Community provides ‘enormous support’ for Boulder Valley School District students displaced by Marshall Fire

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Monarch High sophomore Charlotte Coleman grabbed her vintage custom trumpet from the 1940s as her family evacuated their Louisville home during the Marshall Fire.

But her brother Buck, a senior and a drum major in the school’s marching band, couldn’t take his less portable euphonium — a large brass instrument similar to a tuba — and a large keyboard.

He lost both when their home burned. But when he started back at Monarch about a week after the fire, there was a euphonium sent over from Fairview High that he could borrow for class. Not long after, donations to the band program allowed him to buy his own replacement. And once they found a place to stay, one of his parents’ first purchases was a keyboard.

“I got a brand-new horn within a week,” he said. “It was incredible. What I missed most was my instruments. You play to cope. Not having them, you almost get mad at yourself. To have that back is really, really nice.”

The company that produces the marching band’s competition T-shirts also reprinted a year’s worth so students who lost homes could replace their collections. And the band director gave students $100 gift cards to Kohl’s to replace concert clothes.

“The outreach to the band program has been just unbelievable,” said dad Wade Coleman, who is the vice president of Monarch’s band boosters.

Along with support from their schools and the school district, the 800-plus students and 50 staff members who were displaced by the Marshall Fire — including about 500 students whose homes were destroyed — are getting help from those in the community eager to help them return to academics and activities.

One of the main supports for students has been Impact on Education, Boulder Valley’s foundation. Impact provided backpacks with school supplies for students affected by the fire when they returned to school following winter break and is using its Critical Needs Fund to replace musical instruments, textbooks, laptops, graphing calculators and other academic supplies.

About $100,000 raised through the fund also is going to displaced families to supplement transportation assistance provided through the federal McKinney-Vento Act, a law that creates a safety net for students without adequate housing.

While the law provides optional reimbursement for personal transportation costs, it’s a modest amount that barely covers the cost of gas, according to Impact on Education. The foundation is supplementing the transportation reimbursement so all families who now have to drive their students farther can be fully reimbursed for those costs.

Along with the school supply backpacks distributed earlier, Impact volunteers recently put together “care kits” for all the students impacted by the fire. Crocs also committed to donating a new pair of its shoes to every district student and educator.

Backpacks going to Fairview High School students are seen in a warehouse in Louisville on Jan. 31. Volunteers assembled 820 backpacks with books, journals, blankets and gift cards to give to Boulder Valley School District students who were impacted by the Marshall Fire. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

For the care kits, volunteers spent two days stuffing 820 backpacks donated by JanSport with fuzzy blankets, books, a journal, colored pencils and gift cards. A Louisville business, Alem, donated space for volunteers to work. More volunteers delivered the backpacks to the 30-plus schools with affected students.

Volunteer Anne McDowell said she’s substitute teaching in the afternoons for a teacher who works in Erie. The teacher’s home is still standing, but damage from the fire made it uninhabitable, and she’s been living in a hotel with her family for more than a month.

“Hearing her story has helped me see how much kids need beyond just their immediate needs right after the fire,” she said. “The care kits were a really great chance to help.”

Ali Cortez, who coordinated the effort, said her children suggested including the fuzzy blankets, saying that’s what they would want most. The gift cards were from Boulder Book Store, Target and Grandrabbit’s Toy Shoppe.

Douglas County National Honor Society students contributed encouraging notes, which were stuffed in envelopes by high school students in Boulder Valley’s Intensive Learning Centers. Donated books included grade-level appropriate selections on mindfulness. For preschool backpacks, volunteers added small toys, such as play dough, bubbles and stuffies.

“It’s really been all kinds of people coming together and doing what they can,” said Impact on Education Executive Director Allison Billings. “I hope it gives them a little sense of how much the community cares about them.”

Going forward, she said, the main long-term need — other than housing — is mental health support. Impact is looking to raise enough money to cover the cost of four additional mental health advocates to work in the schools for 18 months. Altogether, 2,356 students and 192 staff members live within the burn area boundary.

“The trauma is very real,” she said. “Mental health and housing, those are the two pieces that are going to linger for a long time.”

At Louisville’s Monarch High School, Principal Neil Anderson said the community has been enormously generous in its support for students. About 190 of the school’s students were highly impacted by the fire, he said, with all but about a dozen returning to Monarch. Those who didn’t return are attending the district’s online school or another high school.

