Karen Marinelli’s Classroom Makeover

If you follow my blog, I’m sure you’ve heard of Karen Marinelli.  If you are brand new to Schoolgirl Style, Karen is a first grade teacher from Plaza Towers Elementary (the school in Moore, Oklahoma that was hit by a tornado) and was injured in the tornado protecting her students.

karen

I was introduced to Karen this summer when her friend (Tessa Proffitt) left a Facebook message about Karen deserving to win one of my giveaways.  Intrigued by her comment, I contacted Tessa to learn about Karen’s story. 

Tessa sent me a video clip about Karen.  It was one of the most moving stories I have ever heard.

To watch the video, click HERE…

http://www.news9.com/story/22472750/moore-teacher-shields-students-from-tornado-recovers-from-injuries

Needless to say, I felt Karen was so deserving and I needed to do everything I could to help make life easier for this heroic teacher.  I knew that I wanted to surprise Karen and personally go to Oklahoma to help decorate her classroom.

Due to other travel obligations, finding time to actually go to Oklahoma was almost impossible.  After rearranging my schedule, I was finally able to find two days to go.  It was such a “spur of the moment” trip.  With the help of my mother, I packed a large suitcase with everything I needed to transform a classroom, then hopped on a plane!

With only a suitcase and a smile in my heart, I made my way to Oklahoma…

DAY 1

When I arrived, I drove to Moore, Oklahoma and planned to meet Karen at her new school.  This would be the first time Karen would see her classroom.  As I pulled into the school parking lot, I was impressed with the beautiful facility.  Everything seemed so new and pretty.  Karen chose to transfer to this new building since her own child attended this school.  After her traumatic experience, it was only natural for Karen to want to be with her son.

When I met Karen, it felt like I had known her forever!  She was so down-to-earth, humble, and very easy to talk to.  I instantly felt very comfortable.  We talked for a bit, I checked out her classroom, and made a list of everything I needed to purchase.  I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for Karen’s room.  I planned to meet up with Karen and a few of her teacher friends for dinner later that evening.

After I left her classroom, I had the opportunity to drive around and see Moore.  I stopped in Mardel for my first time EVER and made a couple of trips to Hobby Lobby.  My observation:  EVERY place I went, I couldn’t believe the outpouring of kindness.  One thing is for sure, Oklahoma has some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met!

After I finished my shopping, I headed to dinner with Karen, her husband, Dominic, and her teacher friends from Plaza Towers.

During our dinner, I asked specific questions about what happened that tragic day.  Everyone took turns telling stories and I heard the horrific details of the tornado.  The stories were heartbreaking.  They talked about the poor teacher that lost some of her students and how she is doing today.  They also talked about the children that died – some of these children were their former students.  They talked about their own children and the struggles they now face after experiencing this tragedy.  They talked about other fatalities in the town and rebuilding Moore.  They talked about their fears.  They talked about the struggles of rebuilding their school and so much more.

I could feel their emotions and hear the pain in their voices.  Karen was not only recovering from an injury, emotionally, she was recovering as well.

With all of the awful things that happened, there were also wonderful stories of kindness, humanity, compassion, and the goodness of others.  I spent a couple hours listening to these stories and was overwhelmed with emotion.  It’s one thing to see it on the news, but it is quite different to hear the stories first hand.

  

Photos of Plaza Tower Elementary after the tornado…

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DAY 2

The next day, I was greeted by Karen and all of her friends for a day of decorating!  I planned to leave the next morning, so we only had this ONE day to get as much done as possible.

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be a typical makeover where I address every single part of the room.  I had one goal:  get the classroom arrangement set, cover bulletin boards, and hang pennants and lanterns.  I knew that Karen had enough help to finish the rest.  I just wanted to get the BIG jobs done.

Whenever I do a classroom makeover, I usually choose the color combo and/or theme myself. This time was different. I wanted Karen to be surrounded in colors/patterns that she loves.

This is what Karen asked for…

karens room

(Schoolgirl Style Chevron Chic Collection with pops of hot pink, black, lime green, and turquoise)

As we worked, I had the chance to meet some amazing people that day!  Karen was surrounded by so many family and friends that were excited to help!  I also had the opportunity to talk to Karen and Dominic and get to know them better.  We were even on the local news that night!

I learned that Karen and Dominic were just married in February.  The tornado happened in May.  The beginning of their married life together had been spent in a hospital and Dominic having to care for Karen.  Despite the situation, it was evident that Karen and Dominic were madly in love and making the best of it.  It was also evident that this tragedy made their marriage stronger.  They are such a beautiful couple!

Karen and Dominic

Karen and Dominic

After talking to Tessa (Karen’s friend that commented on my Facebook page) over email several times, I also had the opportunity to meet her in person.  Tessa is such a lovely woman with a deep faith that just radiates from her.  I instantly connected with this sweet girl!

There were others that I met that day that impacted me so much, that I still can’t talk about it without crying. The words that were spoken, the feelings and emotions that were felt. The genuine love and kindness I witnessed that day has changed my life. 

The decorating became secondary to everything I felt and observed. 

We worked and talked.  We talked and worked.  By the end of the day, this is how it looked when I walked out…

Chevron classroom decor by Schoolgirl Style1

chevron classroom decor by Schoolgirl Style3

as chevron classroom decor by Schoolgirl Style2

(Unfortunately, I lost my camera recently and with that, I lost all of my photos.  Here are the only photos I have of the makeover.)

