Interacting With Natural Disaster

West G Rocks St. Thomas Like a Hurricane


West G Welcomes Our Visitors from St. Thomas

Tough times call for desperate measures. When an island nation was shell shocked by a pair of catastrophic natural disasters (Hurricanes Irma and Maria) in August and September of 2017, the U.S. Virgin Island nation of St. Thomas was blind-sided by a Category 5 hurricane, leaving it, literally, in pieces.  Additionally, St. Croix and St. John were also substantially affected by the hurricane.

The West Geauga High community learned of the hurricanes’ damage to St. Thomas and, more specifically, Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, not only from the news, but from Kate Ludick, a 1986 West G graduate who teaches at a Montessori School on St. Thomas.

“When Kate contacted West Geauga, our Interact Club wanted to help the schools on the island,” said Interact advisor Mrs. Chelsea Talty, a 2006 West G grad who teaches Spanish at the school and helped start West G’s Interact Club when she was a student. “We sat down with our sponsoring Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Chesterland, to discuss what we could feasibly do to provide aid. After an initial conversation with the St. Thomas Rotary Club, it was determined that Ivanna Eudora Kean High School’s library had been destroyed. What to do ?

Enter Ayah Ighneim, then a senior, who made an inspiring plea for a worthy cause with an impassioned speech. “When I spoke about helping St. Thomas in front of the [others], it was nerve-wracking,” said Ighneim, now a Cleveland State freshman, about the speech that helped launch efforts to aid fellow students. “I knew that it would be much harder to reach the goal if we did not have the support of our fellow Interact Clubs. I really just wanted the students to see that we are so fortunate, to be able to pursue our education with almost no obstacles, and that is not the case for many students around the world. Being able to help kids our age is an opportunity that we could not say no to,” she said. These efforts by West G and other high school students from around Rotary District 6630 in Northeast Ohio will help students at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School where the school’s library was destroyed.

Soon, the Chesterland Rotary and the West G Interact Club decided to pursue an International Grant and engage other students from around Rotary District 6630 to help.

West Geauga Interact and the Chesterland Rotary set an initial goal of raising $10,000 for the library, knowing that funds from District 6630 and Rotary International could more than triple that number with a grant. In the end, many different schools had fundraisers to contribute. West G had a movie night, sold Halloween grams, and partnered with the Chesterland Rotary Club at their annual reverse raffle in an effort to provide aid. 19 different Interact and Rotary clubs were involved, raising the $34,500. West G directly contributed $4,000.

Staying in contact with members of the St. Thomas Rotary was very difficult with telecommunications down but over time has improved. The reparations are still ongoing, but the hope is to be finished in the summer before the start of the new school year.  The two rotary clubs in St. Thomas also raised $7000. “They are grateful to us, but we admire them very much for all their efforts as well,” said Talty. Current West G Interact Club president Mackenzie Hanford said, “I think students in the area were eager to participate in this project because they had seen the damage caused by the hurricanes on the news, and knew they couldn’t be there in person to help. By supporting this project, they had the opportunity to help other students, just like themselves, as well as make up for the distance barrier by helping from afar.”

In April the Ivanna Eudora Kean Interact Club adviser, Ms. Kerish Robles, and one of its student members, Danika Labone, visited from St. Thomas to speak before the Rotary District 6630 Conference held in Cleveland. They also made an appearance at West Geauga. They told of the affect the hurricanes had on peoples’ daily lives and how the aid from Northeast Ohio impacted the St. Thomas area.

“I am ecstatic that so much money has been raised,” Ighneim said. “It brings so much joy to know that not only will St. Thomas have its library back, but there are so many extraordinary people out there that made this happen and are striving to do good for other people in their everyday lives.”