Saturday, August 29, 2015

Remembering Katrina: A St. Bernard Teen's Powerful Hurricane Journal Touched Hearts

Michele Lee /

By Jackie Majerus
Executive Director 

Ten years ago today, in the worst of circumstances, we met 17-year-old Samantha Perez, then starting her senior year of high school, and Youth Journalism International - and our many readers who were swept up in the story - were changed forever by her powerful words.

Sam, or Sammy, as we sometimes called her, is from St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. As the world watched as Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans, the storm veered away from the city and hit neighboring St. Bernard head on.

Samantha Perez
With deep roots in the parish, it wasn’t an easy decision for the Perez family to leave home in the face of the oncoming storm. Typically, they stuck it out. But this time, Sam and her parents packed in a hurry and left.

Somehow in all the chaos, Sam saw and responded to a notice posted on a community message board from YJI co-founder Steve Collins, who was hoping to find a young writer to tell the story of the storm first hand. (At the time, YJI published student work through The Tattoo teen newspaper.)

Sam turned out to be not only a gifted writer, but an amazing young woman with plenty to share. With courage and raw honesty, she wrote a series of articles we called the Hurricane Journal that took readers along as she spent her senior year bouncing from one school or town to the next, living in a cramped FEMA trailer and struggling to make the best of it.

Justin Skaradosky /
Her work, coupled with drawings, cartoons and photos contributed by fellow students in California, Florida and Connecticut, remains some of the best work that Youth Journalism International has ever published in our 21 years.

Today is the anniversary of Sam’s first installment.  You can start reading here. The entire collection is here.

As for Samantha, she’s all grown up now and still making us proud. She’s a PhD candidate at Tulane University, studying late medieval and early Renaissance history. She continues to live in the St. Bernard area and will always impress us.

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