If you follow my blog, I’m sure you’ve heard of Karen Marinelli. If you are brand new to Schoolgirl Style, Karen is a first grade teacher from Plaza Towers Elementary (the school in Moore, Oklahoma that was hit by a tornado) and was injured in the tornado protecting her students.
I was introduced to Karen this summer when her friend (Tessa Proffitt) left a Facebook message about Karen deserving to win one of my giveaways. Intrigued by her comment, I contacted Tessa to learn about Karen’s story.
Tessa sent me a video clip about Karen. It was one of the most moving stories I have ever heard.
To watch the video, click HERE…
Needless to say, I felt Karen was so deserving and I needed to do everything I could to help make life easier for this heroic teacher. I knew that I wanted to surprise Karen and personally go to Oklahoma to help decorate her classroom.
Due to other travel obligations, finding time to actually go to Oklahoma was almost impossible. After rearranging my schedule, I was finally able to find two days to go. It was such a “spur of the moment” trip. With the help of my mother, I packed a large suitcase with everything I needed to transform a classroom, then hopped on a plane!
With only a suitcase and a smile in my heart, I made my way to Oklahoma…
When I arrived, I drove to Moore, Oklahoma and planned to meet Karen at her new school. This would be the first time Karen would see her classroom. As I pulled into the school parking lot, I was impressed with the beautiful facility. Everything seemed so new and pretty. Karen chose to transfer to this new building since her own child attended this school. After her traumatic experience, it was only natural for Karen to want to be with her son.
When I met Karen, it felt like I had known her forever! She was so down-to-earth, humble, and very easy to talk to. I instantly felt very comfortable. We talked for a bit, I checked out her classroom, and made a list of everything I needed to purchase. I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for Karen’s room. I planned to meet up with Karen and a few of her teacher friends for dinner later that evening.
After I left her classroom, I had the opportunity to drive around and see Moore. I stopped in Mardel for my first time EVER and made a couple of trips to Hobby Lobby. My observation: EVERY place I went, I couldn’t believe the outpouring of kindness. One thing is for sure, Oklahoma has some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met!
After I finished my shopping, I headed to dinner with Karen, her husband, Dominic, and her teacher friends from Plaza Towers.
During our dinner, I asked specific questions about what happened that tragic day. Everyone took turns telling stories and I heard the horrific details of the tornado. The stories were heartbreaking. They talked about the poor teacher that lost some of her students and how she is doing today. They also talked about the children that died – some of these children were their former students. They talked about their own children and the struggles they now face after experiencing this tragedy. They talked about other fatalities in the town and rebuilding Moore. They talked about their fears. They talked about the struggles of rebuilding their school and so much more.
I could feel their emotions and hear the pain in their voices. Karen was not only recovering from an injury, emotionally, she was recovering as well.
With all of the awful things that happened, there were also wonderful stories of kindness, humanity, compassion, and the goodness of others. I spent a couple hours listening to these stories and was overwhelmed with emotion. It’s one thing to see it on the news, but it is quite different to hear the stories first hand.
Photos of Plaza Tower Elementary after the tornado…
The next day, I was greeted by Karen and all of her friends for a day of decorating! I planned to leave the next morning, so we only had this ONE day to get as much done as possible.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be a typical makeover where I address every single part of the room. I had one goal: get the classroom arrangement set, cover bulletin boards, and hang pennants and lanterns. I knew that Karen had enough help to finish the rest. I just wanted to get the BIG jobs done.
Whenever I do a classroom makeover, I usually choose the color combo and/or theme myself. This time was different. I wanted Karen to be surrounded in colors/patterns that she loves.
This is what Karen asked for…
(Schoolgirl Style Chevron Chic Collection with pops of hot pink, black, lime green, and turquoise)
As we worked, I had the chance to meet some amazing people that day! Karen was surrounded by so many family and friends that were excited to help! I also had the opportunity to talk to Karen and Dominic and get to know them better. We were even on the local news that night!
I learned that Karen and Dominic were just married in February. The tornado happened in May. The beginning of their married life together had been spent in a hospital and Dominic having to care for Karen. Despite the situation, it was evident that Karen and Dominic were madly in love and making the best of it. It was also evident that this tragedy made their marriage stronger. They are such a beautiful couple!
Karen and Dominic
After talking to Tessa (Karen’s friend that commented on my Facebook page) over email several times, I also had the opportunity to meet her in person. Tessa is such a lovely woman with a deep faith that just radiates from her. I instantly connected with this sweet girl!
There were others that I met that day that impacted me so much, that I still can’t talk about it without crying. The words that were spoken, the feelings and emotions that were felt. The genuine love and kindness I witnessed that day has changed my life.
The decorating became secondary to everything I felt and observed.
We worked and talked. We talked and worked. By the end of the day, this is how it looked when I walked out…
(Unfortunately, I lost my camera recently and with that, I lost all of my photos. Here are the only photos I have of the makeover.)
I went back to the hotel that night and thought about my day. I was very emotional. I was so moved by their stories. I was also moved at how this community has come together to help one another. I witnessed faith like I’ve never witnessed before. Some people may not think it’s appropriate to talk about religion and God in such a public way on a blog, but their faith could not be ignored. Going to Oklahoma ended up becoming a trip where these people did more for me than what I did for them. Their love and caring for one another was evident. The short time I spent in Oklahoma was one of the most impressionable and memorable trips that I’ve ever had.
As I left, Karen gave me a gift. I didn’t open it until I got back to the hotel room. This is what I found when I opened up the bag…
As you can imagine, this gift brought me to tears. I DO believe and I DO have faith.
As I headed towards the airport to go home that morning, I couldn’t help but notice the large “MOORE” water tower in the distance.
(This isn’t my photo, but this WAS my view)
I held up my cell phone to take one last picture before I went home. As I looked into the camera, I was shocked with what I saw…
A glistening, brilliant, blinding light covered the entire water tower – I was unable to take a picture.
As I drove to the airport and reflected on the people that I had met and the stories that I had heard, I couldn’t help but think of that blinding light shining over the Moore water tower. In my heart, I knew that God was shining over Moore, Oklahoma and helping this community heal.
As I was getting ready to board the plane, a woman walked over and said that she recognized me from being on T.V. the night before. She hugged me and began to tear up. She explained that she was a teacher and thanked me over and over for coming to Oklahoma to help. I was speechless.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully explain what I witnessed, all I know is that I LOVE Moore, Oklahoma! Some people come into our lives for a reason and I’m SURE Karen and I were meant to meet.