CEDAR POINT — With shingles stacked outside her damaged house and boxes of flooring piled inside, Tracie Wade-Cronkhite is among many county school employees faced with a long road to recovery from Hurricane Florence.
Ms. Wade-Cronkhite, a data manager for White Oak Elementary and Bogue Sound Elementary schools, said she and her family are currently living in two rooms of their home while she and her husband continue to make repairs to the house, which received major structural and water damage during the storm.
Faced with mounting repair bills and no insurance settlement in sight, a fellow school employee noticed her plight and reported it to the Carteret County Public School Foundation. The nonprofit organization helps meet school system needs through private donations.
Within 24 hours, Ms. Wade-Cronkhite was contacted by school system Communications Director Tabbie Nance, who is assessing needs and administering funds for the foundation to school families who received hurricane damage. The foundation provided money to Ms. Wade-Cronkhite to buy new flooring for her home.
“It made me cry and touched my heart to see that people cared,” Ms. Wade-Cronkhite said Friday as she gave Ms. Nance a tour of repairs underway at her house. “I didn’t ask for the foundation’s help, but it was people paying attention and reaching out to help each other that made the difference.”
Ms. Nance said there are currently 70 school employees and 817 students still displaced from their homes and she expects the needs to continue for months and years to come.
“As families work to rebuild or find other housing, the needs have shifted to utility bills, appliances, temporary stays in hotels, furniture and mattresses and more,” Ms. Nance said. “Funds are now being used to help families put roofs on their homes after they have exhausted their insurance and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) support.”
As of Friday, the foundation has provided $185,000 in assistance to families of county students or school employees, according to Ms. Nance.
So far the foundation has taken in more than $370,000 in donations to support recovery efforts.
The needs have been as varied as the families, Ms. Nance said, from replacing floors, roofs and sheetrock, to assisting with rent and mortgage payments.
She emphasized that those receiving assistance are first vetted by school personnel.
“We are addressing the needs through a process that relies heavily on school administrators, teachers and counselors,” Ms. Nance said. “They see the need, validate that need and then send the information to me. I then review it, make calls as needed, and work to have the needs addressed within 24 hours.”
Those who have received assistance, like Ms. Wade-Cronkhite, said the foundation’s help has been invaluable. She and her husband are trying to do most of the repairs themselves, which includes replacing their roof, ceilings, interior walls, floors and exterior siding.
“We live in the area where tornados came through and we actually spent two days living in a closet during the storm,” she said. “We are currently living in two rooms of our house, plus our bathroom and kitchen, which is under major construction.”
She added that her family is still negotiating with their insurance company for a settlement and received no assistance from FEMA.
Dewey Bell of Newport, who has children attending the county school system, is another parent who has received assistance from the foundation after his family had to move out of a damaged mobile home they rented.
“The foundation paid our rental deposit, light deposit and two months’ worth of rent,” Mr. Bell said during a telephone interview Thursday with the News-Times. “They offered to help us rent a U-Haul to move, but I decided not to go that route.”
Mr. Bell, a father of four, said he was deeply grateful for the help.
“There are so many people worse off than us. We are blessed because we have a roof over our heads. I’m used to giving, not getting,” he said. “They’ve done so much for us. I’m trying to give back and pay it forward and help others.”
Bogue Sound Elementary School Principal Jenny Bell, no relation to Mr. Bell, said she and other county principals have recommended numerous families to the foundation, and in every case Ms. Nance has made sure needs were addressed.
“Tabbie has been amazing,” Ms. Bell said Thursday. “Within 24 hours after the storm hit she saw the needs and brought in the cavalry. She has reached out to our community, and people have been very supportive and we appreciate it.”
Ms. Bell said at her school alone she has between 80 and 100 students displaced and continues to find out about new families.
“We are now in the second and third wave of families needing help,” Ms. Bell said. “The problem is many times teachers and the families don’t feel like they need help. We found out about a teacher assistant here who didn’t have a floor. Then we found out about a family who didn’t feel like they were displaced because they were living in a camper in their yard.”
Board of Education member John McLean agreed there are many school families who need assistance and encouraged those needing help to contact school administrators or counselors at their home school.
“This is an amazing organization that is truly touching people’s lives,” Mr. McLean said. “I can tell you that every dollar that comes in goes back out to help people. So many of our families feel like they shouldn’t ask for help, but that is why we’re doing this and we want to get those resources back out into our community.”
Mr. McLean thanked those who have donated to the foundation to help families. He further thanked Ms. Nance for her tireless efforts.
“I don’t know how she is doing it all,” Mr. McLean said. “She’s doing a remarkable job.”
Ms. Nance said she’s determined to make sure all students and families who need assistance receive it, no matter how long it takes. She was even out Christmas Eve helping a teacher assistant and her family after she learned about a need.
“I found out we had a teacher assistant who had lost everything and she only had a mattress on the floor and a sports chair in her home,” Ms. Nance said. “I contacted her and she said she was fine, but I told her she couldn’t live like that. We gave her money and she went out Christmas Eve and bought a sofa. She’s gone out and bought other things since then.”
Ms. Nance added that she understands many aren’t used to asking for or receiving help.
“Families need to understand that the foundation is working to provide a hand up, not a hand out,” she said. “That is where the validation comes into play and that is my responsibility to each donor.”
Ms. Nance said she’s been amazed at the continued generosity of people, not only locally, but across the nation.
“We’ve had donations come from across the country,” she said, citing contributions from New Hampshire, Ohio, California and elsewhere.
She encouraged residents to continue to give to the foundation.
“The major items we are now investing in are costly and the remaining funds will go quickly. These items include roofs, heat pumps, large appliances, flooring, furniture and more,” she said.
Donations may be mailed to Carteret County Public School Foundation, 107 Safrit Drive, Beaufort, NC 28516.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.