After Fire, Hillhouse Rallies For Family

Allan Appel PhotoShaylon Wells was able to rescue a tie-dyed shirt from the three-alarm blaze that destroyed her family’s home on Hazel Street last week. She wore it to Hillhouse High’s 1980s-theme day on Monday, where an even more important theme was on display: the love and empathy of her classmates and teachers.

Freshman Shaylon along with her little sister Nataye and mom Lisa Anderson were one of three familes who lost their homes on when a fire ripped through their Hazel Street building last Tuesday.

Since then Shaylon and her family have been living in one room at the Econo Lodge on Pond Lilly Avenue while her mom looks for a new house.

Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina said he rushed to the scene the morning of the fire when he learned one of the kids from the school was affected. He made contact with Shaylon’s mother, Lisa Anderson. In short order $500 was raised from students, teachers, and staff and presented to her.

On Monday morning, a second check for $500 was given in a brief but poignant ceremony in the school’s library.

“Our concept [at Hillhouse] is that we are a house family,” said Carolina.

That means “we try to teach our kids about life lessons beyond these walls. It’s about empathy and compassion,” he said.

“I don’t ask her [her mother about new home prospects]. I don’t want to put more pressure on her than she already has,” Shaylon, a soft-spoken teen, said Monday.

Things are tough, but getting better, said Shaylon.

For example, last week she wasn’t able to talk as freely to friends about her situation. Now she’s able to explain what happened. Last night she stayed with a friend, where she dressed for the 1980s day.

Still all the pizza and fast food, which is basically what they eat at the motel, is wearing on them. “We haven’t had a home-cooked meal since our house caught on fire,” she said. Shaylon misses her mom’s chicken, mac, and string beans.

Food for the Homeless & Bucks for Cancer Research

The Hillhouse Junior ROTC was on hand to mark the gift to Shaylon’s family. The troop also collected nearly 300 canned goods and other non-perishable items which it planned to deliver to the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen later Monday.

In addition, the school presented $500 to the Smilow Cancer Center for its “Closer to Free” fund.

It came about when Hillhouse science teacher Mara Dunleavy came out of treatment for breast and thymus cancer that was discovered in early September. When the kids saw a scar at her neck, from one of the procedures, the 35-year veteran turned it into what she termed a “teaching moment” for herself and her colleagues.

The kids from Karen Beitler’s second period AP Environmental Sciences class took the lead. They sold wrist bands and ribbons and raised $500 from modest contributions from about 900 kids, Beitler estimated.

For one student, Alejandra Covona, the experience was particularly personal. “I had an aunt who passed away [from breast cancer] because she didn’t have mammograms. She couldn’t afford them,” Covona said.

The whole experience of learning about the disease, its treatment, and raising money for research and prevention has not spooked her.

“I feel more in charge of [my] life,” she said.

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