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A Community Reaches Out

City residents are touched by Katrina and find ways to help relief effort.

While the City of New Orleans may be over 1,000 miles away, City of Fairfax residents still feel the reverberations of Hurricane Katrina and the damage it has caused.

For some, like Scott Eskildsen of Fairfax, the hurricane meant major changes. Eskildsen, 21, had just arrived in New Orleans for his senior year at Tulane University when he had to evacuate for the hurricane.

"We had heard about the hurricane when we went down there," said Eskildsen. "Hurricanes are always coming to New Orleans."

He was used to it, said Scott's father Paul Eskildsen. His son had evacuated for hurricanes three times in his college career.

But this time was different: Eskildsen didn’t return to school once the evacuation was over.

The hurricane caused many New Orleans colleges, among them Tulane, University of New Orleans, and Loyola University New Orleans, to close until the spring or until further notice, and schools across the country are taking in displaced students like Eskildsen.

As soon as Eskildsen returned to Fairfax from Houston, where he had evacuated with about 15 college friends, he began to look at new schools for his fall semester.

"Originally, it was whoever was going to take me," he said about the process of reapplying to schools. At first, when Eskildsen called the University of Virginia, the school was not accepting any more students; a few days later, however, the school announced that it would accept qualified students from Tulane, Xavier University, and a few other places.

"The president (John T. Casteen) decided that it was something we should be doing that was the right thing to do," said university spokesperson Carol Wood. School officials met and created a plan, said Wood, and announced that qualified students from affected universities could apply for admission. The school received 300 calls that day, said Wood, and an orientation for about 135 new UVA students took place on Sunday, Sept. 4.

"We hope to help them through a fairly tough time in their lives," said Wood. "We’re hoping to offer them opportunities to continue their academic careers uninterrupted."

It didn’t take Eskildsen long to do so. "Scott called and talked to an admissions person, and immediately got in his car and drove to Charlottesville," said Paul Eskildsen. "In two hours, he had an interview, was admitted, and managed to get a full course schedule through the registration process."

"It’s been great," said Eskildsen of his experience so far at UVA. "They’ve done a lot for us."

"It is quite a dizzying experience, but in the end, it worked out very well," said Paul Eskildsen. "In (Scott’s) situation, he managed to make the best of it."

Eskildsen, a cell biology major who hopes to go to medical school after graduation, said that compared to the rest of New Orleans, Tulane "doesn’t look that bad … the school is fine, it’s more rebuilding the city."

For now, said Eskildsen, he is waiting and hoping to be able to back to Tulane next semester. "It’s a great school. I hope no one thinks poorly of it now," he said.

As for New Orleans, said Eskildsen, the news media "has not been justly showing it. It’s unfortunate, all the destruction, and they’re showing looting, but it’s really just people finding food."

"He loves it down there," said Paul Eskildsen. "He was enjoying the New Orleans experience as well as college itself."

Eskildsen is disappointed by the timing of the hurricane, he said, but ultimately, it is important to keep things in perspective.

"It’s something that happens, you’ve got to go through it," he said. "My problem is the least of the problems … I hope all the people are all right down there and can get out soon. Then we’ll worry about Tulane."

IN THE MIDDLERIDGE neighborhood south of Fairfax City, a group of third graders are raising money to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Chris Mayhew, 9, was watching the news on television and saw a story of a local child who had raised over $1,000 for hurricane relief. On Saturday, Sept. 3, Chris staged his own neighborhood donation drive, going door to door by scooter, carrying a paper bag with a cross drawn in red crayon.

"I thought I could do it too," said Chris, who started third grade at White Oaks on Tuesday, Sept. 6. "So I dragged my parents out to do it." On Saturday and on Monday, Chris went out for a few hours at a time and ended up with $1,029 that will go to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. His approach was simple: he took a friend and a parent as a chaperon, approached doors and asked for donations.

"I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this. How old are you?’" said father William Mayhew, who works at a law firm in Georgetown.

Almost everyone donated at least a few dollars, even if they had already given through their church or work, said William Mayhew.

According to Chris and Jack, the largest donation was $200, and the smallest was $1. They started out with a goal of $100, which Chris accomplished by the time he left the first house. He eventually set his sights on $1,000, which took him and his friends about five hours to collect.

"If we wanted to get over a million, we could probably do it," said Jack Federici, 9, who collected with Chris on Monday.

"I’m grateful they decided to do it," said mother Sarah Mayhew. "It was interesting that he said, ‘I want to do something.’"

"It’s pretty special," said William Mayhew. "I was surprised he wanted to do this instead of going to the pool. It’s the last week the pool’s open." But Chris gets his volunteer spirit from Sarah Mayhew, who volunteers most of her time in the library, at science fairs, and in the classroom, said William Mayhew.

"I feel really glad we were able to accomplish this, and get $1,000," said Chris.

"I feel really sorry for (the victims)," said Jack. "I wish they could have got help right away. They should have got help right away."

"I’m sad about (the hurricane) because people are dying," said Austin Morales, 9, who collected with Chris on Saturday. "It’s like a big war."

Others in the neighborhood are helping out, too. Nicole Fitchett, 12, raised $25 for the Red Cross with a water stand, and at a Labor Day block party, Marian Littleton organized emergency kits to send to the Gulf Coast through the Burke United Methodist Church.

"Chris inspired me when he came by the other morning," said Littleton. "The children really have a mind for each other."