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Year after tornado, Washington student thankful for scholarship

Kristin Kouri

Illinois State University scholarship recipient Kristin Kouri.

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

That’s because the Illinois State University junior couldn’t reach her family immediately after the twister leveled their neighborhood in Washington one year ago, 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 said. “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 financial 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 textbooks the next semester. 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, a psychology major who plans to work in medicine.

The Red and White Scholarship 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.

Kouri was one of 25 students who benefited from Red and White during the 2013-2014 academic year.

“Some supporters do not believe their contribution will be large enough to make a difference in a student’s life,” Albrecht said. “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. The fund has made a lasting impression on her and many other students.”

In all, two dozen tornadoes raked across Central and Southern Illinois on November 17, killing eight people and damaging or destroying around 2,500 homes, including Kouri’s.

The E-4 Washington tornado impacted the Illinois State community in many ways beyond Kouri’s family. Washington’s high school football team, coached by alumnus Darrell Crouch ’87, made national news with its emotional run into the state playoffs after the tornado. Other Illinois State alumni, such as Erin Templeton, M.S.N. ’13, saw their homes destroyed.

Stats behind the stories: Foundation Annual Report

On campus, students rallied quickly to help out in Washington, a community of around 16,000 just 30 miles northwest of Normal near Peoria. They organized a “Stuff the Bus” campaign on the Quad that collected loads of supplies for the hard-hit community. When the dust settled, busloads of students traveled to Washington to clean up debris during finals week, with trips organized by the Dean of Students’ Leadership and Service team.

One year later, Kouri’s family is living in an apartment just down the street from where their house used to be. Homes in their neighborhood are sprouting up once again, but Kouri’s family spent much of the summer on a homebuilder’s waiting list to have their house resurrected.

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

They initially rented a home in nearby Germantown Hills, from which Kouri traveled back and forth during the spring 2014 semester, in part to help her younger brother. He was home when the tornado struck and walked away uninjured but with practically nothing else, not even a pair of shoes.

“My parents wanted to get my younger brother back into Washington, even though we’re not home, so he can start to go back to normal, be back with his friends, and to help him heal,” Kouri said.

For Kouri, healing came in part from the Red and White Scholarship. The fund consists solely of annual gifts that directly impact students in need, said Beth (Snyder) Keegan ’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.