Avant copes with community trauma

Robert Smith

AVANT — Mindy Englett has never lived anywhere but Avant, and now at age 40 she’s stepped into a leading role at the town school. She’s the new principal, and is working with Superintendent Cindi Hemm to help the community recover from the worst flooding anyone there can remember.

Avant school serves about a hundred kids, from three-year-olds up through eighth grade, some of them from town and some from surrounding ranches and farms. They started school Aug. 21 with a few extra helpers — staff members of Resolve Behavioral Health Services in Tulsa. The Resolve staffers are helping with clothing and food distribution, and with the ongoing trauma.

“It depends on the day,” Englett said, talking about how Avant residents are coping three months after floodwaters from Bird and Tucker creeks inundated their community. “Some of these people have lost everything.”

Englett knows the loss firsthand. Her parents, ages 80 and 83, were flooded out of the dream home they built 39 years ago. They built it to be higher than flood waters, and it had been until May of 2019.

“They took my parents out in a boat,” Englett recalls.

The May 20-21 flood in Avant was like nothing anyone could remember seeing there. The highest the water had ever been in anyone’s memory was 32 feet. This was 35 feet.

Hemm spread out an image of the floodplain in Avant and explained this was a 500-year flood.

Avant had a population of about 300 people as of 2017. Nona Roach, an Avant resident who has played in integral role in the flood-recovery effort, said more than 80 families, which translates as nearly 250 people, needed flood relief assistance.

The school gym became a relief services center, and the cafeteria was used to feed residents throughout June and into July. Hemm noted the American Red Cross provided hot meals for two weeks, and the school then used its resources. Utility costs associated with the summer use of the school had been “huge,” she said.

Hemm and Englett said the response of faith communities to Avant’s need has been impressive. The First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow made sure every Avant School student would have school supplies, and the church made a financial donation as well. There have also been visits to the town by United Methodists, Menonites, Catholics, Baptist relief workers, and Lutherans, to name a few, they said.

“So, God just really moved in all that,” Hemm said.

But Avant’s challenges, both those brought on by the flood and those of other kinds, continue. Roach noted during a brief tour of the town, that a local resident named Jimmy Hargraves lost his taxidermy business in a devastating fire.

In the midst of the damage and the heartbreak, Hemm said she thinks Avant is about as safe and friendly a place as you could ask for to offer children an education. She previously worked in Tulsa schools as a principal for kids in an environment marked by events like drive-by shootings. There’s none of that in Avant, she said.

“This is a nice place,” Hemm said of Avant. “It’s a safe place to learn.”