At 2 a.m. on July 28, 2022, Kandis Jenkins awoke to the sound of bubbling water. When she got out of bed to investigate the noise, water was up to her ankles and she soon realized her family’s home in Letcher County, Kentucky, was flooding. Within the short amount of time of waking up her parents and assessing the situation, the water now reached their knees and was coming in through the floors and walls. The family knew they had to get out of the house and to higher ground. Ultimately, they drove up a mountain in Virginia to escape the rising waters and at that point, recognized the massive scale of the flooding.
“I remember we were driving and everything in our county was gone. Everything was underwater,” Jenkins said. “We went up the mountain and there was nowhere to park; everyone was up there trying to get to safety.”
In the historic flooding in Eastern Kentucky one year ago, Jenkins and her family lost everything – their home, her car, and everything she needed to take to college – just two weeks before she was set to come back to Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) for her sophomore year.
“After it happened, I didn’t even think to reach out to EKU because in my head, I couldn’t afford to go to school. I had literally lost everything,” she said.
Living in a hotel with her family in the aftermath of the flood, Jenkins received an email from EKU about support available from the Student Assistance Fund for Eastern (SAFE).
“It completely helped me come back to school. I bought clothes with it. I bought the stuff for my dorm room. I was able to live on it and buy food. The SAFE fund at EKU saved my life,” Jenkins said. In addition, she received help from her sorority and the National Guard, as well as support from campus resources, such as the Counseling Center.
“I was very grateful for that SAFE fund and that I go to EKU. I was lucky to have the help that I did,” she said.
This summer, Jenkins is in Letcher County working as a case manager for a non-profit organization, providing relief efforts for others impacted by the flooding. She plans to move back to the EKU campus in a few weeks as she pursues a manufacturing engineering degree.
Through the SAFE program, EKU helped 27 students financially with flood relief, totaling over $30,000. Funded through donations, SAFE provides short-term financial assistance to EKU students who are unable to meet immediate, essential expenses due to an unexpected emergency or crisis situation.
Along with providing students access to SAFE funding, Housing and Residence Life allowed those affected early access to residence halls. Among many other efforts to help the region, EKU hosted a flood drive and delivered supplies to Eastern Kentucky; Colonel athletics teams provided on-the-ground help and support; and a Spanish service-learning class partnered with EKU Libraries to purchase books for the Martha Jane Potter Elementary School library in Letcher County.
“I see daily how much our EKU family cares for each other,” said Dr. Lara Vance, EKU dean of students. “The way the campus community rallies around those in need during these catastrophes shows the state just what we mean in our mission statement about being a School of Opportunity.”