Teen Katrina Evacuee Wins Volunteer Award
by: Capella Tucker, August 10, 2007 5:08:00 am
On this day, Nikita Atkinson is going to be grabbing her bat and glove and joining the softball game at the Salvation Army Aldine Westfield Boys and Girls Club. Atkinson says the competitive softball game is nothing unusual.
"Air hockey they get competitive and then they cheat, stop the puck... it's funny. I have to try to teach them how not to cheat. So you have to put one hand behind your back so you can't pick it up and stop it."
That's only a small part of the lessons Atkinson is teaching the kids she works with. Atkinson and her family rode out Katrina in a downtown New Orleans hotel.
"The water started rising each day, we was down there for four days. Somehow we pushed the cars out of the water and prayed that they worked."
The cars started and the extended family drove to Houston. The club was a shelter for two months and that's how Branch Manager Donnie Cook met Atkinson.
"It was a lot of struggles and what really stood out with her was that she never deterred from her goal. A lot of people we had here were on the other end of the spectrum. They just looked for handouts but Nikita didn't look for handouts. She looked for help to get her where she needed to go."
Atkinson says it was tough.
"When I first came, the grades were kind of lower than I expected them to be but I met my best friend and we just was like, we're not going to sit here and be sad all day, we just wanted to get into something, wanted to play volleyball."
But they couldn't get on the team, so they turned to the high school football team.
"Like a water girl, and wrap up arms and legs, and stuff like that."
And it's that spirit of pushing on that has earned Atkinson the ExxonMobil Volunteer Spirit Award. And award that was given to Houston Mayor Bill White and his wife last year. Atkinson says she's surprised to be honored for hanging out with people. She says the real key to her successful transition to Houston was finding a new best friend in another Katrina evacuee.
"I didn't have any friends down here, all my other best friends just scattered everywhere, but I think if it wasn't for her I probably would be just sad all the time and didn't have anything to do and no one to talk to because it just wasn't the easiest thing, just talking to other people because they would focus on what happened, always asking questions and everything."
Her family is beginning the transition back to New Orleans, but Atkinson will be staying in Houston, although she admits she doesn't really want to. But she has her sights on her dream which is taking her to the University of Houston College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
"I want to own my own luxury hotel so I guess that's the first step in doing that."
Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.