OAKHURST – If there’s one lesson our recent summer of fires taught us, it’s that the mountain community will rise up to support its own in the face of disaster compounded by catastrophe.
On that Sunday in September when the Courtney Fire hit, 8th grader Dakota Klaproth grabbed some clothes and her backpack before the home she shared with her grandparents burned to the ground.
The next day Dakota checked in with her teacher to see if homework could be turned in late under the circumstances. She’s clearly a special girl. Still, it was a happy surprise when, after hearing news about Dakota’s loss, her school organized a fundraiser, danced off their fire anxieties, and seeded an account to help the displaced student rebuild her fire-torn life.
“When the fires started, even those who had not lost their homes were affected,” remembers Oak Creek Intermediate (OCI) teacher Rhiannon Dewey. “School was cancelled and pictures of devastation were everywhere. It was hard not to experience a feeling of anxiety.”
On hearing the news that dozens of homes had been lost in the fire, Dewey helped her students organize a campaign to support Dakota and grandparents Chuck and Sharyn Nugent. You might know the Nugents as the owners of Good Ol Daze shop in the Pines Village at Bass Lake. Dewey still marvels at Dakota’s post-fire concern.
“The day Dakota lost her home, she emailed me and asked if she could turn in her math homework late because of her losing her home,” Dewey recounts. “Can you believe that? You can’t help but smile, and want to cry at the same time.”
Dewey uses a string of superlatives to describe Dakota, starting with wonderful.
“There are not enough words to express all of her strengths, but what I enjoy most is her positive energy and sense of responsibility. I’ve had the pleasure of having Dakota in my Leadership class from 6th grade to now when I have her as an 8th grade student.”
Other kids in Leadership and throughout the school were quick to help Dakota out.
“Their thought was that at the very least, they could donate their profits from OCI’s first school dance of the year to Dakota and her family. Generally, these profits benefit the 8th grade Catalina trip fund, but we voted that this would be a great alternative.”
Dewey says almost every OCI student bought tickets to the dance to show their support.
“They were able to come together for an evening of celebration, dancing, and general fun. It was great to see not only the community pull together to support the victims of the fires, but it was also very refreshing to see extra kindness and compassion find its way into our middle school. I am very proud of our students.”
Meanwhile, in another classroom not far away, teacher Dina Haney was talking to her students at Woodlake Valley Middle School in Tulare County about the fires plaguing Oakhurst. A friend of Ms. Dewey, Ms. Haney is a math teacher at the San Joaquin Valley of about 500 students.
“Dina saw that our town was on fire yet again, and reached out to me. I expressed my concern that Dakota lost everything, and that money and gift cards were needed in order to help rebuild her life.”
After getting an okay from both schools’ administrations, Dina Haney and her students determined to raise money for Dakota as well.
The grand result of everyone’s effort was apparent on Friday, Nov. 14, when Dakota and her grandparents were offered a colorful poster and a check for over $1,500, courtesy of two different groups of people uniting in support of one deserving girl.
“It was very touching,” Dewey admits of the “Raider Strong” assembly led by OCI Principal Brad Barcus and Rhiannon Dewey, in which the family was given the gift. “The whole experience still makes me emotional. It is awe inspiring to think about the kindness that exists in the world.”
Dakota and her grandparents were grateful for the outpouring of support.
“Remember, you are part of a community,” grandpa Chuck Nugent said to the generous group of kids gathered on the floor of the gym at Oak Creek. “You are part of the school community, here at OCI, and you are also part of the greater community here in the mountains. Each one of you is part of the community, and that is a very wonderful thing.”