Houston Jayhawks join forces to help after Harvey

Posted on Sep 5, 2017 in Alumni News and News

With the Houston floods receding, local Jayhawks are mobilizing to get to work.

The Houston Jayhawks Facebook group has been active with posts from Houston residents asking for help, with even more posts by locals asking how they can help. With their positive energy and willingness to get their hands dirty, Jayhawks assisted the family of Allyn Risley, e’72, 2016 Fred Ellsworth medallion recipient. Risley’s step-daughter, Erica Frost, sustained serious flooding at her house. Frost’s sister, Natalie Morgan, j’06, reached out to the Facebook group from her home in Kansas City.

Morgan’s request for help for her sister was met with multiple Houston-area Jayhawks joining friends and family of Frost for a day of hard work removing damaged flooring and drywall. The altruism of the group of alumni impressed Frost, who even overheard a friend say “the Houston Jayhawks must have some sort of emergency whistle that they sound, because they all showed up and jumped right in!”

Houston Demolition

Watch party for a cause

Megan Gile, c’11, organized the annual watch party for the first KU football game, but knew she had to add something to give back to their community.

“We decided to host our annual football kickoff watch party to add a piece of normalcy to Houston,” Gile said. “It’s an event we host every year and even with the hurricane and terrible flooding across Texas and Houston, it’s important to stay united and give everyone something to look forward too. We added the donation drive as way for Houston Jayhawks to give back to Houstonians. Beyond donating their time, donating items for shelters is a great way for Houston Jayhawks to give back.”

KU Cares Box

The Houston Jayhawks set up a donations box at their alumni bar and asked attendees to fill the box with new socks and underwear.

“The watch party and donation drive was incredibly successful,” Gile said. “We had Jayhawks drive in from all across Houston to attend. More profoundly, regulars at Coaches Pub, our alumni bar in Houston, left the bar and returned with donation items once they found out what we were doing. Houstonians, Jayhawk or not, are really banding together to help each other during this time of need.”

KU Houston Watch Party

When asked about the strong turnout and even stronger support for the people of Houston, Megan pointed to their alma mater.

“I think it’s about helping our own and how our bond as Kansas alumni is different. Being in a state so far from home for most of us, as most of us are not Texas natives, we really stick together and are proud to be Jayhawks. We are proud to be Kansas alumni and proud to be Houstonians, helping anyway we can. Come hell or high water, we will get through this.”

-Ryan Camenzind

The University of Kansas, Kansas Athletics, Inc., KU Endowment, and the KU Alumni Association support relief efforts for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Alumni and fans should work directly with their preferred charity to support relief efforts. For Jayhawks looking for groups to support, four organizations were suggested to fans attending last Saturday’s football game: Team Rubicon, Save the Children, Texas SPCA, and the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

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Houston ’Hawks aid leukemia patient in need

Posted on Nov 22, 2016 in Alumni News and News

When a Houston woman needed white blood cells to help her complete an intense round of chemotherapy, her family and friends put out a plea for donors. Answering the call were members of the Alumni Association’s Houston Network, who rallied to her aid after a notice was posted to their Facebook group by alumna and family friend Natalie Bogan Morgan, j’06.

Lois Coots, a former Kansan who lives now in Houston, was diagnosed in 2009 with a form of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) that later developed into leukemia. While at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston undergoing an intensive 30-day round of chemotherapy in October, Coots developed an infection and learned that she needed white blood cells before she could finish the treatment.

“It was an emergency situation,” says Morgan, who lived in Houston before recently moving to Overland Park. “She has two daughters, and they figured they’d donate and drum up other people and it would be fine. But one by one people just kept getting rejected.”

White blood cells have a short shelf life and donors must meet strict matching requirements. Doctors told the family they needed to line up 10 donors, but after exhausting their personal contacts they had found only one match.

Jayhawk calls for help

Watching the health crisis unfold from Kansas, Morgan—a close friend of Kyra Coots, Lois’s daughter—posted a heartfelt plea for donors on her Facebook page. Longtime friend Nick Kallail, assistant vice president of alumni programs and career services for KUAA, saw the message and suggested that she post it to the Houston Network’s Facebook group.

“I was like, Nat, you’ve got a built-in family who love you; blast that Houston group and they’ll jump on it,” says Kallail, d’04, l’07, who was a Houston Network volunteer before joining the Association staff. “It’s a great group and everyone’s always willing to help. It’s just a great combination: You’ve got Jayhawk family and Houston hospitality.”

“That was the tipping point,” Morgan says. “People who didn’t know this family just dropped what they were doing and called to set up appointments. I put the call out on a Thursday night, and several Jayhawks were there by 11 a.m. the next morning going through the screening. It was so uplifting.”

Sorority members step up

Among those responding was a group of Alpha Delta Pi alumni led by Jane Johnston Mumey, j’86, a Houston attorney. Less than 15 minutes after Morgan’s post hit the Houston Network page, Mumey wrote to say that she and her sorority sisters could report to MD Anderson immediately, because they are already screened white-cell donors.

“This was perfect for us, because so many of our members are pre-screened for the Ronald McDonald House,” Mumey says. Alpha Delta Pi’s Houston alumni group volunteers extensively at the city’s Ronald McDonald House, which supports families of critically ill children, donating blood, white cells and platelets when needed. “Within hours we had four women from our group who were already pre-screened” and ready to donate, Mumey says. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to do that.”

Only days after Morgan posted her request with the Houston Network, the family lined up the needed 10 donors. “It would not have happened if so many Jayhawks had not jumped in to do it,” Morgan says. “Six or seven of the donors that we knew of were Jayhawks. The family was just blown away. I think it just says a lot about the University and it just says a lot about the Jayhawk family after you graduate.”

Mumey seconds that notion.

“I knew Jayhawks would do that. We’ve all stuck together. And to be far away from campus, to have that feeling that this happened, when we’re all the way down here—I don’t think all groups respond like that. We really have a lot of spirit and it doesn’t stop when we graduate.”

A happy outcome

Thanks to the donated cells, Kyra Coots says, her mother was able to finish her chemotherapy and return home. She returned for a second round of chemo last week, and Kyra says the family takes comfort in knowing that—should complications arise again—they’ve got a list of willing donors who have their back.

“Before Natalie started helping me, we only had one person confirmed,” Kyra says. “It was a low point, because you’re thinking to yourself, How am I going to find nine people if the dozens and dozens of people who said they’d do it were turned away? I myself was turned away. It’s a very helpless feeling, knowing you can’t do anything.

“When Natalie’s friend suggested she post it on the Jayhawk board, I was like, Wow, that’s a great idea. These people definitely don’t know my mom, they may not even know Natalie, but we’ll see if they respond. The response was overwhelming. You can’t put into words—you want to thank all these people, you want to hug them, you want to get to know them and say thank you, but I just think they’ll never realize the magnitude of how it touched our family and how it saved her life.”

—Steven Hill

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