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A Dallas Muse: Inspiration for Katrina Evacuees and the Community

 

Dallas businessman John Muse and his family work hard, invest in their community and believe in higher education – even if it’s hard for John and his wife, Lyn, to decide whether to wear USC maroon and gold or UCLA blue and yellow during football season each year. Those split loyalties stop with football, however; there’s no division in the Muse household when education, community service and volunteerism are topics on the table.

And even though a muse can be described as a source of inspiration, these Dallas “Muses” are servant leaders – and their source of inspiration has been the thousands of displaced survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, especially those who fled to Texas eight months ago. 

Last fall, John, Lyn and their five children watched with horror the graphic images of Katrina refugees who often were left with nothing more than hope in the aftermath of the storm. As weeks passed and the situation for many hurricane refugee families worsened, the children wanted to do something to help. A discussion started around the dinner table at Thanksgiving and developed into a concrete plan by Christmas when the Muse family gathered for a holiday feast.

“We believe in giving back to our community and helping others like the Katrina refugees, who have lived through a nightmare and who are trying to rebuild their lives,” said John, who serves as chairman of HM Capital, a private equity firm that leverages its sector expertise to acquire, change and build strategically relevant businesses. (The Dallas-based firm currently is investing and managing a $1.6 billion fund.)

Lyn Muse serves on the Dallas County Community College District Foundation’s board of directors. They discovered that offering education and training opportunities through DCCCD to Katrina refugees who plan to remain in Dallas was the perfect match for both the Muse family and the Dallas County Community College District.

A half million dollars later, the Muse Family Katrina Scholars Program has been established to assist Katrina evacuees who are rebuilding their lives. “This fund will help three distinct groups of Katrina evacuees. The first group includes students who currently are enrolled at El Centro College, as well as graduating seniors from the Dallas Independent School District in El Centro’s service area who want to pursue either an associate degree or a certificate credit program and who don’t have the funds available,” explained Lyn Muse. 

She continued, “The program also will help current evacuees in the Dallas area who are eligible for short-term training opportunities so that they can learn new job skills and enter the workforce after a three-to-12-month training period. Finally, we wanted those Katrina evacuees who need assistance with restarting their businesses to be able to use the training offered at the Bill Priest campus of El Centro College, where they have a unique business incubator that is designed to help entrepreneurs.”

John Muse added, “We made this decision as a family to help others who want to help themselves and start life again. I believe we are investing in and strengthening our community by establishing this program, which is based on the need for education.”

During last year’s storms and for months following the aftermath, El Centro College – as well as other institutions in DCCCD’s system – reached out to evacuees with reduced tuition rates; financial aid; and donations of food, clothing, school supplies, books, toys, shoes, counseling, job fairs and other outreach efforts. El Centro also became home to an entire class of displaced nursing students from Delgado College in New Orleans, plus two of their faculty members. Those students joined ECC nursing majors, and both groups graduated in December and launched their health care careers.

“The dedication of El Centro faculty, staff and students to the needs of Katrina evacuees was inspiring,” said Lyn Muse. “The entire DCCCD family stepped forward as well, and we hope that the Muse Family Katrina Scholars Program will complement that caring effort.”

Lyn, John and their five children are trustees of the Muse Education Foundation, which supports educational institutions including the St. Mark’s School of Texas, the Hockaday School, the Episcopal School of Dallas, the American School in London, and the St. Philip’s Episcopal School and Community Center. Lyn Muse, who earned her bachelor’s degree in design from UCLA, also serves on the board of directors for the Episcopal School of Dallas and the Dallas Theater Center. 

John Muse co-founded HM Capital Partners LLC (previously Hicks, Muse, Tate and Furst Inc.) in 1989; he serves on the board of directors for a number of portfolio companies in both the United States and Europe, and he also serves as the director of Dean Foods and the Anderson School of Business at UCLA. John graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and earned his master’s degree in business administration from UCLA’s Anderson School of Business.

“The after-effects of Katrina will live with the Dallas community and the state of Texas for years to come,” said Betheny Reid, executive director for the DCCCD Foundation. “The generosity of the Muse family and their vision for a better future, by providing a helping hand, serve as a reminder that we all can make a difference in people’s lives. On behalf of our foundation, the entire DCCCD family and members of the Dallas-area community, we thank them for their gift and their leadership.”

“Katrina students are already a part of the El Centro family,” said Dr. Wright Lassiter, DCCCD chancellor and former president of ECC. “We are excited to be able to provide resources and education for Katrina survivors who work hard every day to rebuild their lives through the Muse family’s gift.”

John and Lyn Muse summed up their family’s decision to donate to the DCCCD Foundation: “After a disaster, we think of recovery in terms of nails and wood, homes and schools, streets and electricity. After Katrina, we need to think of recovery in terms of people, their education and their training. We hope that the Muse Family Katrina Scholars Program will be part of that successful effort.” 

Editor's note: See the Muse Family Katrina Scholars Fund fact sheet for more details about this program.

For more information on how to help the Katrina Scholars and others, call Betheny Reid, the DCCCD Foundation’s executive director, at (214) 860-2053. A $5,000 gift will provide a complete community college education (including books). Gifts in any amount to the DCCCD Foundation help change students’ lives.