Evacuee calls city a great place #8216;to raise kids#039;
Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2006
Editor's Note: This is the third and final part of a series focusing on Katrina evacuees living in Greenville.
Sheen Brant misses her old hometown. The good food, sights and sounds of a 󈬈-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week” kind of place like New Orleans, is hard to leave behind.
But the threat of a massive storm like Hurricane Katrina left Brant and her loved ones little choice last year.
Originally, Brant was planning to travel with her family to an aunt's house in Bogalusa, Louisiana, while her “better half,” Jim Jones, headed to Alabama to his hometown, Greenville.
“Then we saw the storm had shifted and was heading toward Bogalusa…and Jim said for the children's safety, we had all better go to Alabama,” Brant said.
She thinks it's the plan God had in mind for her in the first place.
“He has a plan for everyone. I think he put me in this position where I had a good place to go.”
‘We weren't going
With her five children (14-year-old twins, an 11-year-old, a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old), a few changes of clothing and treasured family photos, Brant and her fellow evacuees came to Greenville, where they stayed with Jim's folks, the Carter family. The group fully expected to return home in a few days.
“Then we saw the storm play out on TV, the levees breaking, and we knew we weren't going back home. We lived only 10 minutes from Lake Ponchartrain,” Brant recalled with a shake of her head.
She hasn't been back yet to see the damage.
“All my family members have gone back to see it. I just don't want to see it. They say it's going to take five to ten years to rebuild.”
With her home destroyed, the New Orleans native began to make plans for a long-term stay in the Camellia City.
“We got the children enrolled in school here. Faye Stokes helped us with school uniforms and other school needs. She also recommended I check into substitute teaching, and I started subbing at the high school and W.O. Parmer,” Brant said.
Stokes referred Brant to volunteer Sara Jean Atkins at the Butler County Department of Human Resources, “and Sara Jean helped me find a place of our own to live.”
It's been a big adjustment, going from big city to small town life.
“We can't just run over to the mall. You have to drive 45 minutes to get there. The kids miss things like malls, movie theaters. Yep, if Greenville had a mall and a movie theater, that would help out a lot,” she said with a laugh.
The children miss their friends.
“It's been a real culture shock for them, being through a hurricane, being uprooted…but I think things will get better.”
Brant said she is happy with the school system here, one she describes as “wonderful.”
“ You have good people in place here in the schools. I had no problem with the uniform policy…it is actually less strict and less expensive than the one the children had back home.”
‘Not a sit-inside person'
After several months of on-and-off substitute teaching, Brant has found full-time work as an agent for Liberty National Life Insurance.
“Some people told me just to take it easy, get over what we'd been through first. But I am not a sit-inside person. I want to be busy,” she said.
“When the realization of the storm came to my mind, I knew I had to move on.”
Always accustomed to service-oriented work, whether as a children's reading teacher or an activities director for the elderly, selling life insurance has been “a big challenge” for Brant.
“I just remind myself this is a service, too, just in a different capacity. People need life insurance.”
After a little over a month on the job, Brant proudly said she has already earned a bonus.
“The Liberty National people have been like a family to me. They have embraced me. I thank Katie (Holcomb) and the Liberty National people for allowing me to do this.”
She is also volunteering as coach to the midget girls' basketball team at Dunbar Recreation Center, one way of helping the community that has helped her, she said.
Family and faith
It has been family – both the flesh-and-blood relatives and those who have taken Brant under her wing – who have helped make the life transition bearable, she said.
“The Carter family has been wonderful. And all the kids and staff at the high school. Being able to talk with them and share where I am coming from, that's been really great.”
She also wants people to know her hometown is not the complete den of iniquity some see it as.
“So many people think of New Orleans and think it's all wild people and one big party, party all the time – but it's not like that for everyone. That's just one small part of it,” Brant said.
‘A great place to raise kids'
While the Camellia City is a far cry from the Crescent City she knew and loved so well, Brant still sees Greenville as a very special place.
“Greenville is a great place to raise kids. You have great schools and you have a lot of good people. I tell people, ‘I am so glad my better half was born in Greenville,'” she said with a grin.
While Brant isn't counting out an eventual return to New Orleans, for now, she is happy to be a part of small town life in Alabama.
“I came here to this little town, and it's like I've been there all my life. People treated me like I'd always been a part of this place. I hope, if something bad ever does happen here – and I sure hope it doesn't -I can turn around and do something to help the city of Greenville.”