the outskirts of the city. Jose worked as an airport-shuttle driver at Louis Armstrong Airport.
Grabbing their most important documents, a few photo albums and some clothes and toys for the children, they evacuated the day before the hurricane struck. They got as far as Mississippi and their car broke down.
"My baby's godparents came and got my wife and children and took them here [to Centreville]," said Jose. "I stayed behind to get the car fixed."
He joined them a couple weeks ago at the home of Andrea and Jason Hall of the Newgate community. "Mia is my best friend, and we're the godparents of Gabriel," said Andrea. "So when they went into a shelter in Mississippi, my husband and my brother-in-law went down to get them."
Since then, the two oldest children have been attending London Towne Elementary. Joshua is in kindergarten and Seia is in preschool. (Jose also has another son, Jose III, 9, who evacuated from Louisiana with his mother, with whom he lives. They're currently staying in Chesapeake).
Jose said the children were a bit disoriented, at first, being in a different place, but are getting used to it. "It seems like most of the people are friendly," he added. "And complete strangers gave us a van."
He's applied for work at the Centreville Post Office as a letter carrier, which he did elsewhere, four or five years ago, and is waiting for his clearances to come through. And Mia, an experienced bank teller, plans to go back to work in that field — but hopefully at a higher level — as soon as they can find childcare.
MEANWHILE, although it was crowded, the Halls were happy to have their friends stay with them awhile. "It's actually been exciting and a learning experience," said Andrea. "It teaches you what's important in life — not [buying] the fancy pants or the purse you want. It's helping out someone in need, and that's what you're supposed to do for people you love."
She said the Alexanders are just now getting some financial assistance, and others have helped, too. Andrea is an accounting technician with the U.S. Geological Survey and, she said, "We've gotten a lot of blessings from people I work with."
Employees took up a collection for the Alexanders and gave them a gift card to Costco. "And they gave me a playpen, bassinet and brand-new clothes to give to them," said Andrea. "It's been people helping people, and it's been amazing to see. Now, they really need furniture and a home."
Jose said he was told his family could go back to their house in Louisiana in six months. "But there'll still be a lot of germs and a lot of diseases, and I can't take a chance on the kids getting sick," he explained. "I haven't seen our house since [Katrina struck], but neighbors said we had about two feet of water inside."
He planned to return there this week to salvage whatever he could, including TV, VCR, photos and "clothes that were sitting high." Then he's coming back to Centreville.
The Alexanders paid $700/month rent for a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Marrero, and Jose hopes to find something similar here "that we can afford after all the Red Cross and assistance programs fade away."
That may well prove his toughest challenge, yet. But he's remaining upbeat and "hoping for good things." Anyone with information that could help this family may call him at 504-258-2539.