The next year, during the open house event the evening before school started, I jumped right in and joined the Parent Teacher Organization. By the second meeting, I held the office of Vice President. The president, Jeremy, had his hands full with kids and subbing so it wasn't long at all before I took the lead (along with Ingrid) and stepped into the Co-President role. We kept the "co" titles because I didn't want to be the one speaking at events. Jeremy was better at that than I and so we created a power team: I did most of the work, and he did the public speaking.
We continued our roles for four years. Four amazing, crazy, hectic, chaotic, terrific years. I was the driving force and Jeremy was my sounding board and go to guy. It was perfect.
I gave my heart and soul to Crestline. Day in and day out. There was rarely a week that didn't involve hours of time at the school and hours more in front of my computer at home. I lived, breathed, and slept PTO. I discovered a building full of new friends - friends who supported me and helped me survive some of the toughest days of my life. They loved me. They loved my kids. They became a family to us because I had no other family here. The year I didn't think I could manage Christmas for the kids, gifts magically arrived on our porch. Stockings full of presents for both the kids and for me.
I was loved. And I loved them all back. Even after the kids and I moved in with Stephanie, and the kids changed schools, they were all my home away from home. I would drop in for hugs and catching up. I knew they were right there and we stayed connected in person, emails, phone calls, and Facebook. They are my family.
Last Sunday, my home away from home burned to the ground. Thankfully, no one was hurt...or worse. It was just the building though honestly, "just a building" hurts like heck to lose. That "building" meant so much to me. I can't even put into words how much.
I spent from Sunday until Thursday moving a million miles an hour. Monday morning I arrived at the makeshift crisis center (a church down the street from the still burning and smouldering school) and stayed all day. Talking with parents and children who came. Some to just be with others going through the same thing, some needed to talk with counselors. Some needed food. (Crestline has a 70% free/reduced population so feeding students is a critical part of any school day.)
Tuesday I again worked in the center and then joined another volunteer, Erin (Jeremy's wife who was there with me all day Monday, too) to deliver lunch (donated by Olive Garden) to the Crestline staff who were hard at work planning how to get everything in pace so kids could resume classes on Thursday. Then back to the center to log more hours.
Wednesday I worked at the center in the morning and then Erin and I went from school site to school site delivering food, and offering support to teachers as they struggled to pull together classrooms in five different schools. We all looked worse for wear by that point. After lunches were delivered, back to the crisis center to clean it up before heading back to schools to work until late in the evening, helping our teachers.
The grade bands, while together in schools, are separated. We have kindergarten in one school, first in another, second in another building, third in a different one, and fourth and fifth is an entirely different building. Crestline is still Crestline. A school within schools. Monthly there will be an event of some kind in a central location to bring the entire Crestline Community together. It will be challenging - but doable.
I rejoined the PTO to help through the rest of the school year. I can't not. These people....they are *my* people. Maybe this is the reason I just can't seem to connect to the new school the kids attend.
Needless to say, it has been quite the week. Here are a few pictures to share.
Crestline before the fire:
Crestline, after the fire.
One day this week on my way to the crisis center.
I don't have a photo of the school where the second graders are because it was one site I didn't go to.
I have been touched deeply by the way our students and staff are being welcomed into buildings and how the community at large is digging deep to provide money, supplies, and support. I can tell you that there were many, many times during my time on the PTO that I felt our school was an island unto itself. I imagine all schools feel that way to some degree however the outpouring of love, care, and concern has made it very evident that Crestline staff and students are not alone in dealing with this tragedy.
From the ashes will rise something amazing - a new school, new books, new everything. But even more than all the shiny new things, I believe the Crestline Community will emerge stronger than ever. Changed forever - but strong and sure of its place.
We lost something that we can never, ever, ever get back but I believe in my heart of hearts that we will gain something amazing.
I love my Crestline family. And in the end, that is what matters most, we are all still a family.