UAB Students Lead Tornado Relief Loan Program

By Caperton Gillett

sp2011_compassionDavid Hamlin, Kelli Cannon, and Elizabeth Case are among a group of UAB students helping survivors of the April 27 tornadoes to rebuild their lives with long-term assistance from the UAB Tornado Relief Forgivable Loan Program.

After a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through Alabama on April 27, aid poured in from across the state and around the world. But as the months wore on and the images of devastation faded from view in the national media, thousands of Alabama families were left in desperate need of long-term assistance to help them rebuild their lives.

Enter the UAB Tornado Relief Forgivable Loan Program, a collaboration among the university’s Educational Foundation, Benevolent Fund, and School of Business. “The School of Business is the provider of the talent—business students who are working with the survivors who apply for loans,” says assistant professor Stephen Yoder, J.D., who is managing the school’s portion of the program. “It’s an educational experience, and it is a wonderful exercise in servant leadership.”

The loan program started with a group of anonymous donors who gave a total of $250,000—$200,000 for loans and $50,000 for grants—designated specifically for tornado relief. The loans, which top out at $1,000, are interest-free and forgivable. At the end of the loan period, if the borrower can demonstrate hardship, all or part of the loan can be forgiven. The grants, reserved for those applicants who don’t qualify for loans, don’t need to be repaid.

Junior business student Lauren Beauchamp learned of the program through an e-mail from her honors adviser. Her first impression? “I thought, ‘I don’t have time. I have another job. I’m taking classes,’” she says. But then she recalled her own storm story: In 2010, her hometown of Albertville, Alabama, was struck by an EF-3 tornado. “I remembered that I got to come back to school, but my sister and brother and parents had to stay,” Beauchamp says. “They didn’t have a shower; they didn’t have food. I just remembered how bad they felt. This gave me a chance to help people.”

Beauchamp’s first case was a UAB student and the student’s mother, who needed money to rent an apartment near campus. While the two didn’t qualify for a loan, they were able to receive a grant. “The students are the ones who meet with the applicants and talk with them face to face,” Beauchamp says. “They know we’re volunteering our time and that we really care.”