Tulane Staff Rally Around Fire Victim

February 1, 1998

Judith Zwolak

People all over the uptown campus have come to rely on Yolanda Jackson. As the receptionist and accounting clerk in the accounting office for the past five years, she's the first person you see when you enter the office to pick up a check or deliver receipts.

When it came time for Jackson to rely on her coworkers at Tulane, her fellow staff members came through. Last Nov. 4, Jackson's home in Reserve--which she shared with her mother, brother, sister and her sister's three children--burned to the ground from unknown causes as Jackson was driving to work in the morning.

A neighbor had called Verna Smith, the data accounting supervisor, who notified Jackson as soon as she got to work, sending Jackson back home immediately. "By the time I got home, the fire had engulfed the entire front of the house. It was nothing but debris," says Jackson. "But my family was all OK."

Back at Tulane, Jackson's coworkers, friends and people she didn't even know were already gathering support for her family in the form of cash, clothes, furniture and food. "Almost immediately the news got out and I had people calling me constantly," Smith says. "People from this office and from all over campus were concerned."

A message over the Internet also spread the word about Jackson's plight. As soon as he heard the news, Lyle Henderson, administrative secretary in the student affairs office, sent out an e-mail message to his extensive list of contacts on campus.

"I'm really happy I could help out," Henderson says. "Yolanda is always such a happy and jovial person. You don't want this kind of thing to happen to anyone, but particularly someone who goes out of her way to help others."

Thanks largely to the generosity of staff members, the Jacksons purchased another house in LaPlace and moved in before Christmas. "Words cannot express how truly grateful I am to the Tulane community," Jackson says. "Even people who called me and said they couldn't spare any money said they would pray for me, which is worth a million dollars."

Jackson thanks everyone on campus who helped her family after the fire, particularly her coworkers in the accounting office. Smith, who has worked at Tulane for 10 years, says she's not surprised by the generosity of Tulane staffers. "It's what I expected," she says. "Whenever anything like this happens, staff members are really supportive. It didn't surprise me at all." Henderson agrees. "This is really indicative of how the Tulane community comes together to help others."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000