Penn State grad helping ravaged Oklahoma town

A Penn State graphic design graduate and her classmates have come together to creatively give back to those affected by the tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area.

Dana Heller, a western Pennsylvania native, said after she heard of the tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., last month, she felt compelled to help — despite having no personal relationship to the area.

“My heart ached more and more with each news report about the devastation, so I contacted my graphic design classmates from the classes of ’13 and ’14, and together we created a poster benefit website,” she said.

The website, www.helprestoremoore.com, was made through a collaboration of Penn State students from as far away as Seattle to make posters and sell them to raise money for the Red Cross of Oklahoma. Her classmates stepped in to help out: Chris Cubellis was the web designer and Eric Margusity was the web developer, while Arielle Goft, Jaclyn McKay, Jake Nicolella, Kim Price and Jingjing Wu were some of the website’s biggest supporters, Heller said.

The goal is to raise at least $500. So far, Heller said the fundraiser is at about $200.

Each of the 11 posters made by the students sells for $15 for a digital copy or $25 for a tangible copy, and have positive messages and graphics to bring hope to the victims.

“I just said to my classmates to create something that’s positive, that has a message of hope and rebuilding, and they were excited to pitch in,” Heller said.

The tornado hit Moore on May 20. A week later, Heller said her benefit website was up and running.

“What many don’t realize is that long after the news coverage stops, the victims in Oklahoma will be trying to rebuild and we should all chip in,” Heller said.

The CDT reached out to a Moore resident and Briarwood Elementary School teacher who was directly impacted.

Robin Dziedzic was one of many teachers at the school who huddled with her fifth-grade class in the bathroom of the facility when the tornado hit the building.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. My home is damaged, but I did not lose personal belongings. I feel incredibly lucky to have survived the storm, but more than that, my two children survived the storm,” Dziedzic said. “If I had walked out of Briarwood Elementary, but my children did not, I do not think I would be able to go on. Fortunately, we all survived in the building.”

Fortunately, she said everyone survived in the building. That was not the case at another nearby school, Plaza Towers Elementary, that had seven fatalities. But she added that the help afterward is what has kept the community in one piece.

“Many leveled homes have spray painted signs that read, ‘Thank you volunteers!’” Dziedzic said.

Dziedzic said that immediately after the storm, people were “pulling together and doing whatever they could to help one another.”

“In the coming days, as people started to come out of the fog and look at the job at hand, volunteers appeared out of nowhere. The city was full of groups from all over and donations from across the country and further,” Dziedzic said. “The support that we have been feeling has held us up. I know people whose homes were reduced to matchsticks. The emotional energy that it must take to try to walk through that debris and find salvageable pieces of your life is nearly impossible.”

She said volunteers armed with gloves, shovels and buckets could be seen in every direction, “sometimes looking almost like a parade, an army, walking down the street.”

“Volunteers knock on doors asking if they can help. Hot meals are available on corners. I have seen families driving around offering fresh fruit and toiletries,” Dziedzic said. “It holds us up in a time when we have been knocked down. It is humbling that so many have gone out of their way to provide comfort, to get sweaty and dirty in the the cleanup, and to generously give to aid in our recovery.”