University family rallies around students in need

PLAINVIEW - James Ledama arrived in Plainview on Jan. 11. His luggage did not.

While lost luggage from international flights isn't extraordinarily uncommon, it becomes a big deal if you are a student traveling to college and those bags hold all you have for a semester abroad.

Such was the case for Ledama, a 22-year-old student from Nairobi, Kenya who came to Wayland Baptist University this spring to participate in track and field and study management information systems. International students typically travel light anyway, but when Ledama arrived at Lubbock International Airport with only a small carry-on bag in hand, head track coach Chris Beene knew something was up.

"He knew about halfway through the trip that his luggage was lost between Kenya and Amsterdam," said Beene. "Apparently a lot of bag tags had been removed and several other people lost their luggage too."

After the two returned to Plainview, the task of getting Ledama some replacement clothing and dorm room necessities was at hand. Ledama's friend Thomas, a graduate student at Texas Tech, was able to help some, and the coaching staff at Wayland provided workout clothing and took Ledama to Wal-Mart for toiletries.

Dean of Students Emmitt Tipton found out about the situation after checking with the Wayland athletics department to ensure that the five new international students that had just enrolled for the spring - the other four are from Barbados - had warm enough clothing for the remainder of the winter.

"When I found out he lost his luggage and didn't have many things, I sent an email to the university employees asking anyone who could help to donate just $5 or $10, and the money was put into an account to help James and other students," Tipton said.

The response was impressive. Tipton said in just a matter of days, employees had contributed about $500 and the money continues to come in. A local church even made a donation from its benevolence fund.

Ledama was able to use the donated funds to purchase clothing during a Saturday shopping trip with admissions counselor Randy Jackson and other international students. Ledama and Beene continue to work with the airlines on getting his luggage returned or completing a report of its contents for monetary reimbursement.

He's taking the whole thing in stride, though, and is glad to be in a place that took his need seriously.

"He told me yesterday that everyone here has been so nice to him and taken care of him. He really feels good about being here and it's a good environment," Beene said.

With the positive response, the leftover funds after helping Ledama and the renewed interest, university officials decided to reinstate the "Laura Fund," a collection of funds built only from contributions of those wanting to help students in need. Tipton will oversee the fund with help from Jackson, Dr. Adam Reinhart, assistant professor of biological and earth sciences and Tommie Flick, administrative assistant in the development office.

The Laura Fund was originally started in 1986 and named in memory of Laura Wilkerson Ledesma, a student during the mid 1980s who died in a house fire and was very well known by the university family. Dr. Don Cook, professor of English, said the fund started as an effort to help students with emergency needs.

"Faculty response was good and the fund kept building up. We helped those we felt were in the most need," Cook said, adding the fund was active through about 1996.

By reinstating the fund, Tipton said the university could continue to help students with emergency needs in an organized way. Anyone wishing contribute may contact Tipton at 291-3750.