Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Forever Family

Amidst all of the craziness with school and life, I’ve come to realize the importance of community.  As my class has defined it, a community is a group of people who work together and help each other out.  These past two weeks, I’ve experienced the power of a community that thrives and fulfills this definition faithfully.
People are truly amazing.  In a time of crisis and great need, it astounds me how many people come together to help one another.  Within a day of starting up a donation center for the families at our school, we had to switch locations due to the mass quantities coming in (and the fact that we needed a fully operating gym for PE).  Teachers, students, and family members all gave up their precious weekend time to help support the families that lost their homes.  Tears were shed and smiles reappeared- the sign of a new beginning. 

Even though this was only just the very beginning of a very long recovery effort, it set the precedent for the events to come.  Last week, I visited the new donation site to pick up some things for my students and was astonished by what I saw.  Over the course of just 3 days, enough donations were collected that they filled up an entire church!  There was a room designated for clothes, a room for shoes, a room for toiletries, and a room for food – each of these rooms packed with volunteers unloading, sorting, and organizing the donations as they were being dropped off.  At one point, later in the week, they had to begin re-routing their donation site to other churches and businesses in the area.  Wow- what a problem to have… too many donations! 

Not only did people support us by donating these necessities, we also found other places around our town playing leading roles in the relief effort…  Rec centers and churches opening up their showering facilities, Laundromats offering free loads of laundry, the Food Bank collecting and dispersing food, volunteers passing out flyers on how to help, and neighbors, friends, and family helping wade through the treacherous waters to collect belongings and lending shoulders to cry on when they were needed most.  All of these things just prove what a great community I live in and teach in.  As one of my friends said, “It’s nice to know that goodness spreads” and let me tell you, goodness most definitely does spread!

I am overwhelmed and so incredibly grateful for our community.  Our community – a group of people who work together and help each other out.  But we are more than just a community- we are a family. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Back to Normal?

This week I was told that things would begin to go back to normal.  But what is normal?  I really do not know.  I thought I knew, but as it turns out, I really don’t.  Life is an increasingly complex thing filled with overwhelming challenges and sensational celebrations.  Unfortunately, this week proved to be one chock-full of confounding obstacles and copious amounts of stress. 

If you read my previous post, you would begin to understand the catastrophic events that shattered our town and displaced hundreds of families (many of which attend the school I teach at).  Overall, over 20% of our school population is now considered homeless.  A shocking statistic that really has an impact on overall learning.  And life. 

A human’s basic needs: shelter, water, food, air, and sleep.  What happens when those basic needs aren’t met?  The effects are devastating.  And yet, many of my students have to live with this reality almost every day… Homes- uninhabitable.  Water- unusable and unflushable.  Food- sparce and unfulfilling.  Air- toxic, filled with the fumes of natural gas and feces.  Sleep- hard to come by. 

I pray for my sweet students, my children, who face these unforeseeable circumstances.  I know their situations are supposed to be only temporary, but for how long?  When will their lives return to normal?  Or will they ever? 

I can only hope that I can provide a small portion of what my students need every day- a safe place, our classroom, filled with an abundance of love and compassion.  A place where ideas sparkle and magic flows, allowing learning to come to life.  A place bursting with light, illuminating the pathway of hope for a better tomorrow.  A place that is normal.  Almost. 


Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Family United By Hope

Friggatriskaidekaphobia – the fear of Friday the 13th.  I’ve never feared this day… only  once did I have my share of “bad luck” when I got into a very minor car accident 8 years ago (which was immediately made better by a giant bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream at a friend’s house).  But two days ago, Friday, September 13, 2013 must’ve made up for all those other Friday the 13ths.  This past Friday was downright awful.  Devastating.  Horrific.  Unimaginable. 

As you may know, Colorado has been experiencing its fair share of extreme weather.  More specifically, flooding.  I was surprised to see that we were one of the only districts in our area that was still scheduled to have school.  But I guess I wasn’t that surprised… we hadn’t had as much rain as the neighboring towns.  The school day began as normal… just a little wetter than usual.  By around 11am, the rain slowed to a drizzle and the clouds began to disappear.  It appeared to be a normal, sunshiney Colorado day! 

