Wilburn Lends a Hand to Mississippi Katrina Victims
By Jennifer Robinson
East Carolina Universitys 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
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, 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.
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
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, 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
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, 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.
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 ECUs Regional Development Services. RDS is one
of the universitys 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