News and Tribune

May 22, 2013

Henryville students, staff donate, contemplate volunteering

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

HENRYVILLE —

With news of an all-too-familiar disaster 800 miles away, summer vacation plans for some students and administrators at Henryville’s schools have already changed.

Just more than a year after their campus was decimated, some of the school community members at Henryville Junior/Senior High School have said as soon as their graduates get their diplomas in June, they’re making their way to Moore, Okla., to help tornado victims hit Monday by an EF-5 tornado — one of the country’s most fierce on record.

Nick Cooper, a junior at the high school, said the March 2, 2012, tornado that swirled across Northern Clark County was still fresh in his mind when he heard about what happened in Oklahoma.

“I didn’t hear about it until our first class [Tuesday] morning,” Cooper said. “When I heard that the death tolls were around [24] people, I could only think of how lucky we were to have everyone safe inside the school.”

After his friends graduate June 2, he said he wants to do what so many strangers across the country did for Henryville in the wake of their disaster.

“We’ve already set up a money fund and I donated to that,” Cooper said. “I thought about maybe going to Oklahoma after graduation and going to help out. It’s really the shared experience that we have with them. We saw when we had the tornado, how many people stopped their entire lives to come down and help us. I think it’s the least we could to repay that.”

Troy Albert, principal of the junior/senior high school, said he and his wife heard about the tornado late Monday night. Though he hasn’t much time to consult with his staff about fundraising, he said he and his wife will head to Moore, Okla., to volunteer with recovery efforts after graduation.

But he said without any direction, his students are already pitching in.

“Our students have already started putting money in a box,” Albert said. “That was [Tuesday] and tomorrow will be our big push.”

Glenn Riggs, principal of the elementary school, said 2012’s tornado was still a sensitive subject for students and even some staff members. But he said they’re still working out ways to help.

“We know the thing to do is nothing immediate,” Riggs said. “Without a facility and without a place to be, they don’t need any stuff. We’re going to reconvene in the fall and that will be a time where we put our heads together, we will use all of our resources of our students and families.”

He said even after more than a year, Henryville’s schools are still trying to locate some of their lost materials and dealing with other emotional losses. 

He did say there’s something his school can do right now. On Tuesday morning, a school in Maine that has sent aid continuously to Henryville Elementary School called to let them know they’d raised another $2,000 for books. Instead of filling their library further, Riggs said they’re sending the check to Oklahoma.

“We’re going to take their fundraising efforts and pay them forward,” Riggs said. “We can take the privilege of what would be a gift for us and pass it on to them.”

But the schools’ administrators are approaching donations carefully to make sure they get to the places they want them to go. Albert said he wants any materials or money sent to Oklahoma go directly to Plaza Towers Elementary School to avoid any hitches in directing aid.

Riggs said after reflecting on what he, his staff and students lived through last year, his heart is heavy for people in Moore.

“This came really close to home to us as adults,” Riggs said. “We started chatting about it last night and we’re glad it was just a physical loss for us — no human beings were lost [at the school].”

Cooper said he’s also heard a couple of his friends talk about making it out to Moore to volunteer. After recounting what he and his community lived through, he offered some encouragement to victims in the Midwest.

“I would say things can only get better from here.”