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Helping Students After Hurricane Irma

After Hurricane Irma, Alyssa Morley returned to DeLand to find her rental home without power and water.


Alyssa Morley

She slept at a friend’s house, and then on an air mattress at the Trilogy Coffee shop in downtown DeLand, where she works part-time.

“I was fine. There were three of us there. It was a big ole slumber party,” said Morley, president of Stetson’s Student Government Association.

Many students, like Morley, experienced the stress and disruptions of Hurricane Irma, and returned to their normal routines once classes resumed last week at Stetson.

But for other students, the stress and anxiety may still remain – whether caused by evacuating the campus, weathering the storm, dealing with financial problems brought on by the hurricane, or worrying about loved ones in devastated areas, such as Puerto Rico.

University officials say resources are available to help, including at the Student Counseling Center and its Hatter Food Pantry.

As SGA president, Morley heard from a lot of students before, during and after Hurricane Irma. She has organized a Hurricane Irma Feedback Forum for Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. in the Marshall & Vera Lea Rinker Welcome Center’s Presentation Room.

Students are invited to share their thoughts and concerns about the University’s handling of the hurricane, and the feedback will be passed on to Stetson’s administrators and Emergency Response Team, according to SGA’s Facebook page.

“We went through the same problems last fall,” Morley said, referring to Hurricane Matthew, which also caused the evacuation of the DeLand campus. “This time around, it was better.

“Students were a little more prepared. … There was a little better communication from the school,” said Morley, who evacuated to the Tampa Bay area and stayed with family during Hurricane Irma.


Chris Ferguson, Ph.D.

Experts say a hurricane or other traumatic event can cause distress even weeks after the event. People may believe they handled a traumatic event just fine, only to suddenly experience severe anxiety or even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder later.

Getting back to a normal routine of sleeping, eating, exercising and socializing can go a long way toward helping students re-adjust after a traumatic experience, said Stetson Psychology Professor Chris Ferguson, Ph.D.

“You just want to try as much as possible to get back into a normal routine and if you’re struggling to do so, certainly reach out to the Counseling Center on campus or other mental health professionals,” said Ferguson, who weathered the storm in his Orlando home with his wife, 13-year-old son and mother, losing power for 36 hours.

Leigh Baker, Ph.D., Director of Stetson’s Counseling Center, said students may feel a sense of loss or grief after the hurricane. They may be more irritable. They may withdraw from friends and loved ones, or experience more conflict in their relationships. They could have trouble sleeping and eating for a few weeks – all of which are normal reactions to stress.

portrait of Leigh Baker

Leigh Baker, Ph.D.

“If students find they’re still in distress weeks after this event, then that might be a good sign that counseling would be helpful,” said Baker, adding that students should be compassionate with themselves and each other during such stressful times. “If they find that they’re unable to function day-to-day currently and they’re impaired, that would also be a sign that they might want to check in with counseling and get support to get back on track.”

Students who have immediate needs, such as for food, can visit the Counseling Center’s Hatter Food Pantry. The pantry provides easy-to-prepare food items that don’t require a kitchen. The food can be prepared in a residence hall, such as canned Chef Boyardee, soup, canned tuna and chicken, canned vegetables, crackers, and instant rice and potatoes, said Nicole Currie, an administrative specialist III in the Counseling Center, who started the Pantry in 2013.

shelves of canned food items in the Hatter Food Pantry

The Hatter Food Pantry is a confidential program designed to help Stetson students with food and personal hygiene items.

The Counseling Center received a few requests from students last week needing food. The center put out a call to the Stetson Community for donations. Needed items include Hormel complete meals, soups, crackers, peanut butter crackers, peanut butter and jelly, canned fruit, peanuts, oatmeal, laundry soap and personal hygiene products like toothpaste.

When food items are within six months of their expiration date, the Pantry donates them to the Neighborhood Center in DeLand, which provides food to people in need in the community, Currie said. For questions, contact Currie at 386-822-8900 or ncurrie@stetson.edu.

-Cory Lancaster