Family rebuilds despite series of devastating setbacks - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Family rebuilds despite series of devastating setbacks

The Robertsons survived Katrina, but the ordeal afterwards made them stronger. (FOX 8 Photo) The Robertsons survived Katrina, but the ordeal afterwards made them stronger. (FOX 8 Photo)
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

During the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina, many people chose not to return to the city. But for others, the determination and passion to return home became the driving forces on their road to recovery.

The Robertson family exemplifies that resiliency of many residents. For Tia, her husband Joseph, and daughters Taylor and Tatum, faith, family and love for their hometown fed their determination to emerge from the darkness of Hurricane Katrina.

"I believe the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina aligned me for my destiny," Tia said.

When asked about the storm, every other member of the family echoed the same sentiment. 

"With perseverance and strong willpower, you can achieve all things in life," Joe said.

Their daughters expressed the same thoughts as they reflected on the storm.

"I believe the storms can shape who you are and who you are really suppose to be," Taylor said.

"I believe that adversity comes into your life to teach you how strong you really are," Tatum added.

For the Robertsons, returning and rebuilding in New Orleans was always the goal. The storm shattered their lives in August of 2005. As Katrina approached, the family evacuated to Houston. At the time the girls were ages 10 and 11. They remember the first wave of bad news: Their home in Gentilly was under 6.5 feet of water.

"For me when I was watching the television and I saw  the shopping center close to my house, I tapped my dad and I said, 'isn't that the  Riteaid and the coffee shop close to our house that we go to all the time?' And he was like, 'yep it is.'" Tatum said.

"I remember being completely devastated," Taylor said.

In that moment their father says he knew their world had changed. "At that time I was like, wow, we can never go back," Joe said.

While they were thankful they still had each other, this religious family was embarking on a decade that would truly test their faith - faith bolstered by the teachings of their New Orleans pastor. They are the words they often leaned on during their darkest hours.
   
"We all go through storms - financial, physical and with family. But what God does, maybe he doesn't always stop the storm, but he gives you the ability to ride the wave," said Bishop Lester Love, the head of the City of Love Church.

What the Robertsons didn't know was that they would ride that wave for the next 10 years. Weeks after the storm, Tia learned.she had lost her job as a New Orleans public school teacher. Tougher yet, her husband had to head back to New Orleans to keep his job, leaving his family behind in Houston.  

"I knew one, for sure, I couldn't let my faith waiver in front of my children or my wife because if I broke down, everything was going to break down," Joe said.

They commuted for five months. The six-hour drive became a weekend ritual for the family, with either the daughters and their mom driving to New Orleans or Joe driving to Houston. It was not easy, but like many others, they did what they needed to do to stay together.

"For me, knowing I'm going to see them in about six hours motivated me. No matter how tired I was, I knew if I got to see them I would be okay, " Joe said.

Living apart took its emotional toll. Taylor recalls how she repeatedly turned to one song to soothe her sorrow - "Yesterday" by Mary Mary. "It was more of an inspiration. It was a push to keep going on," Taylor said.

Tatum also recalled singing along in the car to that song during those days in Houston. 

"It helped me calm down. With hope, things will get better," Tatum said.

In spite of the daunting challenges of rebuilding in a storm-ravaged city, the family remained determined to return home.

"We didn't want to rebuild as a family anywhere elsewhere. It  wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be natural to us," Tia said.

January of 2006 was a turning point for the family. Tia and her daughters moved back to New Orleans after seeing signs that the city was slowly getting back on its feet. Joe secured a new temporary home for the family. They were together, but they did not know they would once again be tested.and would have to find more strength in their faith. In February of 2007, Joe was forced to decide between relocating his family to keep his job or staying in the city he loved. Joesph and Tia made the tough decision.

"I think if I took them out and relocated again, that would do more harm than good ," Joe said.

Their decision to stay had consequences. With both parents unemployed, money was tight. But their daughters' education remained their priority.

"So if it meant choosing something for my children and something waiting, the children came first, " said Joe.

Tia remembers how the weight of it all nearly drove her to the brink. During one moment alone, she wondered why?

"I remember just grabbing the steering wheel and just screaming; just like something has to break, something has to give. But again, my faith in God wouldn't allow me to crack," Tia said.

That  faith paid off by the summer of 2007 when Tia found a job. A couple of years later, Joseph, too, was employed full time.Things were on the right track. But for this family to stay on course, sacrifices had to come from everyone. In 2012 Taylor gave up her college studies to ensure the family could afford to give her younger sister, Tatum, a shot at achieving her dreams.

"I remember Taylor sitting on the bed and saying, 'Don't worry about me right now. Make sure Tatum graduates from high school - whatever has to happen,'" Tia said.

It was a gesture not lost on her sister. "I appreciate her sacrifice because without her, I would not be where I am," Tatum said.

Leaning on their faith and each other helped the Roberstons make it back to the city they loved. But one hurdle remained. It was one financial obstacle they couldn't overcome, and in 2014, the city auctioned off their home in Gentilly. Ten years after the storm, standing outside the newly rebuilt home someone else now owns, the loss for them isn't any easier.

"I think if it wasn't for Katrina, it would still be our home," Joe said.

"Can't pull up in the driveway. Can't walk in the backyard, so as he said, its bittersweet," Tia said.

Those who know the family say their strength and love for each other is what has kept them together.

"It would have broken a lot of people, but they made a decision: I will not allow this to break me, " Love said.

Ten years later, they're not in their house, and a storage facility still stores many of their belongings, but they have finally settled back home. Tatum, an aspiring opera singer, got accepted and now attends the Juillard School of Music in New York. As she walked through the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, she said it would be a dream come true to perform in her hometown one day on that stage. As for her sister Taylor, who had put her studies on hold, she is back on track in the Big Apple with sister Tatum. Taylor's attending the New York Art  Institute, where she studies design. She will participate in New York's upcoming Fashion Week.

A decade later, they are determined to once again own their own home and they are grateful for their blessings in spite of all they endured with Katrina.

"It doesn't matter what happened here, we will still be the city that will move forward no matter what,"Taylor said.

It is that same message of hope and perseverance their mother Tia shares with the young minds she is shaping at the local non-profit  group "Love Impact,"  where she now works. Her daughters too volunteer saying they want to help shape future generations of the city they loved; the city they came home to.  

"Where there is life, there is hope; and that there is purpose and just keep going forward," Tia said on her words of advice for anyone experiencing hardships in life.

"I would not rather be from any other city besides New Orleans because it shows me how to be resilient," said Taylor.

For those reasons, they have no regrets on returning home and say they would do it all again because they will always believe in their God, their family and their city.

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