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Pieces of Eight


Wilburn Lends a Hand to Mississippi Katrina Victims

By Jennifer Robinson

East Carolina University‰s Small Business and Technology Development Center Director, Carolyn Wilburn, recently returned to eastern North Carolina after a two-week stay in Gulfport, Mississippi where she assisted business owners filing for federal assistance after hurricane Katrina.

Along with about 30 other SBTDC volunteers from around the country, seven of which were from North Carolina, Wilburn traveled to Gulfport expecting the demeanor of people to be somber. What she said she did not expect was the physical devastation resulting from Katrina.


,Sections of Gulfport looked like a tent city,Š said Wilburn. ,Everywhere you looked there were tents. Entire families are still living in tents outside their homes. For some, that plot of land is all they have left, and they do not want to leave it. It is heartbreaking knowing that people are living in such a state; however, they continue to remain very hopeful to return to normal soon.Š

SBTDC volunteers worked through the Small Business Development Center at the University of Southern Mississippi in Gulfport and had an office at a local hospital which was closed for reconstruction prior to the storm.

Throughout her two-week stay, Wilburn aided approximately 20 to 25 people in filing federal assistance for their homes and businesses. Many people would not know how to apply for federal assistance without the help of the SBTDC because it requires an enormous amount of paperwork, she said, recalling her experiences in eastern North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd.

,Not only were we there to help as professional business counselors, we also served somewhat as personal counselors,Š said Wilburn. ,We listened to their stories about what they had been through. This was an important part of understanding both their personal and professional loss.Š

The city of Gulfport experienced 30- to 40-foot storm surges, spreading as much as six miles inland, flooding homes and businesses. Some structures still have standing sections, but many others have nothing left at all.

,I was here in 1999 when hurricane Floyd hit, so I knew what these people had been going through,Š said Wilburn. ,It took many months for eastern North Carolina to recover from the effects of the flooding as a result of Floyd. That made me more emotionally attached to the disaster in Gulfport. I was glad to be able to return the favor after the help our area received six years ago from people across the country.Š

When New Orleans is considered safe to enter, SBTDC volunteers will probably be sent in to do the same type of work they did in Gulfport, helping business owners and the community reestablish itself.

Wilburn has been with the SBTDC since its inception in November 1985, serving most of her 20 years as a business counselor. She was named director of the Eastern Region SBTDC earlier this year.

The SBTDC focuses on management counseling, addressing issues including financing, marketing, human resources, operations, business planning, and feasibility assessment for small and midsized businesses.

Their purpose is to help businesses grow and to expand economic development in the region. The ECU office serves the following 12 counties: Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Pamlico, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson.

The SBTDC is part of ECU‰s Regional Development Services. RDS is one of the university‰s gateways through which its outreach and applied research resources are made available. By the use of its resources and expertise of ECU faculty and students, RDS creates opportunities for the community to address concerns in eastern North Carolina.

This page originally appeared in the Dec. 9, 2005 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at