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Perspective | A new school year, a hurricane, a lesson in giving

The school year began and students in Mrs. McDavid’s eighth grade English and language arts class at Jones Middle School in Trenton, North Carolina were brimming with excitement. Everything was new: backpacks, books, even their teacher. 

Then just as they were settling in, Hurricane Florence swept ashore Sept. 14, 2018. The storm crawled across eastern North Carolina, dropping up to 30 inches of rain and causing catastrophic flooding.

Some students at Jones Middle School lost their homes. Some teachers lost theirs. They all lost their school.

Victoria McDavid Credle (who goes by Mrs. McDavid in her classroom) was a first-year teacher following in the footsteps of her mother, who taught for 43 years. She had expected challenges but nothing like what Florence unleashed.

“When it was safe enough to go into the school and see what we could salvage, we had to wear boots and masks and walk through the water,” she said. “My classroom was a total loss. Posters. Textbooks. Library books. Whatever the water didn’t get, mildew got the rest.”

McDavid with her son and her mom, who also teaches at Jones Senior High. Courtesy of Duke Energy

As days stretched to weeks before classes resumed at the local high school, McDavid anticipated ways for her students to make the transition. They would have a lot of catching up to do, and she wanted them focused on learning — not on whether they had backpacks or notebooks or pencils.

Around the same time, Duke Energy was looking for ways to help customers affected by the storm. Amy Strecker, North Carolina stakeholder philanthropy manager, had turned to for resources when she taught high school English in Warren County through Teach for America. Duke Energy had also used the classroom crowdfunding site to target donations to specific school systems. Strecker knew the nonprofit could benefit teachers and students and could do it quickly.

And so Duke Energy put together a program with and allocated $160,000 toward hurricane relief for schools in 11 counties in North Carolina and five in South Carolina.

McDavid was one of hundreds of teachers who sent in applications

“On October 16, when the students returned after being unable to attend school for over a month, almost all of their vibrancy, hopefulness, and eagerness was unapparent,” McDavid wrote. “Seeing the grief and despair in their faces added to the stress that I was already feeling in my own heart — really hit me hard — but I knew I had to quickly pull myself together and remain strong for my students.”

She requested about $500 worth of supplies ranging from interactive workbooks to a pencil sharpener.

“One of the things I love about educators is that they have such a spirit of perseverance,” Strecker said. “We wanted to empower them to do the most they could to help these children come out of Hurricane Florence. I feel really good about how quickly we were able to employ this. By Nov. 15, we had all the funding together and could push it out.”

McDavid and some of her colleagues. Courtesy of Duke Energy

In addition to money from the company, Duke Energy employees also contributed. All told, donations went to 395 teachers in 153 schools, helping 42,677 students, many of whom come from low-income households.

“We were hearing stories about kids coming back to school and they weren’t living at home because their home flooded so bad and they had no school supplies and extra money wasn’t available for that kind of stuff,” said Amanda Dow, South Carolina stakeholder philanthropy manager. “One teacher asked for a class pet as a comfort measure for kids going through what we consider a traumatic situation.” 

McDavid said donations from Duke Energy and other sources made the transition much easier at Jones Middle.

“I told the students, ‘Raise your hand if you need a notebook, composition books, markers, pens. …’ and I could get them what they needed. They saved our year, the donations did,” McDavid said. “We were able to focus on catching up. I lost all my posters, all my informational boards. Receiving those new items really, really helped me replenish my classroom.”

This article was first published in Duke Energy’s illumination publication. Duke Energy Foundation supports the work of EducationNC. 

Elizabeth Leland

Leland has been a reporter for the Charlotte Observer for more than 25 years. She has won the national Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing and the 2006 Darrell Sifford Memorial Prize in Journalism and is a three-time winner of the Associated Press’ Thomas Wolfe writing award. Leland is the author of two books — A Place for Joe and The Vanishing Coast.