At exactly 11:04am, one of my students was picked up by his family.  Thinking he was headed out for an extended weekend, I gave him a hug and wished him well.  Then at 11:14am, another one of my students was picked up by her family.  As I looked out my classroom window, I saw a line of about 12 cars.  I thought to myself, “what is going on?”  And then the line continued to grow and remained steady – from 11:14am until the bell rang at 3:45pm.  My class of 27 students dwindled down to 8 by 3:40pm.  And 4 of the 8 that remained were asked to go to the gym to be picked up by their parents instead of taking the bus home. 

I had heard rumors about the floods making their way into our area, but I had a hard time believing it looking at the sunny weather outside.  I wanted to confirm what I had heard, but I had a meeting during my plan time – the only opportunity I had to be on my computer.  I just continued my day as planned- trying to keep it as normal and routine as possible, reassuring all my students that they were safe.   It wasn’t until after 4pm that I was able to fully comprehend the widespread devastation. 

The Big Thompson River and the St. Vrain River collided and merged into the South Platte River, essentially wiping out entire neighborhoods.  Homes were submerged, where only the roofs could be seen.  Mobile homes were swept away, toppling over like rows of dominoes.  People were being rescued by rafts, canoes, or SeaDoos in a landlocked state.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

And then I was told where all of this was taking place – just a mile or so down the road, where the majority of the families that attend our school live.  I was in a state of utter shock.

Right now, it is estimated that 150 families (approximately 250 students) from my school have completely lost their homes.  As I said before…  Devastating.  Horrific.  Unimaginable. 

I had to do something.  I had to take action.  But how?  Where to even start?  I rounded up a few other teachers that remained at our school that Friday evening and we formulated a plan.  We went on a mini shopping spree, stocking our basket to the brim with blankets and socks, hoping they would serve as little pieces of comfort when all was lost.  On our way to the shelter, the devastation began to sink in… all really was lost. 

Holding back the tears, I put on a brave face as I entered the building where some of our students were being housed.  Immediately, one of my students spotted me and sprinted over to give me a big hug.  “Did your house get flooded too?” she asked.  “No, it didn’t, I just wanted to come by to see how you were doing,” I replied.  “That is so nice!  I can’t believe you’re here… I never see teachers outside of school!” she eagerly stated.  We continued our conversation, where she proceeded to show me pictures of the flood and tell me all of her friends that were staying at the shelter.  She seemed positive about everything and especially liked the fact that it was going to be like a giant sleepover.  I don’t think she was able to fully comprehend the devastation, but I was glad to see her in high spirits.  I visited with quite a few of my other students, all of whom were extremely glad to see familiar faces and receive little pieces of comfort.    

What an emotional day it had been.  Of all the horrendous things that went on that day, I was glad to end it with a bright spot.  That night, after sending many prayers, I lay wide awake in my bed – thinking about the families and the tough road that lies ahead of them.  What would the future bring? 

Apparently, other teachers at my school had also experienced sleepless nights, thinking up ways we could help these families.  And so it goes… plans were made and action was taken.  Toiletries, clothes, and toys were brought to the students at the shelter.  With representation of multiple teachers from each grade level, we successfully passed out bags of necessities to the families that were impacted by this flood.  Every child, beaming from ear to ear at the excitement of receiving these gifts.  Parents, welling up with tears at the sight of their child receiving something as simple as a blanket.  Everyone was grateful.  So incredibly grateful. 

Even though it seemed like everything had been lost, one thing for sure remained intact... A family.  Not just any family, but our family.  Our family united by hope. 

Please continue to pray for the students and families that have been deeply affected by this natural disaster.  We are accepting donations of toiletries, clothes, shoes, non-perishable food items, bottled water, toys/games, and pet care items to make care packages for each of the families.  Monetary donations can also be made to The Red Cross, United Way of Weld County, or The Community Foundation of Greeley and Weld County.  Anything and everything truly does help!  Thank you so much for your support and prayers! 

To find out more information about this tragedy, visit: