Calm after the storm

Published 9:26 pm Saturday, December 6, 2008

After the tornado tore through the city on April 28, Tonya Allison, like many Suffolk citizens, wondered how she could help.

It just so happened Allison’s way of giving back would be through her 6-year-old student, Tatiana Hamilton.

Allison is a kindergarten teacher at Hillpoint Elementary School, and Tatiana was in her class last spring.

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When the tornado hit, it tore through the Hillpoint community, where Tatiana lived. Her house was destroyed. When Allison heard about what happened, she went to see how she could help.

“I went and saw them the next day,” Allison said. “You don’t understand the extent of the damage. They just had all of their stuff in these trash bags.”

The Hamilton family was sent to a hotel in Chesapeake while their home was rebuilt, and Nichole Hamilton credited Allison with going the extra mile for her daughter.

“While I spent seven hours sitting on a curb praying I’d be able to dig out my belongings, she took my daughter, fed her, took her to the local library to get her books, let her play with her own children and even let her spend many nights at her house,” Hamilton told the staff at Suffolk Public Schools. “Without Ms. Allison, I don’t know how my daughter would have been able to cope as well as she did.”

Allison would go to Chesapeake to pick Tatiana up for school. She brought her toys and even packed her lunches.

“I was just giving her a place to hang out and play,” Allison said. “Give her some clothes, some stuff that she could have. For me, I don’t feel like I did anything special. Everyone felt so helpless, and we were all thinking ‘What can I do to help?’ and she was right there.”

For her work, Suffolk Public Schools named Allison the winner of the Star Award for Instructional Staff at last month’s School Board meeting.

Allison, who has been teaching in Suffolk for two years, said she did not feel she deserved recognition for her work. She says she did not do what she did because she was a teacher helping a student, but because she was like everyone else.

“There were so many people that helped during the tornado, I thought that was neat,” she said.

“I thought it was uplifting to see the community come together like that,” she added later. “Then, as being someone not affected by the storm, it wasn’t so much I felt like I had to help, but that I really felt I wanted to find a way I could help. I was a person helping a family in a way I saw I could offer something.”