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Pirates show their neighbors some ‘Care’

Photo by Buffy Pollock The mother-daughter duo of Jessi Hatfield and Phoenix High School junior Makayla Hatfield-Calhoun, 17, help load a trailer full of debris for Talent homeowner Tracey Reichstein during Saturday’s “Pirate Care Day.“
Phoenix High School volunteer effort reaches out to help

Some three-dozen students, teachers and community members were up with the sunrise Saturday to infuse helpfulness and happiness into their recovering school district.

The first “Pirate Care Day” provided some welcome TLC for Phoenix-Talent School District 4 campuses and a slew of community residents who eagerly signed up for some much-needed help.

Residents requested help with debris removal, weed pulling, mowing and other outdoor tasks. Small teams of smiling faces, wearing “Pirate Care Crew” shirts, converged on neighborhoods between Phoenix and Talent homes for four hours starting shortly after 8 a.m.

Dave Ehrhardt, assistant principal and athletic director, said he was pleased with the turnout and said the event was a nice way for students to give back to a supportive community and to unite the district after a handful of chaotic years marked by the devastating Almeda fire and the pandemic.

Phoenix High senior Angel Meadows said she got more out of the impromptu work session than expected. For Meadows, 18, her senior year has been her first “normal year” of school since freshman year.

“I signed up initially because I needed more hours (toward graduation) for my Capstone project. But just doing the work and being out in the community was very rewarding,” said Meadows.

“We worked on PHS and then went over to do some work at Orchard Hill Elementary. I feel like, after the chaos we had all been through, this was really healing,” she said. “I feel like chaos tends to bring out the light in people. Even after all we’ve been through, we’re still together as one community and helping each other out.”

Phoenix High junior Makayla Hatfield-Calhoun brought her mom, Jessi Hatfield, along Saturday to help with debris pickup at a home in Talent. Hatfield-Calhoun climbed onto a work trailer to push down branches to make more room and helped her mom ready the load to be hauled away.

“Today was about helping at the schools and helping take care of those but also about helping in the community for people who really couldn’t do their own yard work on their own and needed help,” said Hatfield-Calhoun.

“Just being in the community and reaching out and making connections and being with friends. We almost didn’t have a school to come back to after the fires, and now both towns are healing — and we’re healing as one,” she said. “The students in our district share schools. Talent comes to Phoenix for high school and Phoenix goes to Talent for middle school. It’s one community.”

Megan Wilson, strategic initiatives and operations manager for US Cellular, said almost a dozen US Cellular employees chipped in for the work party and were excited to be part of Saturday’s energy.

“It’s good to be part of the community and helping with the school, and it's a lot of fun to help with something positive like this,” she said.

“Whenever there’s any type of disaster or a part of our community in need, we try to respond however we can. And we always love to pitch it on community projects like this. I love the willingness of our employees to be part of community.”

Five-year-old Kadence Walker, daughter of Phoenix High Principal Toby Walker, loaded branches onto a pickup truck and kept pace with adult volunteers with a big grin on her face.

“It feels good to help,” shrugged the kindergartener.

Photo by Buffy Pollock Phoenix High School Principal Toby Walker works at a home in Talent Saturday. He says the inaugural Pirate Care Day gave the school community “a chance to see how important it is to give back.”

Walker said he was happy with the large turnout and the willing spirit of the volunteers.

“It’s been a lot these past couple years. This was a way to give our kids an opportunity to serve and to give our staff and even our own personal families a chance to see how important it is to give back and to be there for our community.”

Teacher Carolena Campbell pitched in to help Saturday with her 5-year-old daughter. Campbell said the day was a great display of “Pirate Pride.”

“We have a phenomenal maintenance department, but there’s a lot of things they can’t always get to, so it was nice to help them out,” she said.

“It felt good to be out there. We’re hoping to get more requests next year. I think there’s an aspect of not as many people signing up because they think someone else might need it more. This was a really good thing for our students and our community and our schools.”

Talent homeowner Tracey Reichstein said the offer of help with her large yard brought her to tears. Reichstein’s husband passed away not long after the Almeda fire, leaving the widow to manage day-to-day life as well as the large backyard filled with branches and debris.

“I’ve been picking up all these branches for the last year and I don’t feel like I was going to ever get it all picked up. A former Phoenix teacher tagged me on their Facebook post about the clean-up, so I called and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll fit you in!’” Reichstein said.

“I couldn’t believe how many volunteers showed up. I’ve been just overwhelmed with all the stuff I need help to do. It brought me to tears when they offered to help. I’m very grateful.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com