Helping hands

More than 700 volunteers work to get new Shields building up and running for spring semester

Hundreds of people swarm the halls, carrying boxes, rolling dollies, heading to classrooms, sweeping floors, clearing out supply and maintenance closets.

They’re all working towards one very important and fast-approaching goal: Transforming the old, shuttered Red Oak Junior High School on Live Oak Street into the “new,” temporary Donald T. Shields Elementary.

On Dec. 26, a devastating tornado hit Shields Elementary, along with two churches (Ovilla Church of the Nazarene and Harvest of Praise) and numerous houses in the Red Oak area, destroying them.

With the start of the spring semester just a little over a week away, it was clear that a replacement school would be needed until the original Shields building was habitable again. So from Dec. 27-Jan. 4, it was volunteer central at the old ROJH to get the building completely ready for more than 500 Shields’ students and staff.

“We had 700 volunteers there,” Red Oak ISD Superintendent Scott Niven said. “We had just an outpouring within our community.”

People from all over Texas came to help out in one way or another, from pitching in to donating money. A complete flip of the old school — from its kitchen to its library to its bathrooms and classrooms — took less than two weeks to accomplish due to the community’s efforts.

“You name it, and they participated, people from a little bit of everywhere,” Niven said. “We actually had people who came up from San Antonio and other places, spent the night and came to help just because they heard about [the tornado damage].”

Students, administrators and teachers from every school in the district helped Shields’ teachers move their supplies into their temporary classrooms.

“When they started letting teachers into Live Oak, I went over there and helped teachers unpack their classrooms and get everything ready for school the next week,” Red Oak Middle School 8th grader Julie Zahrndt said.

The process of salvaging materials from the damaged Shields building was also a challenge for those who volunteered in the storm’s immediate aftermath. ROMS Assistant Principal Bob Magier — whose wife, Diane, is the music teacher at Shields — worked to move important materials from the damaged building to the temporary one.

“I helped move all the music and art room instruments, supplies, etc. from the damaged building to the old junior high,” Magier said. “And I also salvaged thousands of pieces of sheet music that got soaked.”

But ultimately, the hard work was worth it to everyone involved — and showed how powerful community spirit can be.

“Everybody just came together,” Niven said. “It was an amazing week, even though it was a hard week.”

How to help

Those who are interested in donating items to the victims of the Dec. 26 tornado should contact Stephanie Parker of Ellis County Emergency Management at [email protected].