Davidson Day student leads tornado relief effort
by Staff Writer
When Davidson Day School rising seventh-grader Avery Sommer woke up in Pleasant Grove, Ala., he couldn’t believe his eyes.
It was dark when he and his father arrived in the Birmingham suburb on the Memorial Day weekend. He came because Pleasant Grove was one of the towns ravaged by hundreds of tornados on April 27, but he still was shocked by the mountains of debris and destroyed homes that greeted him with daylight.
“We got there at 9 p.m. at night, and we didn’t really see anything because it was too dark,” Avery said. “In the morning, I didn’t expect to see so much destruction.”
The week before, Avery helped organize a drive at Davidson Day, a private school in Davidson, to collect toiletry items for Alabama residents displaced by the storms. He came up with the idea when his father’s company, Roush Yates Engines, of Mooresville, began collecting items and assembling a volunteer team to travel to Tuscaloosa to help with clean-up efforts. Because volunteers from across the country flocked to Tuscaloosa, where the storm killed more than 40 people, the Rousch Yates team made its way to Pleasant Grove, instead.
When Avery arrived at one of trip’s work sites, a house reduced to a pile of rubble, he began sifting through the debris to help find some of the family’s lost items. Finding possessions, including an Xbox, bike, photographs, intact ceramic vases and a pet lizard’s box, brought home the reality of what Alabama residents had lost.
“Twenty-four minutes – that’s how long the tornado was on the ground in Tuscaloosa,” Avery said. “Twenty-four minutes and lives and homes were lost. Friends were lost. They all had lives and everything changed in 24 minutes.”
Ron Johnson, dean of students at Davidson Day, said Avery is one of several students who volunteered their time for various causes and conducted service projects at the school. In the current school year, students have organized a blood drive, raised money for the Levine Children’s Hospital, donated books to a private school in Belize and children in South Africa and worked with Habitat for Humanity to build houses in West Virginia. The school also hosted a community service fair, where students could sign-up to volunteer with local nonprofit organizations over the summer.
Unlike some private schools, Davidson Day doesn’t require students to perform community service requirements. Students who are passionate about certain causes or philanthropic organizations often take their service ideas to a teacher or faculty member, who helps them orchestrate a schoolwide project.
“It’s grassroots,” Head of School Bonnie Cotter said. “When you impose a requirement for community service, it’s like legislating giving or legislating caring.”
To get the word out about his donation drive for the Alabama tornado victims, Avery addressed an assembly of middle school students and teachers.
“I was nervous, but I told everyone about the tornado – how long it was on the ground, how many people died, how many people were injured,” said Avery, who traveled to Alabama on the weekend of his birthday. “The school really stepped up and helped donate.”
Pleasant Grove probably won’t be the only stop in Avery’s mission to help those affected harmed by tornados this spring. Her son has expressed interest in helping tornado victims in Joplin, Mo., where more than 140 people were killed in May, Avery’s mother, Dana Sommer, said.
“I’m very proud,” Sommer said. “I think the trip helped him to do a lot of growing up in just a couple days.”