At first, Terrence Crawford was no different. But a random act of kindness took him and his family on an unexpected adventure that has landed them far from home and grateful for the kindness of a stranger.
Mr. Crawford, who worked as a qualified mental retardation professional for Community Alternatives Louisiana, left his home in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward with a caravan of family members the Sunday before the hurricane hit and traveled to Tuscaloosa, AL.
After a few nights, Mr. Crawford, his immediate family and in-laws made their way back toward New Orleans. When they reached Baton Rouge, Mr. Crawford realized it would be a long time before New Orleans residents would be allowed to return.
In Baton Rouge, a Red Cross worker put Mr. Crawford in touch with a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that was providing shelter.
“I told [the priest] that I was not a Mormon,” said Mr. Crawford. “He said, ‘That’s OK. Come on.’ I told him I would be bringing 12 people. He said, ‘That’s OK. Come on.’”
Mr. Crawford and his family had been staying at the Mormon shelter for a week when he was approached by an out-of-state Mormon man who had delivered food and supplies.
“He asked me what my situation was and if he could do anything to help,” Mr. Crawford said. “I told him I was trying to get my in-laws to San Diego. He said he could help.”
The man was Frank VanderSloot, wealthy CEO of Melaleuca, a manufacturer of health and personal care products based in Idaho Falls, ID. As promised, Mr. VanderSloot made arrangements to send Mr. Crawford’s in-laws to California. He also offered Mr. Crawford a job and a place to stay if he were willing to relocate to Idaho.
Mr. Crawford had been intent on staying in Louisiana and returning to work for ResCare, but he began to consider Mr. VanderSloot’s offer more seriously as the prospects of remaining grew slim. However, he was apprehensive about living in Idaho.
“I asked myself, ‘If it was Houston or Atlanta, what would I do?’” Mr. Crawford said.
Mr. Crawford eventually accepted Mr. VanderSloot’s offer. A couple of hours later, he and his family were on a private jet headed for Idaho.
“The first two nights we stayed in [Mr. VanderSloot’s] mansion, then he put us up in a six-bedroom house he owned and lent me a car,” said Mr. Crawford, who lost one vehicle in the hurricane and left his pickup in Baton Rouge.
“It’s a blessing,” Mr. Crawford said. “The VanderSloots welcomed my family with open arms. Frank and I hang out all the time.”
Mr. Crawford admits that Idaho has been a culture shock and he misses Louisiana’s warm weather and crawfish. He also misses his extended family, the majority of whom live in the South.
“I was comfortable with my lifestyle in New Orleans,” he said. “I loved my job at ResCare. But in the snap of a finger it’s gone and you realize you can’t go home.”
Mr. Crawford visited family in Texas and Mississippi for Thanksgiving and salvaged some keepsakes from his home, which was ravaged by Katrina. He said he was prepared for the devastation to his home and to the Ninth Ward, but his wife was “distraught.” Afterward he returned to life in Idaho, which he describes as a “great experience” and a “change of pace.” He and his family have been interviewed by local television reporters.
“I feel like a celebrity,” he said. “I have been on the news telling my story, talking about how I am a social worker and how I worked for ResCare, which was a blessing because it helped me land my job.”
Mr. Crawford now works at The Children’s Center, which provides treatment to children with neurological, emotional, behavioral and developmental disorders.
There is still a hint of disbelief in Mr. Crawford’s voice as he recounts his meeting with Mr. VanderSloot and retraces his path to Idaho. He said he has never asked Mr. VanderSloot why he chose to help his family, but has heard him tell others that “it was the right thing to do.”
“It’s just funny how everything took place,” Mr. Crawford said. “There were other people at the shelter, but he specifically walked up to me.
“I could actually write a book about it … it’s like a rags-to-riches fairy tale.”