Monday, March 30, 2015

Donations and Delivery

Once I had decided on what I wanted and collect and donate, the next question became "how"?  I knew I could use my position as a teacher and a coach to do something in school.  I contacted the head swim coach Rachel Banes, as well as my principal, Dr. Mark Murrell.  Both consented, so I had that avenue, but I wanted to reach a wider audience.

My first thought was Facebook.  I started with the Virtual Yardsale group for my subdivision.  Within minutes of posting, I had people offering to donate what they had.  It seemed that every one that responded had a bag of the small hotel soaps, shampoos and what not that they had taken from various hotels while traveling with the idea that they would use them some day, but never did.  What they had was gathering dust, and they were happy to donate.  Emboldened by my early success, I decided to try other local Facebook groups of the same sort, and the results were amazing.  People would drop off the donation on my doorstep, and there were amny days that I can home to several bags/boxes of donations.  Once I went back to work, I had people drop off donations at the school and the district natatorium.

 My first large donation came to me courtesy of Coach Kevin Murphy of Southlake Carroll High School.  I knew they would be traveling down to the Woodlands for a swim meet.  I took a chance, and sent him

Because of the success I had on social media, I next approached local media with the hope of getting a small blurb.  I emailed every member of the staff listed at the Conroe Courier.  My email was received right around the time of the AFSP's Out of the Darkness Walk here in the Woodlands.  I was put in contact with a Kimberly Sutton, a reporter for the paper.  She was writing an article about the walk, and had wanted to speak with a Survivor.  Because most suicides are not reported, it had been difficult for her to find one, and the ones she had found seemed unwilling to speak.  I wanted to be very open and honest and bring to light what had ahppened to Peyton.  My emotions were still raw, but I knew the pain I was feeling was crippling, and I wanted to prevent any one from ever going through that again.  I spoke at length with Kimberly about Peyton, and the ARTICLE she wrote was very well done.  the article ran on Sunday, Novmber 1, 2014.  I had expected some response to the article, but what I received was an unexpected blassing.

Because I am a teacher, my work email is public domain, and my inbox began to fill.  Not only with people wanting to donate, but with emails from people who were also Survivors who expressed their condolences, invited me to Survivors groups, and thanked me for speaking out.

I am lucky to work with one of the greatest faculties in the history of public education.  In order to support me, many teachers at my school offered their students extra credit for bringing in donations.  What I had expected to be a slow trickle became a deluge.  Every day, donations were being dropped off at the school and brought to my classroom.  My room began to fill (and smell better) with everything from soap to deodorant, to sewing kits, shaving cream, razors, tooth paste, tooth brushes and on and on and on.  I found myself having to load up carts and take it down to the swim team storage cage on a regular basis.  The scene would repeat itself at the natatorium and my garage.

In addition, I set up a donation table at the Conroe ISD Natatorium.  It seemed like every day, more and more was being dropped off.  The president of the swim team booster club posted the article from the paper above it, and in addition to the donations, there were condolence cards and notes of encouragement.

On November 2o, 2104, I spoke to the students at Wunderlich Intermediate School.  Their librarian, Bradley Noble, had read Peyton's story in the paper and she asked Coach Matt Maudlin to contact me.  It seems that every year the school adopts a cause and collects donations, and this year it was Products for Peyton.  Before I spoke, they showed me everything that had been collected.  There were boxes upon boxes that they would later take to the House.

On November 21, 2014, College Park High School was to host the Texas Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (TISCA) Meet.  It is one of the largest invitational high school swim meets in Texas.  I came up with this idea of asking the other coaches to help out with donations.  I asked the host of the Texas Swimming Blog to post the information as well, and he was more than gracious about it.  The response was incredible.  By the end of the meet, the table was filled, and more donations were left underneath.

Other schools through out the area took up the call as well.  From people that I hadn't seen in years to total strangers, donations kept coming in.    It was hard to keep up with all the sorting.  I recruited the entire swim team, and progress was made, but I did the majority of it myself.  It was my way of staying connected to Peyton.  As I sorted, I would talk to him, tell him about all the strangers that had heard about him and wanted to help.  There were times where, all alone in the swim cage, I would sit and cry at the kindness of strangers, and how much Peyton's story had touched them.  I came across hand written notes from students tell me about their own experiences, and how they felt connected to Peyton.  I lost count at 20 as to how many different schools had collected and donated products.

