College helps woman recover after Hurricane Katrina

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A student from New Orleans is crediting Cal State East Bay for helping her following Hurricane Katrina. (KGO-TV)

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina was forming over the Caribbean and it would be days later before it made its way toward the Gulf Coast and left disaster in its path.

Kelli Patterson is a full time working mom living in Fairfield. But a decade ago, she was considered a Katrina refugee, a term she hated. "We felt like we didn't belong. We were like the refugees," she said.

But terminology was the least of her worries because Hurricane Katrina inundated much of New Orleans. Her school, Xavier University, was one of 30 Gulf Coast colleges forced to shut down.

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She remembers retrieving her belongings months later. "You could still see the writing from emergency personnel with X's of saying how many people, how many animals, if people are dead or alive. So, still seeing that months later was pretty traumatic," Patterson said.

Cal State East Bay helped Patterson move on with her life. Among the Cal State University campuses, Cal State East Bay took in the most number of students displaced by the hurricane - 74 out of 300.

Housing, tuition, books and meals were all covered. "To have your college either underwater, damaged and in some cases damaged so that they're never able to return, it really was important for them to have a stable environment that allowed them to regain their footing with higher education," Cal State East Bay Dean of Students Stan Hebert said.

Patterson could have gone back to New Orleans the next semester, but she and 13 other students chose to stay at Cal State East Bay.

She graduated in 2008 and now works in mental health in Concord. "They're really supportive, even the teachers, all the teachers knew that we were quote unquote Katrina students," Patterson said.

It was an experience that helped shape the person she is today and one that helped put Hurricane Katrina behind her.
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