"I was 40 years younger when hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans with terrible force in 1965 and knew that Katrina was no different." That's why Mrs. Jean Matthews and several of her family members packed 3 cars and headed to Houston August 28, 2005 leaving behind her lifetime possessions on the East part of the 9th Ward, on the eve of Hurricane Katrina making land fall in New Orleans. Every material possession she had accumulated in her lifetime was buried under 10 feet of water and mud brought by Katrina's destructive force. "And we were lucky because we had vehicles and other means to escape the natural disaster. My heart goes out to those families who wanted to leave but did not have the means to do it."
"I watched the news and realized that all was lost. Two weeks later I went back to inspect my home and right there I knew that a new beginning had come to my life. I was in the middle of making some remodeling to my home. It was an old house, but I loved it. Some hardwood flooring had not even been unpacked. All the family pictures and recorded memories were gone. From Houston I went to Fort Lauderdale to stay with other relatives."
Ms. Matthews learned about the possibility of getting housing assistance at the Aaron and Frances Levey Senior Center, a HUD sponsored project for senior citizens operated by the Jewish Federation located in Sunrise, FL. The project administrator, Arlene Reid, made arrangements with HUD staff member Sara Warren of the Miami Field Office.
Ms. Matthews moved into her efficiency in Sunrise, Florida October 1, 2005. Four months later she became the third shift night-monitor in her building. She is responsible for handling communications and first response in case of an emergency in her building. Ms. Reid said that Ms. Matthews was offered this important and trusted position based on her above-average communication skills and physical mobility capacity. "You never know what life will offer you, but always make the best out of it," said Ms. Matthews philosophically about her new living arrangement in Florida.
What plans do you have for the future? "Well," the 73-year old woman said, after a brief pause: "Once I finish in the next year the computer training we'll get right here at the community center, I want to travel. You see, when I was younger I did volunteer work with an agency that helped low-income people make wise decision in their lives. I used to help them understand about the dangers of shark loans and other important financial issues. That job took me to a few American cities, and I want to visit them again. Or maybe, I'll travel abroad..."