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ECU Nursing’s Skipper wins Governor’s Award for public service

ECU Nursing Award

ECU News Service

Friday, November 10, 2017

At East Carolina University, Michelle Skipper is a trusted faculty member, colleague and friend, but to many in the town of St. Pauls she is a hero.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which killed 25 people in North Carolina and devastated large swaths of the eastern part of the state in October 2016, many were left without food, potable water and shelter.

Skipper, director of the ECU College of Nursing’s doctor of nursing practice program and a clinical associate professor, stepped in to help care for her community’s most vulnerable residents, ensuring they had enough food, water and medication to weather the storm’s wake.

In recognition of her efforts, she was honored Tuesday with the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Service during a ceremony on in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of History.

The award — the highest honor a state employee may receive — “acknowledges and expresses appreciation for outstanding accomplishments that do not fall entirely within the scope of normal duties but are in the nature of a major contribution reflecting credit on the person and state service,” according to the state human resources department.

“It’s very humbling,” Skipper said. “I went online and looked at other award winners and looked at some of the videos of those who have won, and I thought, ‘no chance. I’m not even going to worry about it.’ When the gentleman called me from human resources I was very surprised, but grateful.”

St. Pauls, the small town just north of Lumberton in Robeson County where Skipper and her husband Bruce live, was among the areas hardest hit by Matthew.

More than 500 people were forced from their homes and took shelter at St. Pauls High School from Oct. 9 through Oct. 17, according to the Skippers. More than 200 others made trips to the school for meals each day. Power outages in some parts of Robeson County lasted more than a week.

Skipper’s husband is the pastor at St. Pauls United Methodist Church and has a reputation for his love of cooking. The couple fed the crowd three meals daily with the help of fellow church and community members. They also delivered plates to the senior citizen and public housing complexes in town three times per day.

“I was able to use my nursing background and the dietary part of my nursing training,” she said. “Even the first day I think our town manager was surprised at the (number of) people who were medically ill or medically fragile… I told him, ‘People who had the resources to get out of town got out of town.’

“We got the people who didn’t have any way to get out. So we got people who were on dialysis, who were on oxygen, who were diabetic. There were all kinds of medical needs.”

When the Skippers made their way back home from the school in the evenings, Michelle brought people’s dirty clothes with her, washing them and bringing them back the next day.

Angela Baxley was one of the many aided by the Skippers during the storm. The apartment complex for the elderly and disabled where she lived experienced flooding and lost power.

Baxley, who is diabetic, brought her neighbor back to the school for meals twice a day in the days ahead.

“I had to make sure I got something to eat and keep my sugar up, and it was so hot because we had no power,” she said. “When we would go (to the school) it was cooler. We would go and get a break and make sure that we were still in reality and still with the rest of the world.”

Baxley said Skipper not only helped meet the immediate, physical needs of those in the shelter; she also helped to ease their anxieties about what had happened and what to do next.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said through tears. “I was scared. I was trying to take care of me and some of the other elderly people. We just didn’t know what to do. All we had was God. And God sent our angel.”