December 14, 2018

Ashes, debris and snow: When teachers lose their home in fire, their union colleagues help

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
disaster relief
Caption: "We’re going to rebuild." Photo of the Winch family via GoFundMe.

BOCES career and tech teacher John Winch was leaving a union meeting on Wednesday, on his way to coach basketball, when he got one of those phone calls. One of the ones no one ever wants to get.

His house was on fire.

Before the sun set, the house he shares with his wife Teresa, also an area teacher, was destroyed by persistent flames from what Winch said was a cooking fire. The blaze kept more than a dozen fire departments on the scene until 11 p.m. on a frigid night in rural, small-town Granville in Washington County.

The Winch family lost everything: every photo, saucepan, chair, mattress, article of clothing and shoe. The home site is ashes, debris, and snow.

Just as the area fire departments responded quickly in calls to action, so have the Winchs’ colleagues.

“His union brothers and sisters are surrounding the family,” said Ruth Shippee, president of the 424-member Saratoga-Adirondack BOCES Employees Association.

A former student of Teresa’s has already set up a Go Fund Me page.

“It’s nice to have extended family,” said Winch this morning, taking a phone call while he was at the insurance office filling out paperwork. “It’s a lot to digest.”

Winch, a member of the SABEA, and Teresa, a member of the Granville Teachers Association, have three grown children. A daughter, who graduated last week from the College of Saint Rose, has been back living with them, in addition to his mother-in-law. Everyone is safe.

The same night as the fire, family had a place to stay in a temporary home about 15 minutes away in Vermont, offered by the owners of the local Telescope Furniture. Community residents provided the family pajamas and stocked the refrigerator, Shippee said.

The next morning, despite having just watched his family’s home burn to the ground, Winch still managed to stop in at his Washington-Saratoga-Warren- Hamilton-Essex BOCES classroom to make sure the substitute teacher had the quiz he was going to give that day.

His colleagues had already started passing the hat. Shippee said colleagues raised more than $2,000 in one day at one BOCES center. Union building reps are collecting money and gift cards for the family.

Shippee made sure Winch, a union building rep, knew about the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, which provides money to those hit by disasters such as this one.

“Everyone was saying: We’re standing together,” said Shippee. “We are shining bright.”

Winch teaches sports engine equipment and is a volunteer coach. The Winch’s daughter is going on to earn her master’s degree so she can become a teacher, he said. Winch’s father, Gerry, was also a teacher who worked for BOCES – and he stopped in to thank the teachers for supporting his son and daughter-in-law.

“We’re going to rebuild, “ Winch said. “It’s a family property and has a lot of sentimental value.”

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