“We have tons of supports coming in from all different avenues,” he said.

Monarch High graduate Sara Marie, with support from Monarch teacher Autumn Francis, created an alumni Facebook group that’s donated about $15,000 worth of gift cards to Monarch High and Monarch K-8 families affected by the fire. One alum, who teaches at Columbine High School, organized a collection drive and delivered about $3,000 worth of gift cards. Another in Chicago mailed $1,500 worth of gift cards.

Marie, who was in Monarch High’s third graduating class and grew up near Harper Lake in Louisville, said she has a deep love for her hometown and connections through the many friends and family friends who still live there.

“When I first heard about the fire, I was shocked and heartbroken,” she said. “This is my community. I had to do something.”

Others are supporting specific programs, from athletics to band.

Broncos lineman Dalton Risner raised $5,000 for affected students in the school’s athletic programs, while a professional swimmer donated full kits to Monarch swimmers who lost gear.

Monarch High band director Chuck Stephen’s band room was packed with instrument donations. He said colleagues in Colorado Springs put together an instrument drive, collecting 70 instruments in 10 days for affected elementary, middle and high school students.

Music stores donated their time to make sure the instruments were in good condition, he said, while other high schools and community members also donated instruments.

“This is an incredible effort that happened in a very short amount of time,” he said. “We were blown away. The band community in Colorado is a very tight group, so it doesn’t surprise me that so many people stepped up to help out families that were impacted by the fires. We are so lucky to have an amazing support network.”

Kelli Buffo, a retired teacher, organized a fundraiser that raised about $45,000 to cover the fees and travel costs for 70 Monarch High students to attend the state DECA Leadership Conference at the end of the month in Colorado Springs. Now, she’s working to raise money for FBLA students to attend their state competition in April.

Along with help with the travel costs, she said, some students need help replacing the professional dress clothes required for the competition that were lost in the fire.

Ava Schuler, a senior at Monarch High, qualified for the state DECA competition for the third year. But after her family’s home burned in the fire, she wasn’t sure she could go. Along with the cost of fees and travel, she needed business attire.

Her family is staying in Boulder — a 20-minute drive to school instead of her previous 30-second commute. When the fire started, she was in the mountains with her dad and sister. Her mom only had time to grab her contacts and medications as she evacuated.

“When the fundraiser happened, it was awesome,” she said. “I don’t have to stress about scraping together money or anything. I’m really excited to be able to go one more time as a senior before I go to college. It’s really cool. The experience you get is really amazing.”

Along with help from the community to attend the competition she’s worked hard to prepare for, she said, teachers at Monarch have helped by being understanding about schoolwork as she and her family deal with losing their home.

“Knowing that teachers are part of the support system is really important for kids right now,” she said.

Along with the alumni gift card campaign, another effort to help was started by Monarch High graduate Lauren Cooper, whose parents and 16-year-old brother still live in Louisville. She said her family’s house was unscathed, but across the street there are now “no houses at all.”

Thinking about what her brother and other students would need, she decided on tutoring to give them an academic boost. Working with friends, she set up the nonprofit tutoring company Boulder County Tutors to help students affected by the fire — as well as any Boulder Valley student in need of academic support.

“If we were in high school right now, we would be struggling,” she said. “We want to build more of a foundation and a support system for them.”

She set up the nonprofit with help from her mom. A recent University of Colorado Boulder graduate, she lives in California, while vice president Avery Ortiz-Hunt — also a Monarch High graduate — is a college senior in Baylor, Texas.

They have recruited volunteer tutors from CU Boulder, Baylor and Monarch High alumni, with about 50 people signed on as tutors.

“If our organization can help just one kid to keep pushing their educational goals and help teachers not being overwhelmed, it will be worth it,” Cooper said.

One of the volunteer tutors is Peyton Korte, a 2018 Monarch graduate. She’s now a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in environmental studies.

“The night of the fires, I was watching what I called my home, my community and the people that I cared for lose their livelihoods,” she said. “Immediately, I wanted to help. I would have went and put those fires out myself if I could have.”

She said she wants to help students not just with learning the material, but also in seeing school as a safe, comfortable space.

“These kids’ lives are going to be displaced for the next few years, and the one thing that will remain constant is that they have to go to school,” she said. “If I can help them be more comfortable in their learning environment, it can just be one more way that they can find some normalcy in their lives.”

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