January 23, 2020

BROOKVILLE, Ohio - The "Donor Strong" message of January Ohio Blood Donor Month rings true at Brookville High School. Students who donated at the Jan. 21 blood drive learned deep lessons about caring for the community after the Memorial Day tornado outbreak that ravaged their town and their school.

"Most of the damage was to the high school wing," said Brookville High School Assistant Principal Lynne Nickell, as she pointed down a long, freshly painted hallway lined with lockers. "The roof was gone. Everything was open to the sky."

On a hallway wall before entering the gym for the winter blood drive, a jagged window-pane display of photos memorializes the aftermath of the storm: The open roof of the high school, blown-out glass doors, damage to nearby homes, and roof supports dangling above desks in a shattered classroom.

"We went into one classroom and there was a circle pattern of papers on the floor where the wind had spun around," said Lynne. "It was amazing."

Perhaps more amazing was Brookville's resolve and the high school's recovery. The storm meant the sudden end of the school year before final exams. But by mid-July repairs were far enough along to announce the school would re-open in the fall. Final work was underway as the teachers returned for training.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving the school gave thanks with a Community Blood Center blood drive and reached 100 percent of goal with 33 donors.

Brookville's FFA club is the student sponsor group for all three Brookville High blood drives. Sign-ups were running behind for the Jan. 21 blood drive, so FFA President Chloe Brooks spent the three-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend recruiting donors.

"I got eight or nine students to come help donate," said Chloe. "I texted as many as I could that I knew would come to donate and I posted it on Snapchat to get more to come."

Despite the Monday holiday, the blood drive totaled 27 donors for 105 percent of collection goal.

"Chloe texted me and I said, yeah, sure," said junior Haley Braden who made her first lifetime donation. Haley remembered the night of the tornadoes.

"I was in the basement," she said. "My house was fine. We were lucky. We went out that night and there were a lot of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars. Everything was dark, no lights, and very scary. Unbelievable."

Senior Chelsey Schellabarger lived in a part of town that was not so lucky. Chelsey is a senior who made her fourth lifetime donation at the Jan. 21 blood drive.  She survived the storm with her father.

"We were in the basement," she said. "We knew that night the damage to our house was bad.   A tree fell on it. The living room and several rooms, you looked up and saw the sky."

"We tried to help where there was a need," she said. "We tried cheering up everybody in our neighborhood, trying to make the best of a bad situation. There were a lot of people crying and upset.  We tried to be optimistic. We knew it would be fine."

Chelsey and her dad couldn't stay in their home. "It was a little emotional," she said. "As soon as we found out, we started making calls." They've been living in a rented home while waiting for repairs, but they hope to move back home in April.

"Nothing is different from before," Chelsey said about the return to school and continuing the blood drives. "The neighborhoods were cleaned up and we started the school year. We talked about, 'let's do things as normal.' It was if the tornado didn't happen."

Senior Ethan Deitzer slept through the tornado, his home intact. "The next morning, I was out helping out," he said. He made his first lifetime donation at the Thanksgiving week blood drive. "When we got the blood drive going, nothing was different," said Chloe.

Ethan was one of the donors who responded to Chloe's text for donors for the January blood drive. "It's a good thing to do," he said. "The last time I donated I got a call that my blood was used to save someone's life."

Assistant Principal Lynne Nickell said Brookville High looks back on 2019 with a sense of good fortunate and gratitude.

"The good news is that the place where we would have put our children if we had been in school that day, was undamaged," said Lynne. "It was absolutely safe."