While all eyes have been on Florida and Hurricane Irma the last few days, there was good news coming out of Texas where about 200 of Houston’s 335 schools opened for the first time since Hurricane Harvey slammed that city August 19-22. The remaining schools are scheduled to open next week, according to the Houston Federation of Teachers.
“We just opened 200 of our buildings to students today," said Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. "We have approximately 80 of our schools that were not ready to open. Most of them are on a schedule to open over the next two weeks. At least 10 of those buildings will not re-open this year and a few of those will likely never reopen. Our facilities/maintenance department and custodial staff have been working night and day to get the buildings reopened.“
About 1,200 AFT members in the area have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, Capo said. “Approximately 500 of them are HFT members. Some have been able to rip out sheetrock, carpets and furniture to save their home. Others have no home to save.”
Students and teachers are among the thousands of people who have suffered devastation of homes, businesses and health from both hurricanes.
NYSUT members continue to help those in need by donating to the union’s Disaster Relief Fund while others have found ways to donate through different organizations. In Saratoga Springs, retirees were among those who helped to collect and sort donated good going directly to people in Houston on two tractor-trailers in a trip organized by The Giving Circle, which was founded to help in the aftermath of hurricanes. Traci Radigan and Ann Fantauzzi, retired members of the Saratoga Teachers Association, showed up on a sunny Sunday afternoon to unpack and sort soap, rope, deodorant, brooms, towels, sheets, diapers and dog food. Collections will continue through Tuesday at 8 p.m. at 240 Excelsior Avenue.
STA retiree Jill Coloney is working with her retired colleagues to set up a retired teachers supply sale locally on Saturday, Oct. 14, at a member’s home.
“We’re going to take our supplies we no longer need and sell them to younger teachers at a reduced rate so they can get a start!” she said. “Then we’ll donate the money to Houston or Florida teachers for supplies.”
Coloney said she hopes to start a movement across the state. As a former kindergarten teacher, she said she has many toys, games, books and teaching tools she can sell.
While the project started with Harvey, giving will also now be shared with victims of Hurricane Irma.
“Like we did last month, when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the state of Texas, NYSUT — through the generosity of its members across New York State — stands ready to help our sisters and brothers in Florida and other parts of the south as they take the first steps toward recovery from Irma’s destruction,” said Andy Pallotta.
“This hits close to home: Nearly 16,000 NYSUT retirees live in Florida; many of them have remained actively engaged in their union, even in retirement. I want them to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers, and that we are working with our national affiliates — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — to provide assistance, however it’s needed” Pallotta said.
Ani Shahinian, NYSUT Social Services, reminds us that hurricanes not only leaves debris and physical damage, but can also deposit trauma.
“Recent events with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left many individuals/families traumatized by what they have lost and endured. Of course, there are all forms of trauma that we, as human beings, endure and yet find a way to recovery. The support of family and friends is critical when someone is coming to terms with a traumatic event,” Shahinian said.
NYSUT members can seek for help for themselves or family members through NYSUT Social Services at 800-342-9810, ext. 6206, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow updates on NYSUT disaster relief efforts at www.nysut.org/disasterrelief.