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$1M Donated To Students, Teachers In Burned California Town

Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.
Associated Press
Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.
$1M Donated To Students, Teachers In Burned California Town
$1M Donated To Students, Teachers In Burned California Town GUESTS: Loren Lighthall, principal, Paradise High School Emilee Taylor, co-president, Paradise High School

It was supposed to be a truly carefree time of their lives filled with hope about the future. But after losing their homes belongings and in some cases loved ones the students of Paradise High School are faced with a time of uncertainty and devastation. When a local businessman heard about the destruction caused by the campfire that ripped through the town of Paradise he decided to give a little hope in the form of a one thousand dollars to each student and staff member of the high school. It was San Diego real estate developer Bob Wilson who inked each check by hand. Joining me is Lauren Whitehall the principal of Paradise High School. And Emily Taylor who is a senior at Paradice High School and copresident of the student body. Thank you both for joining us today. No problem. Thank you. You know I first want to start by asking how are you both doing and how are your families. Lauren we'll start with you. We're doing okay given the circumstances. I think the big problem for most people is holiday. So seven kids six of which are still home. So there's eight of us and a dog that's the immediate concern is just finding housing and the building for my family we live in three free place. Since the incident and we're going to have to separate some of my family go to Idaho with my wife and some are sent here would be so long as we find housing. So I think we'll be OK. And Emily how are you holding up. I'm my family's doing great right now. We're staying with my grandparents down in Chico. So is my sister my mom and my daughter we're staying down in Chico for right now. Now Lauren Bob Wilson wrote one thousand eighty five checks. Now does that mean that many people in the school community lost their home in the camp fire. About 97 percent of D.C. lost their home. What about 20 percent of regalia which is also part of the school district so we have about 975 students. I'm guessing eight hundred seventy five to 900 lost their homes. And Emily what does this donation from Bob Wilson mean to the students and faculty and staff of Paradise High School to them. I feel like it means it gives them a slight bit of hope that knowing that things will get better. In the meantime and that things are just going it better for US born this the more that it gets out there the more people are willing to give because very soon you know the attention will be somewhere else to whatever comes next. And it will be kind of be forgotten. Our kids need and appreciate the help that has been directed toward us. And Lauren sixty seven percent of students qualified for a free launch last year. So life was tough. Before the fire what can you tell us about where those students are who lost their homes in the fire and you know where are they staying. Well we've contacted every student or made an attempt to. We're still reaching out to about 30 40 50 or so and they're far and wide. There is no industry in paradise. It's a service based economy. You work at the school the hospitals you do taxes there six cars or so once all of the people are gone and that's gone. There are no jobs. So parents and families have to go where the jobs are. We have people in San Francisco and Oregon and Texas and all over there having to go there to get housing and jobs so they're spread pretty far and wide. Namely you know your home was destroyed in the fire and yet you know you stepped up to plan and organize the event yesterday to distribute these checks to your fellow students and the school faculty and staff. Why was that so important to you. I just really like helping others helping others bring joy and happiness. I felt like just serving our community is a way I could help. You are a senior at the high school. What's next for you right now what were you planning to do before the fire happened. I was sort of unsure about what I was going to do for college plans after high school. I think I'm just stay at the local community college then transfer it's like a UC. And how do you plan on using the 1000 dollars. I'm planning using it towards like college tuition fees and Lauren how do you plan on using the 1000 dollars. For me it's just kind of a bridge for the insurance. I think a lot of the insurance companies have been pretty good. But it's going to take a while for them to get in there and get it done. So it really just kind of insulates us from having to wait. So for me and my family it's just basic necessities. And Lauren the last time NPR spoke to you you weren't sure about what was going to happen next to the school because the entire town burned down. Do you know more about what is next. Well there's 13 days left in the semester and so we're trying to get kids their credit so they can finish the semester and move toward graduation. We do have a location of a Chiko mall that we are going to sign the lease for hopefully today and kids will be able to meet with their teachers e-mail their teachers. It will be online and you can come into the center to get your credits and finish this semester and then for next semester we're looking for a location for a building so that we can do something more traditional as well as the online. I've been speaking with Lauren Whitehall the principal of Paradise High School and Emily Taylor who is a senior at Paradice High School in copresident of the student body. I wish you all the best and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Thank you. Thank you.

A businessman pained over the destruction to the town of Paradise caused by a deadly Northern California wildfire on Tuesday gave $1,000 each to students and staff members from the local high school.

Real estate developer and restaurant owner Bob Wilson arrived in the nearby city of Chico with two suitcases stuffed with checks totaling $1.1 million for Paradise High School's 980 students and 105 teachers and staff members.

Wilson is from the San Diego area and said he thought of the donation after reading a Los Angeles Times story about the high school still standing with students scattered and separated from each other. One student told the newspaper he missed spending time with his friends at local hangouts and another said she cries constantly.

RELATED: Zinke Says Northern California Fire Costs Likely In Billions

Wilson is 90 and said in an interview that his memories of high school in the 1940s inspired him to act.

His intention was to make the kids smile and "give a little freedom to do whatever they wanted to do and maybe take their minds off what happened for a short period."

He said reading about the hardships faced by the Paradise high school students broke his heart and he wanted them to know that someone cares about them.

"High school had a great impact on my life," he said. "In fact, I would say it was the first, last and only truly carefree time."

School Principal Loren Lighthall said he thinks about 900 students lost their homes because of the fire that killed 88 people.

"Bob's donation puts money in each kid's pocket right now for food, gas, clothes, for essential things," he said.