Katie Smits, a fifth-year teacher education student in Curry’s dual degree program, has lived in the same house her whole life.
Her family’s ranch-style home sits nearly a half mile back from the Great South Bay in the sleepy community of Massapequa on Long Island, New York, high enough above sea level that it was outside FEMA’s high-risk flood zone.
Yet, when Super Storm Sandy swept through the Northeast on October 30, 2012, the high tide surge in the early morning hours left few homes on the South Shore untouched. It didn’t help that the Smits’ home was only a tenth of a mile from the nearest canal connecting to the bay.
Katie was not home when three feet of sea water inundated her home, but her parents were. John (a ’77 grad from the Architecture School) and Jane retreated safely to second floor rooms, and fortunately, the house’s structure remained solid.
The interior damage caused by the flooding, however, left Katie and her family emotionally shaken and strapped with a repair bill estimated at $80,000. She faced a quandary about how to pay for her last semester at Curry.
“I’m so close to the end,” she thought. “I can’t give up on everything I’ve worked for.”
This has been such a blessing in this emotional and challenging time for my family.
Katie decided to turn to the Curry School for help, and found caring people who worked on her behalf to find a solution. It came in the form of the Robert P. and Anne W. Buford Scholarship from the Curry School Foundation—enough money to cover her full spring tuition.
“I cannot thank the Curry School Foundation enough for the scholarship,” she says. “This has been such a blessing in this emotional and challenging time for my family.”
Katie was not only out of state when Sandy hit, she was out of the country. On a ten-week study-abroad experience, she was student teaching in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Even there, Sandy’s imminent arrival on the Atlantic Seaboard was being reported in the news media, Katie says. She was also in direct communication with her parents and knew of their decision to stay home and ride out the storm when it headed their way.
She later learned that sometime after midnight her parents realized the rising water would soon reach the level of their home. They put a few furniture items up on tables, frantically grabbed computers, clothes, and random personal effects, then headed up to the partial second floor—two bedrooms and a bathroom they had added on several years ago.
By that time power and cell phone service were out. For days afterward, Katie could communicate with her parents only through her two aunts who lived further north on the island, and gradually text messages began to go through.
“I was really close to going home to be with my parents, but they told me there was not much I could do there,” Katie remembers. “I think they were trying to protect me from seeing it.”
Even then, she says, the only thing that kept her from going home early was the fact that her parents had already booked a trip to visit her over Thanksgiving break. They had been living with John’s parents since the storm and were still waiting for the house to dry out so they could begin demolition work—tearing our floors and sheetrock up the water line.
By the time Katie went home at the end of the fall semester, reconstruction had begun and most of the neighborhood debris had been hauled away.
As the winter break rolled around, Katie was relieved to have her tuition concerns alleviated, and she was able to devote attention to stripping wallpaper and running errands to keep the construction on course.
Work continues on her family’s home, but Katie is back in Charlottesville this semester, right on track to graduate in May.
Katie’s mom says that Curry’s support helped the family maintain a little sanity in a time of uncertainty and adversity. “As an alumnus,” John adds, “I was always proud of the university and very happy when my daughter was accepted and chose to attend. After seeing the response the university has given to our needs, I am even more honored to be affiliated with such a great institution.”