Wesleyan College feels even more like home for some of its students right now.
Family members who evacuated from the path of Hurricane Irma have been given a temporary home at the Macon school.
Emily Jarvis, director of residence life, said senior Jessica Henslee approached her Tuesday with concerns about where her family was going to stay. The college has a lot of people from Florida and the Georgia coast, Jarvis said.
Jarvis contacted administrators, and they decided to offer up unoccupied dorm space to students’ families on a first-come, first-serve basis. The school sent out email notifications to its pupils Wednesday, and all 86 available beds had been spoken for by Friday morning.
“We found ourselves with three empty floors and nothing to do with them, so it’s kind of a perfect opportunity. We’re really pleased to be able to give this service to our students and our families,” said Jarvis, who is coordinating the guests. “People all over campus are super supportive.”
Henslee’s grandmother Julie Rodriguez and her cat and great aunt Mary Kasper and her dog, from the Clearwater, Florida, area, were the first evacuees on campus. They arrived about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, their usual seven-hour drive becoming 10 1/2 because of bumper-to-bumper traffic, Rodriguez said.
“It’s very hard to leave home,” said Rodriguez, 74. “We are so grateful for a safe haven. Wesleyan has been wonderful. We can’t thank them enough.”
Leilei Walker, mother of freshman Tyler and a resident of Richmond Hill on the Georgia coast, got to Wesleyan at 2 p.m. Thursday. Walker said she has had to evacuate once before for a hurricane, and she decided to leave early this time to avoid the traffic.
She has other family members from Miami and South Florida who are are trying to make it to Wesleyan College too.
“I’m just so glad that Dr. (Vivia) Fowler and Wesleyan opened their doors to us. It’s touched my heart,” said Walker, a retired Navy chief.
Jarvis expected to have a “big influx” of arrivals later Friday and over the weekend. They will be housed on two floors of Banks Hall and one floor of Jones Hall, with key-card access to their areas only. The guests will be able to eat in the dining hall and use the fitness center.
One family from the Miami area has 10 people coming, and one from Savannah has 20. The school will house people in other areas such as lobbies if more students express need, Jarvis said.
“It’s unbelievable and one less stress for us to come and be with (Henslee) for a while,” said Kasper, 67. The sisters are getting regular updates from family still in Florida.
Rodriguez, Kasper and Walker said they don’t know what kind of damage they’ll find back home, but they are enjoying spending time with their Wesleyan students in the meantime. Rodriguez and Kasper toured Wesleyan’s campus with Henslee, had dinner at her apartment and saw her perform in a play.
Wednesday is the check-out date for families, but that will be extended if necessary, Jarvis said. Anyone who stays beyond then will pay $20 per day. The school is allowing two pets per room and collecting pet deposits that will be returned if there are no damages.
Physical plant workers put in long hours getting ready for the new residents. They repaired air conditioners, moved furniture and deep-cleaned the floors.