I went back to the hotel that night and thought about my day.  I was very emotional.  I was so moved by their stories.  I was also moved at how this community has come together to help one another.  I witnessed faith like I’ve never witnessed before.  Some people may not think it’s appropriate to talk about religion and God in such a public way on a blog, but their faith could not be ignored.  Going to Oklahoma ended up becoming a trip where these people did more for me than what I did for them.  Their love and caring for one another was evident.  The short time I spent in Oklahoma was one of the most impressionable and memorable trips that I’ve ever had.

As I left, Karen gave me a gift.  I didn’t open it until I got back to the hotel room.  This is what I found when I opened up the bag…

Plaza-Towers-t-shirt_thumb 

photo (1)

As you can imagine, this gift brought me to tears.  I DO believe and I DO have faith. 

DAY 3

As I headed towards the airport to go home that morning, I couldn’t help but notice the large “MOORE” water tower in the distance.

Moore-Water-Tower

(This isn’t my photo, but this WAS my view)

I held up my cell phone to take one last picture before I went home.  As I looked into the camera, I was shocked with what I saw…

A glistening, brilliant, blinding light covered the entire water tower – I was unable to take a picture. 

As I drove to the airport and reflected on the people that I had met and the stories that I had heard, I couldn’t help but think of that blinding light shining over the Moore water tower.  In my heart, I knew that God was shining over Moore, Oklahoma and helping this community heal.

As I was getting ready to board the plane, a woman walked over and said that she recognized me from being on T.V. the night before. She hugged me and began to tear up. She explained that she was a teacher and thanked me over and over for coming to Oklahoma to help. I was speechless.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully explain what I witnessed, all I know is that I LOVE Moore, Oklahoma!  Some people come into our lives for a reason and I’m SURE Karen and I were meant to meet.

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Comments

  1. Kristy says

    Thank you for boldly professing your faith through such a moving post. May you continue to be a light for Christ in all things!

  2. says

    Thank you for posting about faith. It’s really nice to read something like this. the classroom pics you have look great! I had no idea how well that Teacher Tote I gave her actually went with the classroom you put together. It’s really perfect! :-)

  3. Tonya Cordero says

    This is such a wonderful post. I am in tears reading it! Bless you for reaching out and thank you for telling their story. Just an amazing, inspirational, beautiful post.

  4. Jennifer Kime says

    Thanks so much for what you did!! I was encouraged and challenged by your willingness to give feet to your faith. Too many times we are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out with a love for God.

  5. Tracy Coulson says

    This was so beautifully written about my hometown that it brought tears to my eyes! I am so glad that you were able to see and feel what we have here in Moore, and grateful that you were so generous with your time and resources to do this for Karen, who I am proud to call friend and colleague. She has handled this trial with grace and I know this is because of her faith and the support of our wonderful community. The room is truly gorgeous and I know as we are rebuilding all over the community that it is these little things, like having a fully decorated, warm place to work and learn, that help us continue on and look toward the future.

  6. Charlie Danella says

    Very touching post. I hope your son is healing well from his surgery. This teacher is definitely a hero and I’m so glad that you were able to do that for her. It’s amazing how blessed we are when helping others. Thank you for sharing the story and your faith.

  7. Jeana Holly says

    Karen now works at my kids school this year. My son is in first grade, not in her class, but he talks about her often. She’s a delight to everyone around her! We are enjoying getting to know her this year! She’s a sweetheart and so blessed that God brought her to us! Thank you for giving her this makeover, I have seen the room in person and it looks SO cute…I know the kids have to love it also! You are amazing to come here and do this for her! Thank you so much! Moore is blessed!

  8. Abigail K. says

    I just loved this story and it sounds like an amazing experience! Her classroom looks amazing and I am sure it will ease some beginning year anxiety that she must be facing.

  9. Casey says

    Thank you for sharing this story! Karen is our hero! I have known for many years what an amazing teacher she is, so after I hugged my babies on the evening of May 20, my thoughts turned to Karen. I knew that the stories I was hearing of heroic teachers must have included her. We prayed for Mrs. Marinelli that night and the many that followed and our prayers were answered, she was OK! Watching her recover these past few months has helped show my kids that we will be ok too!!

  10. Dawn Hubbard says

    Such a beautiful story! Like Tracy in the comment up above, I am blessed to work with Karen and call her my friend. I had the pleasure of teaching with her in the past and now again as she has joined the faculty of our school. She has been such a positive light throughout this very dismal and trying time for herself and our community. I am so glad you were able to experience firsthand, the feelings we have for one another here in Oklahoma and specifically Moore. Thank you for your part in creating a bright happy place for Karen and her sweet students to learn. I think it’s awesome that you were able to be on the receiving end of the blessings as well! God is cool that way!

  11. Rebecca Steelman says

    I LOVED this post, and as a retired teacher, I also appreciate and LOVE the decorated classroom!! Blessings to you!

  12. Brandie Koontz says

    Such a beautiful story and you are such a generous, beautiful (inside and out) and amazing woman. I am proud to call you my friend! <3

  13. Sunny Brown says

    This is such a beautiful and inspiring blog. It makes me so happy to know these people have survived this event and have an even stronger faith than before. Thank you for being a blessing to all involved and continuing to inspire myself and all who love your words and follow your journey. GOD is truly GREAT….all the time.

  14. Heather Pogue says

    As an Okie and Moore resident, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing our story and more importantly how resilient our state is!

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