Helping a school rebuild

Grass Valley student reaches out to help small Tennessee school devastated by flooding

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Grass Valley students (left to right) Ashley Gerst, Cassidy Kendall, Sierra Goodwin, Hanna Upkes, Janessa Wilson and Jenna Efraimson wore red to school every Tuesday to support Wilson's efforts to help Kingston Springs Elementary School.

When Janessa Wilson heard about the recent flooding in Kingston Springs, Tenn., the first words out of her mouth were, “Mom, what can we do to help?”

Wilson, a 9-year-old Grass Valley Elementary student, felt compelled to do something, especially after hearing the town’s only elementary school had been flooded.

“My uncle (James Fenton) lives there, so I thought he could help put me in touch with the school.”

Fenton did just that, connecting Janessa and her mom, Natalie, with Jenny Brackman, a school parent and volunteer.

“You cannot begin to understand how thankful our community is for your support,” Brackman said in an e-mail in mid-May. “Because things were so damaged here, they had to cancel our school year early.”

The small town, with just 2,500 people, was completely devastated after the May 2 floods hit the area, reported to be the worst in more than 100 years.

“I have been so impressed with Janessa and her efforts,” Brackman said. “Our community has been dealt a devastating loss with the destruction at Kingston Springs.

Our community is filled with broken roads, destroyed houses and uprooted trees. But it is amazing to me that young girl from so far away, and without the constant news coverage and daily reminders of the loss is motivated and moved enough to help.”

Many people lost their jobs and their homes, and the school was under 6 feet of water for several days.

Brackman added that the school library, complete with 9,000 books, had been totally destroyed.

This inspired Janessa to begin fundraising efforts to buy books for Kingston Springs.

She and her mom held a garage sale and set up a table at the school sock hop to raise money for the library. In addition, Natalie, a teacher at Grass Valley, asked her colleagues for donations.

At last count, they had raised $520.

“It makes me feel really good to know I have helped,” Janessa said. “I’m helping out people who really, really need it.”

Natalie agreed.

“I am so proud of her,” she said. “This is just a good example of easy ways to help other people. So far, everyone has been very grateful and can hardly believe someone Janessa’s age is thinking about them.”

As a way to say thanks, the school will have Janessa’s name stamped on all the books she buys for Kingston Springs Elementary.

Janessa, who loves to read, is very pleased.

“That is going to be pretty cool,” she said.

Natalie and Janessa are planning a trip to Kingston Springs for July 20-27. The T.V. show, “Extreme Home Makeover,” has picked the school for one of its big projects, and the two were invited to attend.

“This continues to be an exciting adventure,” Natalie said.

And it’s not the end of the story, either. Beginning in the fall, classrooms at Grass Valley will “adopt” those in Kingston Springs. Students have already made cards and a cardinal bird, which is the Kingston Springs mascot.

To make a donation to the library fund, contact Natalie at