by Valita Quattlebaum, APR
As we approach the 2018 holiday season, we at New Hanover County Schools are filled with gratitude for the kindness and hope the storm recovery has brought our way. We are grateful that we were able to reopen most of the schools on October 4, 2018, to help our students and their families regain a sense of normalcy. We are grateful that we were able to carry on with our United Way fundraising campaign to help those in our community less fortunate in spite of the fact that many of those less fortunate include some of us during this time. Most of all, we are grateful for the many dedicated employees of this district who demonstrated leadership and true heroism to help us recover.
This continues to be a challenging time for some people. So long after folks like NBC’s Lester Holt and Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel have left town headed to the next national disaster, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence two months later. This was a storm like no other seen by this region in recent times. Hurricane Florence was a slow-moving monster that stalled and lingered over our community and did far more damage than was originally known. New Hanover County Schools lost 19 school days because of it – the most in the history of the district. Some staff and students came back after the nearly two-week evacuation period to find homes severely damaged and in some instances, completely torn down. There was serious damage at some schools as well, some of it extensive. Damage ranged from some schools having puddles of water in the hallways to a few schools being destroyed and one uninhabitable. Precious items in some classrooms were lost such as books, degrees, family photos, and classroom memorabilia. NHCS-TV chronicled a few of these stories through a series we called “NHCS Hurricane Stories.” These videos told the poignant tales of loss and survival of some of our staff, students and their families.
While there are those among us who lost everything – we never loss hope. We have hope in each other, hope in our district leaders, and hope in the resilience and strength of the people of the Cape Fear region. Hope came after the storm in the form of donations from across the country that keep coming. Approximately 48 schools, 15 individuals, 10 nonprofit groups, 11 businesses, 6 colleges and universities, 3 private/charter schools, one denomination and several churches came through for NHCS. Donors called, lifted up prayers, and sent truckloads of supplies including every type of school supply imaginable, books, clothing, kind letters, and social media posts of support. Some people donated funds and gift cards to give to our displaced students, families and employees.
At some point, we became inundated with donations and had to graciously say that we have more than we can handle. The district is still accepting monetary donations only that will be used to help us continue to make needed repairs. We have also been redirecting donors to reach out to neighboring districts in Robeson, Brunswick, Pender, Onslow and Columbus counties. Some school districts in those counties suffered even greater losses than NHCS and they are earlier in the recovery process. We were fortunate in NHCS to be able to reopen our schools quicker than most were able to do.
Thanks to all for your support before, during and after the storm. We look forward to 2019 filled with hope for a great new year and continued success for all of our students and staff. NHCS wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season!