Through a partnership with Lake Villa-based organization Relief Through Leadership, a local school district is donating its retired classroom furniture to schools in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.
Over the district’s winter break, crews of custodians from Prairie Grove School District 46 worked Friday night, Saturday and Sunday preparing over 400 pieces of its old furniture for pickup. They staged all the furniture by type and size in the multipurpose room, and then Relief Through Leadership members were on-site first thing Monday morning, Dec. 23, to pick up the furniture.
This furniture will go to Rosa E Paris Elementary School in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and Guillermina Rosada Elementary School in Loiza.
Kevin Werner, business official for Prairie Grove School District 46, said the district has already been in the process of upgrading its furniture in its pre-kindergarten through fourth grade classrooms. Because of this, the district had an inventory of old and used retired furniture it was looking to part with, he said.
Relief Through Leadership’s network has private donors that cover the transportation and logistics costs of moving the furniture. Werner said this means there will be no out-of-pocket costs for the school district.
Relief Through Leadership Board member Terence Dunleavy said although the organization started out giving new technology to schools in Puerto Rico and other places, when they have the opportunity to give them a new desk, or tables and chairs, they always “jump on it.”
“We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to take that reused furniture down in needy schools,” Dunleavy said.
Volunteers with the organization also have gone to Puerto Rico to train teachers.
Giving the Puerto Rican students things such as new technology and furniture helps them learn, which in turn benefits the teachers, Dunleavy said.
He said the furniture from District 46 will help the schools reconfigure their classroom environment, and make it more collaborative.
Dunleavy said the furniture has to be in pretty good condition before it’s sent to the island.
“We want to make sure it’s suitable to the new environment,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy said they expect to ship the furniture down to Puerto Rico over the next 30 days. It takes about two weeks to get there, then Relief Through Leadership has to coordinate with the schools and community to offload the equipment.
The last time Dunleavy was in Puerto Rico was in June 2019.
It’s “somewhat disheartening” to see the schools that have been ravaged by the hurricane, with some having visible signs of mold and leaking roofs, Dunleavy said.
However, Dunleavy said teachers he met and were introduced to were still like “mama bears” with their students, acting as if they were bear cubs.
“They were very dedicated educators,” Dunleavy said. “They had a thirst for training.”
“The hurricane was a knockout in many ways,” Dunleavy said. “The fact that the [districts] are able to step up and help is just outstanding.”