KOKOMO, Ind. —The third day of fall semester at Indiana University Kokomo turned out to be anything but typical, ending with students, faculty, and staff taking shelter in campus basements after tornado warnings were issued in the county.
Just before 3 p.m. August 24, however, the harsh shrill of tornado sirens sounded, power went out, leaving them to wait in the dark, following the first of three tornadoes via phones and laptops. Two more tornadoes followed, keeping many in the basements until nearly dark. They emerged to devastation, as the tornado destroyed homes, and brought down trees and power lines in the neighborhood just blocks away.
Once the storms passed, the IU Kokomo community answered the call to help after campus closed due to no power on Thursday and Friday.
Business student Tyler Lucas was shocked by the damage, and said helping move tree limbs and trash from a damaged neighborhood “makes me feel like I am giving back to the community.”
“I’ve lived here all my life, and I can probably walk into anyplace and find someone I know,” he said. “I saw a lot of people I know while I was out helping. I’ve heard stories about people losing power in their homes, and others having their homes completely destroyed. It’s crazy, because one block over, everything is fine.”
Students like Lucas, together with faculty and staff, became a community of care, removing debris and salvaging items from homes, and tending to the health care needs of survivors in the Red Cross shelter at the Kokomo Event Center. A large group spent Friday and packing and moving toys and books from the Very Early Childhood Center, which is housed in the heavily damaged Inventrek building. They also accepted shelter donations and gave out meals.
Some joined organized campus volunteer efforts, while others helped through their churches or civic organizations, or through the United Way of Howard County.
Amanda Leffler, assistant professor of nursing, posted a call out on her Facebook page, seeking volunteers. She was thrilled to have 20 students show up at the time she set, and others texted her through the day, looking to join her group.
“You can’t teach this stuff in a class,” she said. “We’re blessed to have them here. They are getting quite an experience.”
Some helped strangers, while others assisted friends impacted by the tornadoes. The men’s basketball team organized to help five student athletes whose Park Place Apartments were destroyed. Including coaches, they had a group of 20, who helped the students pack up what they could save and move it to new apartments. Coach Jace Thompson said they also assisted elderly residents and single women who didn’t have anyone to help them lift and carry heavy boxes.
The team appreciates the community’s support, and they were grateful to be able to do something in return, Thompson said.
“This was an opportunity to make an impact and help somebody when they needed it the most,” he said. “We preach a lot about being servant leaders and giving back and paying it forward. This affected our guys. I don’t know that it had until they saw the devastation in person.”
Cross country team member Breanne Robertson noted that the team chose not to participate in its first meet, instead decided to stay in Kokomo and help.
“Our community has supported the cross country program, they’ve given a lot to us,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to do something to help. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
As the dean of students, Sarah Sarber was proud of the effort made by campus volunteers in her neighborhood and others.
“We have had so many neighbors who have lost so much, who have told us how wonderful it was to have all the help from our IU Kokomo community,” said Sarber. “While the loss of homes, and the devastation can be heartbreaking, the outpouring of love and support that we and our neighbors have felt has been absolutely heartwarming.
Todd Gambill, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management, said his staff helped students whose apartments were damaged or destroyed find new places to live. Many also lost belongings, and he urged them to apply for Student in Crisis funding, through the Office of Financial Aid, Kelley Student Center Room 230.
Community members who want to help students are encouraged to donate to the fund, which provides grants to students to help them overcome situations that pose a threat to the students’ health, safety, or well being. To donate, go to iuk.edu/psc/crisis-fund.php. The account number is 0320003956. Checks written to the IU Foundation, with Student Crisis Fund in the memo line, can be delivered to Cathy Clearwaters in the Office of University Advancement, Main Building Room 280.
Free counseling services are also available to students, in the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, Kelley Student Center Room 234G. For more information call 765-455-9364.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.