DILLON, S.C. – Students who had grown resigned to old, “nasty” furnishings at their dilapidated middle school in rural South Carolina were elated Monday to find new furniture and a freshly painted cafeteria, thanks to a student’s plea, a president’s speech and a businessman’s response.
“I was amazed. They changed the whole thing,” said J.V. Martin Junior High eighth-grader Jessica Manning, 13. “It let me know somebody cares about us.”
Other students could be heard uttering the words “awesome” and “excellent” as they stared at the new furniture, custom made in black with varnished oak tops, that replaced creaky old desks coated in graffiti and gum.
President Barack Obama brought national attention to the school Feb. 24 in his first address to Congress when he read a letter from eighth-grader Ty’Sheoma Bethea asking for help replacing her run-down school.
Bethea had addressed her letter to Congress, so her principal sent it to the White House and South Carolina’s congressional delegation.
Darryl Rosser, CEO of classroom furniture supplier Sagus International, called Principal Amanda Burnette the day after Obama read Bethea’s plea. After visiting the campus four weeks ago, Rosser said he knew he had to do what he could.
Over the weekend, Sagus sent nearly 2,000 pieces of furniture on four tractor-trailer loads. Volunteers worked throughout the weekend to put the surprise together, including a final coat of paint about 8 p.m. Sunday.
“Even though our dream is not yet completed. … We now have a better school. We now feel better about our school,” Bethea said. “We are not quitters,” she added, echoing the words in her letter, “and we are not through.”