“They’re Our Babies Too”: Jesse Keen Elementary Seeks Community’s Support in Helping Family Recover from House Fire

“They’re Our Babies Too”: Jesse Keen Elementary Seeks Community’s Support in Helping Family Recover from House Fire

Exterior photo of Jesse Keen Elementary

When staff members at Jesse Keen Elementary learned one of their families had recently suffered a house fire — losing their kitchen, dining room, and numerous possessions to the flames — they wasted no time in lending a hand.

“That’s just what we do here at Jesse Keen,” said Lisa Gill, paraeducator at the school and this year’s School-Related Employee of the Year for District 1. “We are a family.”

Now, Jesse Keen is working to get the broader community involved in the effort.

In the week and a half since the house fire occurred, Gill and other staff members have helped the family remove damaged drywall, wash the smoke odor from clothes, and salvage as many of their things as possible. They’ve also collected cleaning supplies, clothing, food and cash.

“Our cafeteria also loaned them a cooler so they can buy food and keep it cold,” Gill said. “They were having to eat out every meal because they didn’t have any way to store food.”

For all the school staff has been able to do and give in the last several days, the family’s home is still in desperate need of repair.

Nancy Pereyra-Vargas, who teaches one of the children affected by the fire, has set up an online fundraiser, aiming to collect $15,000 to pay for the reconstruction of the kitchen. Photos accompanying the fundraiser show exposed studs and wiring, charred insulation hanging from the ceiling, and cabinets damaged beyond repair.

The fundraiser can be found at this link.

“They currently do not have running water, electricity or nourishment,” Pereyra-Vargas said. “They need a roof over their heads, where they can be warm and cozy together. I hope that this campaign will gain the community’s interest in helping the family rebuild their home and recover.”

Gabriel Aviles Campusano, the father of the family who experienced the fire, said he is grateful for the support of the school.

Gill is hoping that in addition to donating to help Campusano and his family, the community will take notice of the positive culture that’s being built every day at Jesse Keen.

The school has a high rate of poverty and serves a large Spanish-speaking population. In Hispanic culture in particular, Gill said, families tend to be insular, reluctant to let others know they need assistance. That’s why Gill and her colleagues go to them, taking whatever steps are needed to assure their families that they have a place to turn for help.

The school sends home fliers — printed in both English and Spanish — and uses its social media to post about community resources. Gill regularly takes the school’s iPad cart to the car-rider line, using the devices to help waiting parents research available services.

“We want our families to know that we aren’t just a school,” she said. “We are their family, and we are here to help them raise their babies because they’re our babies too. That’s what we believe at Jesse Keen.”

For more information on how to support Jesse Keen Elementary, contact lisa.gill@polk-fl.net.