For Morgan and Dylan Koenig, Children’s Community Charter School in Paradise had been their school up until September.
When the two boys, who recently moved to Smith River, heard their former school had lost several of its buildings in the devastating Camp Fire, they felt they needed to help.
“I just felt like I needed to do something to help and I thought of doing a fundraiser because my school did a lot of fundraisers,” Morgan said.
“We owe the school a lot,” Dylan added.
The boys, with help from their mother Charie Koenig-Dent, started Pennies for Paradise, placing collection jars in several classrooms at Smith River School and collecting nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies to help rebuild their former school. They have raised $641.75 as of Tuesday, according to Smith River School Principal Diane Cochran-Wiese.
“It’s all about schools and they are all of our kids,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where they are.”
Pennies for Paradise will be collecting coins through Friday.
Koenig-Dent’s families lived in Magalia for about 16 years. She said her oldest daughter, who graduated from high school earlier this year, attended Children’s Community Charter School from kindergarten through eighth-grade.
“Our family went to school there for 13 years,” she said, adding that she was a staff member at the charter school during her boys’ final year there. “Those whole 13 years, I was volunteering there. (Morgan) was just a couple months old when Ellie started school, so both of the boys literally grew up on the campus.”
The Camp Fire started on Nov. 8 in Butte County and forced the evacuation of several communities including Paradise and Magalia. The fire covered an area of 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures, according to CALFIRE. It caused 88 civilian fatalities, according to CALFIRE.
According to Koenig-Dent, the day the fire started, Children’s Community Charter School principal Stephen Hitchko, and members of his staff saw smoke over a ridge and because the wind was blowing so fast, decided to call school off that day.
“A lot of people from what I gather from friends, quite a few people, the first they heard of the fire was when they got the call that they were canceling school,” she said. “The principal and a couple other staff members were there and they started loading kids’ files and stuff to get them out of there and by then they could see flames on the other side of the canyon and they could tell it was moving pretty fast.”
According to Koenig-Dent, the school’s office and the building that housed its fifth- through eighth-grade classes survived. However, its art building, the structure housing its kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms and its science building were lost in the fire, she said.
However, though its art building was destroyed in the fire, Koenig-Dent said its kiln survived. She even had pictures of ceramic medallions for the school’s kindergartners and a hawk sculpture someone had made. The hawks are the Children’s Community Charter School’s mascot, Morgan said.
Koenig-Dent, who has been following the progress of the fire since it started on Nov. 8, said nearly everyone that she knows in Magalia has lost their homes. She said the house they lived in before they moved burned down.
“We had our home, our school and our church,” she said. “Thankfully the church is still standing. A couple of people protected the church until they were told to evacuate. Paradise is an old town, a lot of old homes, a lot of beautiful pine trees and they have had no rain for a long time and it was just dry.”
Children’s Community Charter School is now sharing space with another school, Koenig-Dent said. Many kids are going to new schools, several starting over just this week, she said. Some of her friends have even moved as far away as Texas and Tennessee to start over after losing their homes, Koenig-Dent said.
For Morgan, who said his best friend lost his three dogs in the Camp Fire, describing how he feels is difficult.
Dylan said his friend also lost his dog as well as his hamster in the fire.
“It’s sad,” he said. “Very sad.”