Help for wildfire victims offered by Dean of Students Office
By Mary Kincy
They can’t rebuild a home, but they can help replace a portion of its contents.
That’s a lesson Texas State graduate student Charles Hamrick, 25, learned last week after his Bastrop residence was lost to wildfire Sept. 4.
Hamrick received assistance from the Dean of Students Office, located in the LBJ Student Center, in the form of replaced textbooks he valued at some $380.
Associate Dean of Students Vincent E. Morton says the hand up is part of his office’s Student Emergency Services program, which leads the charge in coordinating a response to emergency incidents involving students. Those responses can range from offering assistance to those affected by fires, such as Hamrick, to notifying faculty of a student absence due to prolonged illness, injury or family emergency.
“What we try to do is take an extra burden off them,” Morton says of students facing crisis situations.
In the case of the recent wildfires, the most significant of which, in Bastrop County, the Texas Forest Service confirmed was likely the result of an electrical issue, Morton said the Dean of Students Office identified 766 students potentially impacted. Of that number, 97 responded to an initial outreach effort, with more following in their wake in recent days.
For those students, Morton, after verifying the legitimacy of claims, sent absence notices to professors, provided a few small grants, replaced textbooks, distributed gift cards and organized response to counseling needs.
“It’s just a case-by-case basis, but we’re going to look at what their needs are,” he says of impacted students.
The Dean of Students Office can also offer advice to students facing emergency or crisis situations with respect to various offices on campus that may need to be notified of a prolonged absence from class or even a withdrawal.
Morton says the support offered students affected by the wildfires will continue for some time.
“As long as we have resources,” he said of the timeline. “It could be devastating for a while. … We want to be here for however long they need us.”
For Hamrick, whose needs will continue into the immediate future as he works to rebuild his life from a Bastrop motel, the textbook replacement alone was a blessing, although he was unable to secure assistance in replacing a computer lost to the blaze.
The 2009 graduate of Texas State, who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and is currently seeking a master’s degree in legal studies, says he returned to class Sept. 12 with replacement books already in hand.
He remembers the night of the fire that destroyed his home vividly — “I saw the sky go from blue to black, from black to burnt orange. I could feel the heat on my face,” he says — but mixed with the horror is a message of hope communicated by the concern and care of others.
He praised the help offered by Texas State particularly.
“When you have great professors and they care for the students, everything’s an easy transition,” he said.
And soon, while completing his graduate degree, Hamrick plans to rebuild.
“Life goes on,” he says. “You can’t let it get you down.”
To learn more about the Dean of Students Office or to make an appointment, call (512) 245-2124. The office is located in the LBJ Student Center, Suite 5-9.1.