Model Brittani Bader on Surviving Katrina & Coming to NYC With Only $300
Model Brittani Bader was only 13 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit. (Photo: Instagram)
Ten years ago Brittani Bader’s parents put their children in a car with relatives to escape Hurricane Katrina. They all thought they would be separated for only two days. Instead, the then 13-year-old stayed with relatives in Florida for weeks. She watched the TV coverage in horror as the storm devastated her city. Even worse, Bader didn’t know for 14 days if her father had survived. Despite getting his children to safety, Bader’s father tried to leave the flood zone too late and ended up having to ride out the storm. When his home became flooded at the height of the hurricane, he put his children’s birth certificates in a bag, punched a hole through the roof to escape, and swam to safety. “It was unbelievable they made it out. So many of our neighbors didn’t,” recalls Bader.
When Bader and her family were reunited, their joy was quickly replaced by shock when they returned to what was left of their house. “My clothes were hanging in trees,” says Bader. “It didn’t even look like the same place. It was all gone. Everything was broken and covered in mud. … the sewing machine my grandmother gave me, my childhood pictures. We couldn’t retrieve anything.” Attempts to salvage what remained were unsuccessful. “You could wash your clothes 20 times, and the smell and the mud would never come out,” says Bader. “You had to accept it and move on.”
With no way to provide for his children in the devastated city, Bader’s father sent the children to Delhi, Calif., to live with their grandmother, a school teacher. “There was no way to juggle both,” says Bader. “He had to start from nothing.” Arriving with just the clothes she was wearing, Bader found kindness and support in California. “When churches found out that we were Katrina victims, they sent clothes and supplies. They were so great. They helped us get back on our feet,” says Bader. The teen spent the next few years moving around, caring for her mother, a disabled Navy veteran, in Biloxi, Miss., then back to Delhi to graduate high school. Despite the constant upheaval of those years, she felt grateful, saying, “At least we had somewhere to escape to after Katrina. A lot of my friends didn’t have anywhere to escape to, so I was kind of lucky in that way.”
Brittani Bader started modeling at age 9. Photo: Brittani Bader
Bader, who had done occasional modeling as a child, moved back to New Orleans after high school graduation and pursued modeling. After walking in New Orleans Fashion Week, she was contacted by a model house. The hitch was that she had to go to Manhattan to see if they could connect her with agents. She had $1,000 saved, and $700 would cover her ticket. With $300 in her pocket, she moved to the Big Apple. “It was an impulsive move,” she admits. “But I couldn’t be happier.” The model house featured dorm-like quarters for aspiring fashionistas. Except, it wasn’t exactly legit. “They weren’t real models,” says Bader. “But it helped me get to New York.”
Bader didn’t give up, supporting herself with waitressing jobs. She credits her determination to her upbringing. “I have been working since I was 14, cutting carrots in the back of restaurants because I was too young to be an official employee!” she laughs. “It was really hard at first. I had a lot of ups and downs.” Bader teamed up with other young aspiring designers, photographers, makeup artists, and models and worked for free to build her own book. She was recently signed by One Management in its commercial division, which focuses on lingerie and swimwear.
Model Brittani Bader
Looking over the past decade on the anniversary of Katrina, Bader takes stock and feels grateful for the path she’s taken. Especially because she has seen the toll that the fallout from Katrina has taken on friends she knew from childhood. “After something like Katrina, people don’t always turn to the optimistic side. They go to the depression side of things, like drug abuse and overdoses. I’ve lost many friends these past years,” Bader says. As to how she was able to take a different route, she says it was always her goal to be happy, regardless of what life threw at her. “I came from nothing. I didn’t have every little thing, and everything that happened in my life is something I’ve done on my own,” Bader says. “I wanted better for me and my brothers. Life is short, sweet, and you have to enjoy it as much as you can.”
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