Fire ignites a sense of community among schools

Emily Bellopede of Our Lady of Hope School, Blackwood, and her father Dan enjoy the Daddy-Daughter Dance at John Paul II School, Stratford, which offered to host the event after hearing news of the Blackwood school’s fire.

Written by Mary Beth Peabody

Tables set, party favors in place, food prep in the works, a DJ with his playlist, and more than 80 dresses on hangers — all ready for the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance at Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Blackwood.

Girls in fifth through eighth grades had dates lined up with the special men in their lives until a three alarm fire left them without a venue.

As first responders worked to contain the fire, news was spreading quickly through broadcast and social media avenues. Right away, the Saint John Paul II Regional School/Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish community reached out and offered use of their gym for the dance.

Teachers and parents scrambled to get into the Our Lady of Hope gym, which was unharmed, before the entire property was declared off limits. They moved the party to John Paul II, where eighth grade boys broke down lunch tables and helped set up for the event.

“Whatever they could carry, they took,” said dad Joe McDowell about the move from one school to the other. “We can’t thank JPII enough. They cancelled an event for us.”

McDowell’s daughter Mia is in eighth grade. With an older daughter who also graduated from Our Lady of Hope, he has been to several Daddy-Daughter dances.

“It’s a great night. You see all these kids who have been together since kindergarten, you meet new families and catch up with fathers who have older kids. We have pictures from [all the dances].” McDowell said this year was especially emotional.

“I’ve gotten emails from [Our Lady of Hope] parents, saying how much they appreciated it,” said John Paul II principal Helen Persing. “I think we made so many girls happy.”

Schools superintendent Mary Boyle has received similar feedback, along with numerous offers of help from individuals and other schools in the diocese.

“A couple of schools are planning dress down days, with proceeds going to Our Lady of Hope,” said Boyle. “The major repairs will be covered by insurance, but there are always unexpected expenses when something like this happens. The outpouring is a confirmation of the wonderful sense of Catholic community in our schools.”

Williamstown’s Saint Mary School cheerleaders presented a basket of goodies to the Our Lady of Hope cheerleaders at the Pot of Gold Classic cheerleading competition Sunday at Timber Creek High School.

Our Lady of Hope friends Mia McDowell and Mia Perrone described the fire as upsetting, scary and sad. And both expressed their gratitude for the change in venue.

“I thought it would be weird at first, but it was better to still have (the dance),” said Mia McDowell, who agreed it turned out to be a great night.

“It was very nice that JPII offered their school to us,” said Mia Perrone. She also told her mother, Monica, that “the best date a girl can have is with her dad.”

Monica Perrone explained that the Daddy-Daughter Dance committee is made up of eighth grade mothers who work with Patricia Cardamone, Our Lady of Hope STEAM teacher, and the school’s principal John Cafagna. 2019 parent chairs were Lisa McDowell, Monica Perrone and Judi Danaher. “But, on Friday,” said Perrone, “many parents, community members and teachers assembled to help the school in any way possible.”

Read more here in the Catholic Star Herald.