For Kristin Kouri, the two hours after a tornado struck her hometown last year felt like three weeks.

That’s because the Illinois State sophomore couldn’t reach her family immediately after the twister leveled their neighborhood in Washington on November 17. Huddled in a stairwell in Watterson Towers due to a local tornado warning, Kouri feared the worst during two hours of cellular silence. Then, her mom texted her from a random number saying she, Kristin’s stepfather, and little brother were OK.

But their family home was gone.

“There was a point where I thought I was gonna be an orphan,” Kouri told STATEside. “I didn’t know if my parents were alive. I didn’t know if my grandparents were alive. I’m just thankful for quite a few things.”

One of those things is scholarship assistance she received from Illinois State’s Red and White Scholarship Fund. The tornado uprooted more than just the family’s home. Even with insurance, living up to a year in temporary housing comes with lots of additional costs—and those costs mounted quickly.

That’s when Kouri and her family asked the University for help paying for her spring 2014 textbooks. Eventually, her financial aid advisor connected her with a modest Red and White Scholarship award.

“It felt great to have that scholarship, to get that cost off our shoulders,” said Kouri, who plans to major in psychology and work in medicine.

Red and White is unique because “when students have no other options and their optimism is fading, this fund is able to provide a little relief during a stressful time,” said Jana Albrecht, M.B.A. ’06, Illinois State’s director of financial aid. Nearly 20 students have already benefited from Red and White this year.

Kouri's family home damage

What was left of Kouri’s family home in Washington, including the displaced stove and refrigerator.

“Some supporters do not believe their contribution will be large enough to make a difference in a student’s life,” Albrecht told STATEside. “But Kristin did not need $10,000. She did need enough money to replace her books, and she needed the money quickly. Kristin was very grateful for the help, and the fund has made a lasting impression on her and many other students.”

In all, two dozen tornados raked across Central and Southern Illinois on November 17, killing eight people and damaging or destroying around 2,500 homes, including Kouri’s. Her family expects to break ground soon on their rebuild, which would put them back in their home by late fall or winter.

In the meantime, Kouri is traveling back and forth from their rental home in Germantown Hills often this semester, in part to help her 11-year-old brother. He was home when the tornado struck and walked away uninjured but with practically nothing else, not even a pair of shoes.

“Everything was just obliterated,” Kouri said. “It’s getting easier, but it was hard at first.”

Through Gladly We Give, Illinois State’s faculty, staff, and retirees can support the Red and White Scholarship, a fund consisting solely of annual gifts that directly impact students in need, said Beth Snyder ’07, associate director for Annual Giving.

“Despite the sudden loss of a parent, serious health issues, or a natural disaster, the Red and White Scholarship enables students to continue their studies at Illinois State when tragedy strikes,” she said.

Read more stories about the Washington tornado’s impact on Illinois State.

Ryan Denham can be reached at