Karin Jones collected what she could, little by little.
Ever since starting the physical education classes at Southside Elementary eight years ago, Jones took in whatever people were willing to give: balls and ball bags, bats and gloves, paddles, jump ropes, mats and cages for all the equipment.
All of Jones’ efforts were for naught after the Great Flood of 2016. Southside Elementary’s 5-year-old gym, already elevated 5 feet off the ground, took in 3 feet of water, washing away eight years’ worth of hoarding and leaving Jones and fellow P.E. teacher Cathy Matte with no teaching materials for their classes.
But after months of borrowing from friends and family, Jones received an unexpected phone call that quelled some of her fears.
The call came in January from Misty Boyd, a P.E. teacher at Charles Barrett Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. She told Jones of the school’s “Adopt a Gym” program, which fellow P.E. teacher Kevin McGrath started two years ago to help schools in need by providing them with free gym equipment.
Since 2015, CBE’s “Adopt a Gym” program has raised more than $10,300 and has sent much-needed P.E. gear to elementary schools in New York, Washington D.C. and even one in El Salvador.
CBE selects two schools per year for the program, and on this day Boyd was calling to inform Jones that Southside Elementary was one of the chosen two, along with another school outside of Richmond, Virginia. The images Boyd and McGrath had seen of the flood on television made this one an easy choice.
“I wasn’t even sure if it was related to a hurricane or what, but then I heard it was literally flooding from major rain,” McGrath said. “Then I saw the pictures of Southside with just the roof above water and nothing more. It seemed like the perfect candidate for 'Adopt a Gym.'"
After months of having little to nothing for their P.E. classes, Jones and Matte were on the way to replenishing their supplies in a way neither saw coming.
“It was out of nowhere,” Jones said. “They donated a lot of stuff, and they let us pick it all out.”
Jones and Matte made a list of the items they needed and sent it to Boyd and McGrath, who orchestrated a Dance-a-thon in their school’s gymnasium to raise money for the equipment. The 100 participants raised nearly $3,400, more than enough to fulfill the wish lists of both schools while also having some leftover to send to a local homeless shelter.
In March, packages began arriving at Southside’s temporary location behind Juban Parc Elementary on Brown Road. Inside was everything Jones and Matte had asked for: footballs, softballs, gloves, jump ropes, paddles, and a cage with wheels on the bottom for easy transportation.
There was even a bag large enough for the softball bats, which Jones had been lugging around in a plastic laundry basket.
Even though the packages had actually arrived, Matte still had trouble believing this random act of kindness was real.
“When I first heard about it, I was like, “They just adopt a gym?” Matte jokingly recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Despite the much-appreciated gifts, Jones and Matte still face challenges on a daily basis. Their P.E. classroom houses two, sometimes three classes at a time, filling the 8-foot-high room with the sounds of screaming, hyperactive children.
But the gifts from McGrath, Boyd and Charles Barrett Elementary are a start.
“Eventually, we’ll get back whole, but this is incredible,” Jones said. “I feel fortunate.”