As Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, Lynell, a single mom, faced a heartwrenching decision. Lynell says that when she called her job to say she was going to evacuate with her family, she was told she'd be fired if she didn't come in to work. Reluctantly, Lynell sent her 13-year-old daughter Ariel to Texas to be with her sister's family while she stayed behind to ride out the storm. Ariel begged her mother not to go to work. "I was thinking, 'What's going to happen? I might never see my mom again,'" Ariel says.
The next day, floodwaters surged, filling Lynell's home, but she escaped to higher ground. From atop her neighbor's house, Lynell could only watch as the floodwaters washed away everything she owned. "The only thing I had was the clothes that I had on my back," Lynell says. "I lost everything."
Finally, Lynell found shelter, but it was days before she got the news that Ariel was safe in Fort Worth. Without a home or job, Lynell left for Houston to stay with her brother and piece together a new life. It took weeks to find an apartment of her own and to enroll in a community college—weeks spent away from Ariel.
"Every time I think of that, I cry because my mother is like [the] only person I really look up to," Ariel says. "I love her with all of my heart. I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world."
After three long months, Lynell was finally able to reunite with her daughter. "Now that I'm back with her, I love her and appreciate her even more," Ariel says about her mother. "I know she will always be there."
Lynell, Ariel and Noel—Lynell's son who attends college in Georgia—plus eight other families wait excitedly on their porches for the signal to open their front doors for the first time. Welcome home, everybody!