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From Louisiana to leadership, David King’s stormy ride

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David King survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and now is flourishing as a student leader at the Cascade Campus.

“I never saw myself living in Portland,” said the campus student body president. “But I’m really glad I’m here.”

David King sits in his student leadership office at the Cascade Campus.

Working for a low-voltage wiring company, King was caught when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in August 2005. He and his family were living about 80 miles north of New Orleans.

“The storm came on a Monday and I heard about it on Saturday,” he said. “I had just over a day to prepare myself and help my family as best I could.”

King used the time to stock up on emergency supplies – food, water, batteries, gasoline and a gas-powered generator. As the wind and rain picked up, he and his stepbrother discovered his father – who has epilepsy – went into what they believed was a seizure, but was later diagnosed as a heart attack. Once the storm passed, they braved 20 miles of ravaged roadways – using a chainsaw to clear the way at some points – to get their father to the hospital.

“My dad had triple bypass surgery the next week,” King said.

While King decided to stay, many opted to leave – including his mother, his sister and her children. They made their way to stay with relatives near Beaumont, Texas, where they received another shock: the home in which they were to live was leveled by Hurricane Rita.

And thus began the chain of events that led King’s mother and sister – and, eventually, himself – to Portland. King’s sister, Kathryn, said that she and her mother were at a loss as to what to do. A woman from Catholic Charities in San Antonio remarked that there were resources in Portland earmarked to help people displaced by Katrina, but that they were untapped.

“We thought, ‘Portland?’” said Kathryn. “At the time it seemed like someplace at the top of the world. (Hurricane) Katrina was an experience that tested my strength as a woman, a mother and a daughter. We were just so relieved to have someplace to go.”

Kathryn King took the woman’s advice and drove to Portland along with her mother and children. In January of 2006, once they were somewhat settled in their new city, Kathryn enrolled in PCC. In phone calls and e-mails to her brother back in Louisiana, she related how welcoming Portland was, how beautiful the countryside was and how much she appreciated the education she was getting at the college.

David King was convinced. He packed his things and joined his family in Portland, enrolling in the GED program at Cascade Campus in the winter of 2008, and then in regular PCC classes in the spring.

“I had a little culture shock when I first got here,” said King, who said he had never seen a mountain before he arrived in Oregon. “I went through a little depression. But when I saw how well my sister was doing at PCC, I thought I’d get involved, too.”

Both decisions – moving to Portland and enrolling at PCC – turned out to be the right ones. King has flourished in college, becoming involved in student government and excelling in the classroom. He got his start in student government in early 2009 and became Cascade president later that fall. Just recently, he won the chairmanship of the PCC District Student Council.

“Cascade Campus is like my second home,” King said. “Once I got started in college, I surprised even myself.”

After his time at PCC is over, King intends to continue his studies toward a bachelor’s degree in business. Oregon has grown on him, and even though he misses the South sometimes.

“I miss the food!” he said, but he intends to remain in the Northwest.

“I’ve kind of found my way since I came to Portland,” he added. “There are opportunities for me here that I never had in my hometown. And I won’t complain about Katrina or any of the things that happened. I’m one of the lucky ones; there are a lot of people worse off than me. It was one of those turning points in life.”

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