By JJ MARSHALL jjm023@latech



Displaced students affected by Hurricane Katrina received a boost last Friday when a major education finance company gave out a total of $35,000 to them.

Nelnet, one of the leading education finance companies in the United States, distributed 1,000 Visa gift cards worth $250 each to displaced students affected by Hurricane Katrina across the United States, Eric Solomon, Nelnet’s media relations manager, said.

Nelnet’s Campus Solutions representatives will be reaching out to those colleges and universities that have admitted these students,” Solomon said.

Tech received 140 gift cards, the most given out by Nelnet to any university.

“We are here to distribute free money,” Solomon said, “It is not attached to a loan or anything; it’s theirs to keep.”

The giveaway was a success, but it was nothing short of a tearjerker, Solomon said.

“Almost everyone in the room shed a tear or two at one point,” he said. “It was emotional, but the tears were of joy.”

Danielle DePass, a freshman psychology major and former student of the University of New Orleans, said she deeply appreciated the gift card.

“It is a very, very generous gesture,” DePass said. “I am so appreciative, grateful and excited.”

Everett Route, a freshman electrical engineering major, was affected by Katrina even though he has attended Tech all year. Students like him, whose families reside in the Gulf Coast, were still eligible to receive the gift card.

“It’s that good southern hospitality,” Route said. “It’s a major help.”

Darrin Allen, a freshman health and exercise science major from New Orleans, said the contribution Nelnet made brings optimism back to displaced students.

Nelnet gets two thumbs up,” Allen said. “Way, way up.”

Solomon said Nelnet is doing its part to keep those kids in school.

“This is the best way we can help these students during a transition to an unfamiliar setting,” he said. “These students’ dreams have been disrupted because of Katrina. Nelnet’s goal is to make educational dreams come true, and this is a big step in that direction.”

Solomon said he asked one student from New Orleans how support like this made him feel. He said the student summed it up in one word, “relief.”

“Most of the students were so thankful that someone cared enough about them and the situation to do something like this,” Solomon said. “We’re not giving hand-me-down clothes; we’re giving them money to get what they need.”

Nelnet, headquartered in Lincoln, Neb., is among the nation’s leaders in total net student loan assets with $15.7 billion, as of June 20, 2005.

Solomon said working with a company as generous as Nelnet is rewarding.

He said, “Days like today remind me why I do what I do.”