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Dorian student victims need temporary “adoption”
Donations still sought
students
Lauryn Smith, center, wipes a tear from her eye as she and fellow Georgia Southern students from the Bahamas Versace Nicolls, far left, Brittni Swain, center left, Sae Moss, center right, and Peter Williams share their stories about contacting loved ones back home in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian during a press conference and information session with local disaster relief organizations and volunteers at the Bulloch County Emergency Operations Center Friday. The students, all from the city of - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

While the main focus after Hurricane Dorian’s ruthless devastation of the Bahamas is helping islanders recover, students from the Bahamas living in Statesboro have current needs as well.

Collections are still needed for disaster relief for Bahamian residents left homeless and destitute. However, many residents of the affected islands live and attend school here and wonder where the funds to remain here will come from now that their families face a long financial and domestic recovery.

Fortunately, many students have been unofficially “adopted” by area families, yet there is still a need for hosts to step in and care for some of the students, said DeWayne Grice, spokesman and member of Bulloch County Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD.

There are at least 39 high school and college students living in Bulloch County who are from the Bahamas and who were left wondering what will happen to them since everything their families had was lost or damaged by the storm, he said.

The students’ worries became clear during a recent luncheon hosted by VOAD members David and Fayebeth Ball that included several students attending school here in Statesboro, Grice said.

The lunch followed a VOAD meeting Friday during which plans for helping those on the islands were discussed, he said.

“We had 23 students attend the lunch,” Grice said. “It was here that we discovered they were fearing for their parents’ lives and safety initially, but now they know that they are OK, their concerns shifted to ‘How do we survive financially here?’”

The students are “from the Grand Bahamas, Bimini and Abacos, which have been devastated,” Grice said. “At last count, 70,000 were homeless there. Not only are their homes destroyed, but their parents’ livelihoods are gone.”

This means there is no money to pay tuition and fees, to buy food and clothing or to meet other needs of the students living here, he said.

“I can’t imagine being their parents, worried about basic survival, knowing that your child has financial needs that if not met, they may have to come back to a place where there is no home,” he said.

So, in addition to continuing collection efforts for the Bahamas, VOAD volunteers started looking for help for the local victims of the hurricane.

“Removing that stress off the parents and the students for a short-term period has been Godsend to them,” he said.
“Many of these students are close to completing their degrees” at Georgia Southern University, he said.

But not all students from the Bahamas are college age. Thirteen boys from the islands are high school students attending the Georgia Premier Academy, a faith-based program owned and operated in Statesboro by Tony Ross. 

Georgia Premier Academy is “basically a boarding school for students who are pursuing baseball with a dream of playing for a major college or even the pros,” Grice said. The boys live in a dorm at the academy on Miller Street Extension and either attend local high schools or virtual high school.

Realizing the current local needs during the lunch, VOAD volunteers decided to “reach out to the community to locate families, churches, non-profits and businesses to ‘adopt’ these students and help them with their personal and financial needs for at least three months,” Grice said. “This will give the students and parents a little time to figure out a path forward.”

Out of all 39 students, “11 of the college students’ families lived in areas that were not as severely affected or for other reasons are stable financially and did not request help,” he said.

The rest are worried about their futures,
“We put a call out on social media and through local churches and other organizations for help,” he said.

All but eight of the high school students have been “adopted,” he said, but host families are still needed.

“The cost to sponsor a high school student is either $1,375 or $1,500 based on educational needs,” he said. “This is total and includes everything they need to continue with their education.”

Ross said the boys are all “very mature” but have been staggered by the tragedy back home.

These boys do not hail from affluence.

“A lot of their families sacrifice” to send them to school here, and “they are not privileged,” he said.
The burden of knowing they are an additional worry for their parents weighs heavily on them. However, their peers at the academy have offered them tremendous emotional support, he said.

Brittni Swain, a Bahama native attending GS, is one of a couple of the students who are serving as student coordinators with VOAD, Grice said. Swain lost three family members to the storm, and a 5-year-old female relative named Keke is still missing.

She said she is amazed by the efforts of people in Statesboro and Bulloch County.

“They have resources and support we never knew existed,” she said. The host families “do everything our parents do, financially and emotionally.”

Anyone interested in “adopting” one of the remaining high school boys for a minimum of three months is asked to contact Grice at (912) 489-3912 or by email at dewayne@lorigrice.com.

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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