Kindness for a neighbor: Elementary students pitch in after fire

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 22, 2019

 Dave Conte thanks students at Violet Elementary School Nov. 19 for raising money to help him after a house fire.

Dave Conte thanks students at Violet Elementary School Nov. 19 for raising money to help him after a house fire.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

 Second grader Athena McFarland reads to Conte from a piece that she wrote about her feelings on the day of the fire. Also pictured are Nicole Salem, a student teacher for second grade; second grader Mollie Jacks; Principal Joan Grassi; Conte; and his sister, Carol Conte.

Second grader Athena McFarland reads to Conte from a piece that she wrote about her feelings on the day of the fire. Also pictured are Nicole Salem, a student teacher for second grade; second grader Mollie Jacks; Principal Joan Grassi; Conte; and his sister, Carol Conte.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Dave Conte has lived in his childhood home in the 21000 block of Evergreen Street, across the street from Violet Elementary School, since 1963, when he was 2 years old.

But he was at work the early afternoon of Oct. 1, when neighbors and students at the school noticed fire coming from his house and called 911. Fire officials said that the heat and humidity of the day, along with 10 mph winds, likely contributed to the spread of the fire, which claimed the life of Conte’s 5-year-old golden retriever, Chevy.

Conte said the loss of his dog was tough, but he wouldn’t have made it through this difficult time without the support of his neighbors.

“I love this neighborhood. They’re very helpful,” Conte said.

Joan Grassi, the principal of Violet Elementary School, in Lake Shore Public Schools, said that students were impacted the day of the fire. Students in Suzanne Fowler’s first grade class were out on the track with physical education teacher Lisa Pecoraro, who called 911 when they spotted the fire. And smoke came into the school building, prompting them to turn off the air conditioning and shut the vents.

Students were completely safe at all times, Grassi said, but many were still nervous and scared.

“It was a pretty impactful day for the student body,” she said.

In the days that followed, she and her staff discussed with students how sad it was that the home had burned and the dog had died, and how to be sensitive and supportive to someone in the community. That’s when fifth grader Ella Pascoe approached her teacher with the idea to make and sell bracelets to benefit Conte.

Pascoe earned $40 on the first day, and by the time sales were complete, more than a couple of weeks later, she and her friends had raised $562.52 for Conte. Grassi said that donations from the community brought the total that the school was able to give to Conte to over $600 to help him rebuild.

Grassi said that the campaign was a perfect example of what they have been trying to instill in students, which is that “other people matter.”

“Their hearts are in the right place,” she said.

In addition to presenting the check to Conte, students also performed a dance for him, sang them their “kindness song,” and even read to him and his sister some papers they had written about their reactions to the fire.

Pascoe said that it was her mom who first suggested that she sell the bead and rubber band bracelets she likes to make to help Conte. The 10-year-old girl said she never dreamed that she and her friends would be able to sell so many, though.

“It makes me feel very good and thankful for what we did for him,” she said.

Conte thanked the students and told them how grateful he was for their support.

“If today’s youth is like this, tomorrow is great,” Conte said. “The love that they’re sharing in the community is truly great.”

Since the fire, Conte has been living in Roseville. He has a new dog in his life — a 5-month-old black Labrador retriever named Dude — and he looks forward to moving back to his home in St. Clair Shores as soon as the 1927 Sears Roebuck catalog home can be repaired. He even invited all of the students to come over when he is back to play with Dude.

“My neighborhood is wonderful. The school is wonderful,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the strength of the neighborhood, I wouldn’t still be here.”

 

The American Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters every year, 90% of which are home fires. Click here to donate to the Red Cross disaster relief fund: https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/disaster-relief.html