Story by Sheena Rice

All Lexi Spolane needed was a hug from her parents.

In her first semester at Mizzou, Lexi, a psychology major; was making friends; joining a sorority; getting involved at Mizzou Hillel, a Jewish student organization; and was loving her first year of college. However, just a few weeks in, Lexi found herself sitting in her dorm room, more than 800 miles from home, watching stories about Hurricane Harvey and its impact on her hometown of Bellaire, Texas, in the Houston metro area. While her family home escaped damage, the rest of her neighborhood was not so lucky.

“My friends and family members lost their homes, and I just felt so helpless,” Lexi said. “This was my first time living away from home, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help.”

While her Mizzou friends were supportive, few could really understand how she was feeling. With her anxiety spiking she knew she needed to be with family.

Lexi’s parents, Marlene and David, weren’t planning on traveling to Columbia for Family weekend. They were here just a few weeks ago getting Lexi settled in her dorm for her first year studying psychology, and their independent daughter didn’t want them making the trip twice in such a short period of time.

Then disaster struck.

“Lexi started calling daily, always asking if we could possibly come up for Family Weekend,” Marlene said. “It was so hard for her, seeing the devastation and being far away from home. Her father and I knew we had to make it happen.”

Unfortunately, as many Mizzou families know, lodging isn’t always easy to find for big weekends like Family Weekend. After promising their daughter that they would make it to Mizzou there wasn’t a room to be found.

“The nearest room we could find was 30 minutes away, which wasn’t going to work for a short trip to spend time with Lexi,” Marlene said. “We needed a miracle—and we got one from Mizzou and admissions representative Aaron Cook.”

Cook works with prospective Mizzou students from the Houston area. He met Lexi when she was a freshman in high school attending a college fair and helped her apply. Her parents were comforted knowing that even though her daughter was going to be 13 hours from home, Cook was always available to help.

“We were scrambling to find lodging, and as a last resort I called Aaron,” Marlene said. “He assured me that Mizzou was committed to helping families from the Houston area. After he put in a request, he called back with the good news—we had a room in one of the residence halls.”

“It was important for Lexi to see us,” David explained. “Being so far away from home after such a horrific ordeal caused her great worry. She needed to see our faces in person, to know that we were truly OK.”

As the Houston area continues to recover, the Spolane family is the epitome of #HoustonStrong. Marlene spends her evenings helping friends and neighbors move into rentals because their homes are in ruins. Marlene owns a home design business, so she is able to use her vast network of personal relationships to help those who now have daunting home projects ahead of them. David has been volunteering at the family’s synagogue to help those in need. This past week he hand-delivered gift cards and cash donations to families who needed them.

“The most inspiring part of all this is how the community has come together,” Marlene said. “What David and I are doing to help isn’t necessarily unique; everyone in the area is reaching out to lend a hand when they can. It’s amazing.”

The Spolane family is grateful for the support they have received from Mizzou, from communications with leadership to the ability to be reconnected for a weekend.

“During times of crisis, Mizzou is there to help our students and their families,” said Jeff Zeilenga, dean of students at Mizzou. “Offering temporary housing to help families like the Spolanes have time together is just one of the ways we support our Tiger family.”

Mizzou continues to work with families affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma by addressing concerns about classes, financial aid, mental health and other issues.

To support the recovery efforts in Houston, the Houston Texas Tigers chapter of the University of Missouri is working to raise money for the Houston Independent School District.