Work in Dallas for Katrina Evacuee
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Many of those who fled Hurricane Katrina ended up in Texas. Over the last month, the Texas Workforce Commission has put on job fairs around the state, and one of these led David Sterling of New Orleans to a job in Dallas. He's found work; he's now moved his family into an apartment. More from Catherine Cuellar of member station KERA.
CATHERINE CUELLAR reporting:
David Sterling is putting together a seed spreader to landscape the manicured grounds at Southern Methodist University, where he's the newest mechanic in the shop. He has a box full of parts in front of him and a diagram showing how to assemble them in his hands.
Mr. DAVID STERLING (Mechanic): They just called me and told me to put it together. That's what I do. I fix things.
CUELLAR: As an RV mechanic in New Orleans, Sterling learned how to work on anything on wheels or anything in a house. He's still wearing the uniform from his old company, Playtime RVs, to the new job. It pays about the same but has more perks.
Mr. STERLING: It's an air-conditioned shop. (Laughs) That's one good thing. I mean, you don't find too many mechanic's shops this nice, you know, and it really takes the personnel to keep it up. So it's pretty nice.
CUELLAR: Sterling still hopes to replace the car he lost in the flood. Until then, he's on the bus, which the university pays for. It takes an hour and a half to get from his south Dallas apartment to the elite Park City's neighborhood.
Mr. STERLING: From my job to where I live, that's on the other side of town. So it's a good thing, you know. I catch the express bus. I don't have to worry about the traffic. But, I mean, that would make anybody want to stay at work.
CUELLAR: Small comforts like these buoy Sterling's spirits. It's not always easy. Katrina was just the latest blow. In January his children lost their mother to an aneurysm, so he's working to stay strong, stay positive for their sake. Sometimes, in private, he'll let his guard down.
Mr. STERLING: I sob a little bit when I'm at home alone, you know, but not much because I know I gotta get up in the morning. My children haven't seen me cry.
CUELLAR: Two of Sterling's three sons are living with him. His eldest son, daughter in-law and two grandchildren are also in Texas. They are looking to start a new life here as well. The other members of his family survived the storm and are still in Louisiana, where he lived for all of his 50 years. It's hard to start over, but he is starting to meet people. One of his new co-workers asked what he misses about home.
Mr. STERLING: And I told him, I say, well, I miss my fishing pole. I miss my rifle. You know, it's a lot of outdoor things that I always liked to do. I like working with things. And then I told him I like music and I said my children had karaoke machines and they bought me one.
CUELLAR: He gestures to a new karaoke machine on the shop floor that his new co-workers pitched in to buy him. Sterling is touched by their generosity and excited to have something to surprise his sons when he gets home from work tonight. Last night was rougher. Sterling spoke by phone with his former supervisor from New Orleans for the first time. The news was not good.
Mr. STERLING: The roof was gone off the shop. We had RVs in the shop. A big door--aluminum door was torn down and the shop was ransacked. So I don't think he's going to go back and open and open it up. So it's like there's no place for me to go back to.
CUELLAR: Although he's sad to realize it, Sterling is grateful to have found work and housing already. There are currently almost 400,000 hurricane evacuees registered with FEMA in Texas. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Cuellar in Dallas.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.
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