Catherine Todd paints Friday in the East Carteret High School art room

Ocracoke School seventh-grade student Catherine Todd paints Friday in the East Carteret High School art room, taking a break from the devastation  Hurricane Dorian brought to her island Sept. 5-6. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — When East Carteret High School athletic booster president Allison Struyk heard about the devastation to Ocracoke and its school from Hurricane Dorian, she wanted to do something to help.

She and other ECHS parents, students and teachers decided to organize a special weekend to give Ocracoke middle and high school students a break from the ongoing recovery after the Category 1 storm caused major flooding Sept. 5-6.

The idea quickly snowballed and within four days Ms. Struyk said she and a group of volunteers had arranged to bring 78 middle and high school students, plus teacher chaperones, to the county for a weekend of fun Friday through Sunday.

As news of the idea spread, Ms. Struyk said she was overwhelmed with people wanting to help.

“This came together in four days and we actually had to start turning people away because we had so many donations and volunteers,” Ms. Struyk said Friday as she ate a donated meal in the cafeteria with the students.

“I think having our community just go through Hurricane Florence last year is what did it. We get it and understand what they’re going through,” Ms. Struyk said.

Thanks to support from area restaurants, businesses, the Big Rock Foundation and other groups, students got an Ocracoke Island Students’ Weekend they won’t soon forget. Plus, everything was sponsored and free to students and their chaperones.

The group started off Friday afternoon enjoying various activities at ECHS, from art and music activities to basketball and games. They also attended a soccer match and played laser tag.

Saturday and Sunday, students toured county sites, from the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort to the N.C. Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. They also visited several amusement attractions, enjoying bumper cars, miniature golf, movies and more. Area restaurants donated meals, and the Big Rock Foundation donated $18,400 to buy each student items they may have lost to the storm, including shoes and school supplies.

The students stayed at Camp Albemarle near Newport for the weekend.

Karen Jordan, a senior at Ocracoke School, a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 institution, said she was overwhelmed by the generosity of the county.

“I am very grateful,” she said. “It’s kind of incredible how everyone here banded together to donate this weekend to us kids.”

Ocracoke junior Dylan Esham agreed.

“I am really grateful that everyone has gone out of their way to help us,” he said.

Ocracoke middle school science teacher Patricia Piland, too, said she was overwhelmed by the generosity of the county.

She said the school remains closed and officials are identifying other buildings on the island that can serve as classrooms for students. School buildings were flooded when Dorian came through, leaving 10-12 inches of water and mud in much of the school.

“They’ll be separated into groups in different buildings. I’m not sure when they will go back to school. I know they were trying to get them started back next week, but I’m not sure if that will happen,” she said.

“What this county has done for these students is incredible. These students love each other and have missed being together. Just being able to play together and see each other is a big deal. Their streets are lined right now with people’s lives (discarded belongings) and just getting a few days away from that means a lot for them. They needed a weekend away. It’s also helping the parents,” she continued.

ECHS Athletic Director Tod Morgan said he wanted to be a part of helping the students, especially since he taught one year at Ocracoke School.

“I was the athletic director and taught (physical education) there in 94-95. I have parents that I am friends with there,” he said.

Art teacher Michael Rhinehardt, too, said he was glad to help give the students some time to unwind. He invited them to do whatever art activity they preferred in his classroom.

“Art in general is always a creative outlet and release,” he said. “They need that as much as anybody right now to get out of what has happened.”

Tommy Bennett with the Big Rock Foundation said his organization, too, was glad to be able to help the students.

“The Big Rock Foundation is dedicated to helping the community become a better place. It just seemed a natural extension of our mission to meet this need,” Mr. Bennett said. “There are so many ties here to the people of Ocracoke.”

If individuals would like to contribute to help the students of Ocracoke and Ocracoke School specifically, donations can be made to the Carteret County Public School Foundation, 107 Safrit Drive, Beaufort, NC 28516. Checks should be marked “Ocracoke School/Students.”

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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