Phoenix High School leadership students aim to raise at least $5,000 for Lahainaluna High School through various fundraisers this fall
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news staff reports
More than 2,400 miles separate Phoenix, Oregon, from Lahaina, Hawaii, but a fundraiser that kicked off on Wednesday brought the two communities closer together in spirit, in light of the town’s similarly devastating wildfires.
Seated with her fellow classmates in Phoenix High School’s pirate ship float on Wednesday along the route of the Pirate Country Parade, which celebrates homecoming at Phoenix High, junior Seneca Ikemire recalled the Almeda Fire and the devastation it brought to her own family.
The 17-year-old, who will be a leadership student at Phoenix High next semester, said she grew up in Kona, Hawaii, relocating to Southern Oregon in the last several years.
Like many students in Phoenix and Talent, Ikemire sees parallels between the fire that rampaged through Lahaina on the island of Maui on Aug. 8, taking 97 lives and destroying more than 2,000 structures, and the Almeda Fire, starting in Ashland and traveling a destructive path through Talent, Phoenix, and the edge of south Medford on Sept. 8, 2020.
“I know the feeling of loss and feeling empty … I really felt for everyone over in Lahaina,” she said.
Ikemire and a group of dedicated leadership students at Phoenix High rallied together to orchestrate a fundraiser for Lahainaluna High School that started on Wednesday with the PHS Pirate Country Parade. Following the joyous parade from the high school through the streets of Phoenix and back, the community gathered to support Lahainaluna High School with a Hawaiian plate dinner fundraiser following parade festivities.
Culinary arts teacher John Barber and culinary students cooked up about 50 pounds of Kalua pork and 50 pounds of chicken, served with rice and macaroni salad.
The Wednesday fundraiser, which aims to contribute towards raising $5,000 for Lahainaluna High School, was led by Phoenix High junior Javier Quintana. Quintana and his family helped house his neighbors after the Almeda Fire in 2020.
Quintana said it’s his love for the community in Phoenix and Talent — and in Hawaii — that got him interested in kickstarting the fundraiser.
“We knew it was for a good cause,” Quintana said.
“The biggest thing for them is to have the cash to do whatever they need,” he added.
Daily necessities such as clothing will likely be high on the list of needs.
“We just hope we can reach that goal and we can help and hopefully we can do enough to make an impact for them,” Quintana said.
Fundraising for Lahainaluna High will continue through December, including a “Miracle Minute” that was planned for collecting donations during the homecoming game.
Phoenix High also took orders for “Love for Lahaina” T-shirts, as well as general donations toward the cause. Kona Ice was also on hand, and planned to donate a portion of the proceeds to Lahainaluna High School. A fund drive will continue in November and December.
Students at Lahainaluna High returned to classes earlier this week, said Lisa Robin, leadership teacher at Phoenix High.
“As soon as it hit the news (of the fire in Maui), the first thing that came to mind was that we need to help them the way that other schools in our region helped us,” said Robin.
Schools from Washington State and throughout Oregon reached out following the Almeda Fire to ask how they could help.
When the fire in Lahaina occurred, It was one month short of three years since the Almeda Fire, Robin said.
“Right after that popped into my mind, within a day or a few hours, our principal texted me and said, ‘we need to do something for Lahaina,’” Robin said. “As soon as students started coming back into the building before school started, Javier Quintana reached out to me and said, ‘We need to do something for Lahaina.’”
Quintana took the lead from there in organization of the fundraiser.
“Many of the leadership students have stepped in to support and to help,” Quintana said.
Robin, who lost her home in the Almeda Fire, has supported the leadership classes efforts all the way.
“I think for me personally my losing my home made me more able to empathize with students who had lost their homes,” Robin said. “About a third of my students lost their homes and knowing what they had gone through on a personal level helped me to understand the trauma and the stress that they were going through.”
Quintana was 12 at the time of the Almeda Fire, when the state mandated students to stay at home during COVID-19.
“Losing your home when you have to be there was kind of wild,” Quintana said of his experience and that of so many of his classmates.
Ikemire recalled firsthand having to do school online while she and her mother stayed in a hotel for a time and then a trailer.
Ikemire said she wants students in Lahaina to know that it will get better with time.
“There’s always going to be people around you, even if it’s across the ocean, there’s people
here wanting to help you, and rooting for you,” Ikemire said. “You’re not alone, and I know it’s an empty feeling, but it will get filled again.”
Ikemire’s mom, Tracy Koa, lined up for a barbecue Hawaiian plate following the parade.
Koa previously taught at Phoenix High and also served as a community liaison with students and families in 2020 following the Almeda Fire, working with students and their families who lost their homes, even as she and Ikemire had also lost theirs.
With the mother and daughter’s time spent in Hawaii and losing their home in the Almeda Fire, Koa can easily relate with families in Lahaina and students at Lahainaluna High.
“There was literally nowhere for people to go,” Koa said of the fire in Lahaina on Aug. 8.
She’s proud to see her daughter and the leadership class supporting students in Maui, only an island away from where they lived just years ago.
“I had moved here (from Hawaii) … I left my friends, I left my other community, I came to this new place; lost everything after very shortly having lived here, and then I went into supporting students who had lost their homes,” Koa said.
Phoenix High leadership students also invited student members from Southern Oregon University’s Ho’opa’a Hawai’i Club to be on hand at the Wednesday fundraiser for support.
Jordan Makaena, a junior and criminology student at Southern Oregon University, said members of the club came to the fundraiser to help provide a “bridge” for students at Phoenix High and those at Lahainaluna.
“This is more for helping support them to do what they want to do,” Makaena said.
Those interested in sending in donations can send checks or cash to the following address: Phoenix High School, P.O. Box 698, Phoenix OR 97535.
Email Ashland.news staff reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.