C.J. Alexander and her family barely had time to flee, let alone worry about their daughter’s laptop as the Nuns fire hopped Highway 12 and raced toward their rural Kenwood home.
“I woke up to the smoke, thank God,” Alexander, 47, said. “Our neighbors were already gone.”
The wind-fueled blaze that erupted during the night of Oct. 8 destroyed their home and everything inside. Without a laptop, her daughter, Zara, 11, depended the past six weeks on her father’s work computer to complete her schoolwork through the Google Classroom app. But her dad often travels, making the arrangement difficult.
Now, though, the Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School sixth-grader has her own laptop again.
She received a free Chromebook from the Sonoma County Office of Education and the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, which teamed up to provide laptops to K-12 teachers, school employees and students who lost their homes and belongings in last month’s fires.
“It’s healing for her,” Alexander said of her daughter, who also lost her iPod. “She has something that is hers.”
So far, about 40 teachers and 15 students requested laptops, said Angie Duplicki, a SCOE information technology support technician who’s helping oversee the computer giveaway. She expects the numbers to grow as more people learn of the program.
“It seems to be a straightforward need. We all use computers for everything,” said Cami Kahl, the volunteer center’s executive director.
Immediately after the fires broke out, the center’s phones began ringing with people wanting to help, Kahl said. She decided to reach out to close friend and Santa Rosa City School board president, Jenni Klose, to assess the community’s needs.
“It was looking at where the first needs would be,” Kahl said.
It was clear they needed to find a way to help teachers, she said. That’s where the idea for replacing teachers’ computers was born. Not only would the laptops help teachers with lesson planning, but also help on their road to recovery by connecting them to disaster relief resources, Kahl said.
“Teachers are important in this community,” she said. “We rely on teachers to take care of kids.”
About 150 teachers countywide lost their homes in the fires. About a fifth of them work for Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest school district. Many lived in the Coffey Park and Larkfied area, Duplicki said.
She said 1,300 students also lost homes in the fire. While the laptop drive first focused on teachers, they decided to expand it to serve the students.
“Especially for middle school and high school students, a lot of their work is done online,” Duplicki said. “They’re sharing documents with teachers and students online.”
She said about 300 computers have been donated, but the number could grow as more organizations and individuals donate. They’ve received laptops from companies such as Google, while others, including the California Department of Education and Salesforce, also plan to provide computers.
Kahl said they’re also collecting money to buy new laptops. The volunteer center has raised about $3,500, while $10,000 will come from SCOE, she said.
SCOE also created a separate School Fire Relief Fund to help impacted school districts with books, school supplies and other needs. So far, it has raised $31,000 through the fund.