Two Georgia Southern University students from the Bahamas said they would not be graduating today if not for the help of Statesboro and Bulloch County.
Versace Nicolls and Zae Moss, as well as members of their families, met with media Friday to convey their gratitude to the Bulloch County Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster, or VOAD, and the community members who stepped in to help them during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
VOAD coordinator DeWayne Grice introduced the group and said the community raised over $100,000 to help a total of 38 university, college and high school students and their families who were affected by the storm. The students attended Georgia Southern University and other local colleges as well as a local baseball academy, he said.
Three months ago, when Dorian struck and battered the islands, Nicolls and another student posted on social media about their concerns. Not only were they worried about friends and family in the Bahamas, they also didn’t know where the funds would come from to pay tuition, buy food, pay bills and survive here in Statesboro. “The banks were closed” on the islands and parents were unable to access money to handle their students’ financial needs, she said.
Some community members spotted the student’s social media posts and took action, Grice said. In no time, VOAD organized efforts to send hurricane relief donations to the Bahamas and secured sponsors for the students who worried they would not be able to continue their studies.
It was a tremendous undertaking, but “we felt confident, knowing our community, that we would find a way,” he said. “We soon realized they needed more than money; they needed parents on the ground here.”
In addition to the financial assistance given to the students here to ensure their needs were met, VOAD sent four containers of donated goods to the Bahamas that went directly to the students’ families. Nicolls’ father, Marquis Nicolls, said the supplies were a blessing.
Georgia Premier Academy’s director of operations Gene Reynolds also expressed thanks to VOAD. About 30 percent of the baseball academy’s student population is from the Bahamas, and local sponsors helped those 12 students to remain in the school, with two going on to college, he said.
“I am glad we can be a part of such a great community,” he said.
The Bahamian students huddled in the Bulloch County Emergency Operations Center 90 days ago were frightened, worried and uncertain. Friday, the day before Nicolls and Moss would graduate from Georgia Southern, everyone was all smiles.
“There was so much going on during the hurricane, it was confusing,” Versace Nicolls said.
But when VOAD and local sponsors stepped in, the relief was immense.
“They were there for us, financially and spiritually. You (the Bulloch County community) have a place in our hearts forever, and we will never forget it. We didn’t expect to get all this — we are overwhelmed.”
The 22-year-old will graduate with a degree in biology.
Marquis Nicolls said he is proud of his daughter and grateful that the community stepped in when he was unable to see to her needs. During the storm in the Bahamas, he stayed with his in-laws, but when Dorian washed 3 feet of water into that area, the family had to flee further inland, he said. With the pressing danger and devastation of the hurricane, he had no access to funds or any way to help his daughter.
When VOAD sent the food and other donations and the local sponsors “adopted” the students, it was a major blessing, he said.
“The sponsors were a tremendous help. Graduation would not have happened if not for them.”
Zae Moss, 22, will graduate magna cum laude with a degree in biochemistry, thanks to the sponsors, she said.
Amid the maelstrom of emotions she has experienced since the hurricane, gratitude is prominent, she said. The sponsors and VOAD “have really been there for us at a time when we thought we would have nothing and no one.”
Her mother, Karen Moss, glowed with pride as she spoke about her daughter’s success.
While she did not have to evacuate her home, the storm took its toll economically, and she was afraid her daughter would have to come home before finishing school.
The efforts of VOAD and sponsors “really took a load off my shoulders,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart I am grateful, just overwhelmed.”
Although Moss and Nicolls are graduating, the needs of others still exist. Students are still attending classes, families are still experiencing struggles in the Bahamas, and VOAD is continuing the outreach for these families, Grice said.
Monetary donations can be sent to the Statesboro Bahamas Student Relief Fund, c/o DeWayne Grice, 34 E. Main St., Statesboro, GA 30458. Donations may also be dropped off directly at any Synovus Bank branch, and online donations can be made through CrossRoads Community Church at www.mycrcc.com/give, he said.
For more information, contact Grice at (912) 489-3912.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.