Park Alumna Answers S.O.S

Deb Kull (2004) helps Vietnamese refugees find a place to call home.

When Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf region in September 2005, Americans everywhere watched the events unfold on their televisions. This included Park alumna, Deb Kull, who followed the coverage from her residence at Oxford University.

”I kept thinking to myself, ’What can I do?’,” she remembers. And then the phone rang.

It was the director of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), an AmeriCorps VISTA program that helps Vietnamese refugees and immigrants. The group needed assistance at its Houston-based headquarters, as they began to deal with the influx of 15,000 Vietnamese Hurricane evacuees. Deb had just completed her Masters in forced migration studies.

”I knew instantly this is what I was called to do,” she says.

Since November, Deb has worked with Vietnamese immigrants—first, by developing a program to serve the Katrina and Rita evacuees who had settled in Houston, and then as a grant writer for BPSOS’s survivor services department. While she is thrilled with the multi-cultural environment of BPSOS—”I only hear English when someone is speaking directly to me. It’s awesome,” she says—working with the Vietnamese population is not a new experience.

Deb initially became interested in the issue of forced migration through her involvement with Raleigh’s Montagnard population and the Refugee Resettlement program run by Lutheran Family Services. While at NC State, she interned with the program for two summers, running a temporary housing facility for 175 Montagnard refugees and doing casework for several of the families. She also taught English once a week during the school year.

”I so much enjoyed working with refugees and those employed in nonprofit work that I decided it is where I want to spend my life,” says Deb, ”among some of the most resourceful but marginalized people in the world, and those who care for them.”

She appreciates the financial support the Park Scholarship provided and sees it as directly influencing her ability to serve, to attend Oxford and ultimately, volunteer with AmeriCorps. ”By having financial support, I could do volunteer work during the summers and the academic year. I didn’t have to work to support my studies or my other activities.”

She also credits the nature of the program with shaping her goals. ”The guidance I received from my supervisors, the opportunities for leadership development, the dedication to service, the investment in people—these are what really make the Park program so great,” she says. ”I know the Park program has helped to make me who I am today.”

Deb and her husband, David, will be in Houston until the end of her AmeriCorps term. Afterwards, she hopes to work at a nonprofit or forced migration-related organization as a program director or policy writer. She is particularly interested in issues concerning human trafficking, and is also considering working in Vietnam.