Walla Walla Valley Academy Serves During Flood

June 20, 2020 | Education | Betty Farley

Walla Walla Valley Academy in College Place, Washington, received word after school on Feb. 6, 2020, from a parent that help was needed to fill sandbags. Flooding was occurring all over the Walla Walla Valley and the call went out: “Houses are flooding. We have endless amounts of sandbags and sand but not enough help.”

As soon as word came in, a message was sent to students, parents, faculty and staff letting them know of the need in our community. Many replied and headed straight out to start filling sandbags. Erik Borges, WWVA principal, sent a message to teachers: “I’m sure you all have a lot planned in your classes tomorrow, but if anyone is interested I am happy to take kids to fill sandbags or go place them if needed.”

One WWVA teacher immediately replied, "I'm happy to offer any of my students and myself to help."

Another message soon followed from WWVA science and math teacher Karl Loree, saying, "Radical idea, could we take the whole school? If a flooding emergency isn't the time for us to step up, I don't know what is. There are literally hundreds of people in the valley with their homes underwater. I feel a little bit like a hypocrite since I was preaching protecting class time [earlier on in the year]. But I feel a natural disaster is the right time to make that sacrifice." 

By 8:30 a.m. on Friday, just over 14 hours after the call came in, the school was closed for the day and WWVA students, faculty and staff were headed to help their community. When the students arrived, the 1,200 sandbags that had been filled the evening before were nearly gone. In three hours, WWVA had filled 8,000 more bags and readied them for distribution. Throughout the morning, students loaded sandbags in their trucks and distributed them where needed.

Nonstop rain and warm temperatures caused melting snow in the Blue Mountains to fill waterways to above capacity. Several faculty and WWVA student family homes were downstream along Mill Creek and the Walla Walla River, and they called out for help. The river broke through the levy, and water was quickly rising.

Students helped place sandbags around the Frog Hollow Farm greenhouses. Amy Dietrich, an owner of Frog Hollow Farm, said they were holding their own but she was most worried about all the beautiful soil they had cultivated over the last three years that had now been washed down the river. Once things were stable at the farm, WWVA students drove their trucks, loaded with sandbags, to the next houses threatened by the river rising. WWVA counselor Tricia Lofthouse commented, “WWVA kids did awesome, helping all day!”

The whole community responded when the call came in, many saying the last time there was a flood of this magnitude in the valley was in 1996. WWVA students had homes flooded along with nearly the entire town of Waitsburg. Several students couldn’t get to Walla Walla from Pendleton because the road was flooded. Floodwaters wreaked havoc from Dayton to Touchet. Everyone was affected by this disaster, directlly or indirectly.

The water in the Walla Walla Valley eventually subsided, and many more days of cleanup followed. But the worst of the disaster was averted as the community came together to help each other. Walla Walla Valley Academy made a difference in the community, changing plans for a school day and putting the “Community Connection and Service” pillar of our mission statement into practice. WWVA leaders saw the need, and the students answered the call.