One of the largest donations caught me completely off guard.  I was in my room with a class when I received an email from Dr. Murrell asking me to come to his office.  I explained that I was with a class, and that I had to leave immediately after class to take the swimmers to the pool.  He said I needed to get some one to cover my class.  After finding an available teacher and explaining why I needed coverage, I went down and meekly stuck my head into Dr. Murrell's office.  He handed me an envelope with a letter from Nicholas Tawse, an College Park alum, and a student at my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin.  It seems that while he was home for a visit, he saw another ARTICLE that had appeared in the Woodlands Villager.  He was touched by the story, and noticed the picture of Peyton and I at a UT football game.  He and his fellow Braves at the Tejas Club at UT held a collection for Products for Peyton.  in addition to the letter was a check for $200 for the House, as well as several large boxes of donations.

As the semester came to an end, I decided that it was time to start making donations.  The first one was made on December 19th.  Lisa and I went to Galveston for our 5th anniversary.  Knowing that there was a House there on the island, we loaded our SUV with our clothes for the weekend, and as many boxes as we could carry.  It was a cold, wet weekend, but our spirits were lifted knowing that all of our hard work was about to pay off.  Because it was a Saturday, the House had a skeleton staff, but the lady that let us in was amazed at the donations.  I knew this was just the beginning, but it felt good.

The stage was then set for the big donation.  A former athlete of mine, Michael Janousek offered to let us use his trailer and drive down to the House in the Houston medical center.  The week before, I began to email and message every local news reporter I could think of in the Houston area.  I was contacted by Tom Abrhams of KTRK, Channel 13.  He agreed to meet us at the House.  I met Michaeland head track coach Mike Gibson at the school and we loaded the trailer.  We then headed over to the Natatorium where swimmers and parents, as well as Lisa, Emmy and my Dad helped us load out the rest.  We drove to the House with not only the donations, but also Peyton and Ian's old bikes.  We had been wondering what to do with them, as we had decided long before October to get both of the boys new bikes for Christmas.  Now we knew exactly where they would best be put to use.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Mikki Donnelly of the House, and Mogie, the official House dog.  As soon at Tom and his cameraman arrived, we began to unload, and unload, and unload.  More than 120 boxes were donated that day.  As the last box was unloaded, the emotional impact washed over me, and I embraced Lisa and let loose with my emotions.  The STORY ran that night, but the most important delivery had yet to be made.

Toward the end of December, Lisa and I made plans to view the Gone with the Wind exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin and to take in the Texas State History Museum as well, but the most important stop to me would be returning to the House in austin to begin paying them back for all the kindness We lest on a cool cloudy morning, but as we got closer to Austin, the clouds began to break, and the sun came out to warm the day.  The last time we had made this trip, it had been a cold wet night, and my state of mind was one of confusion and fear.  when we got closer to Austin, we turned on the directions, and slowly wound our way through the streets.  When we arrived at the familiar gate, We pulled into the parking lot, and my eyes immediately went to the balcony of the room we had stayed in.  I remember that October date.  I stood on the balcony to check the weather before I walked over to the hospital to say a final goodbye to Peyton.

We were met in the parking lot by my friend Jeff Phillips and his wife Trudy.  We walked up to the door, each of us carrying a box or bag.  The lady who greeted us was gracious and welcoming.  she thanked us for the donations, but I had to tell her we weren't done.  Two more trips with a cart, and all the boxes, 15 in total were unloaded.  Once again, it didn't look like enough, and unfortunately, it never will.

We have been back to the  House in Austin twice since then.  In February, when the College Park Swim Team members headed to the state meet, I made sure to load a box for each of the girls attending.  The girls were amazed by the House, and were even treated to a tour.  While they were on their tour, I ventured out to the garden to see Peyton's rock.  At the House in Austin, a local craftsman engraves the name of every child that passes while their family stays at the House.  It was the first time I was able to see the rock, and the tears flowed freely.  Once again, I had a long talk with Peyton before heading off.

In March, we made another trip there.  We had gone to Round Rock to attend a tree planting ceremony at Peyton's old school. We took another load of donations, and Ian, Emmy and Lisa were able to see Peyton's stone as well.

That load cleaned out the supply of donations that I had left in the garage.  However, a few days later, I came home to several boxes that had been delivered that day, and the collection began again.  In April, we will be attending a tree planting ceremony in San Antonio honoring organ donors.  I know there is a Ronald McDonald House there, so if you live in San Antonio, let them know we are coming, and donations are coming with us.