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Rebuilding Hope: BBF Grant Provides Support to Students Displaced by Wildfires

2024 1 23 Tori Davis 4

Less than two weeks after the August 8 wildfires that killed 100 people and left thousands of families without homes, students at Maui Prep, a private school 15 minutes north of Lahaina, did what millions of students do every fall—they went back to school.

But getting through the school day would be challenging for students and teachers alike this year. Maui Prep, which normally teaches 300 students from preschool to 12th grade, stretched its resources to accommodate an additional 100 students from schools that were damaged in the fires.

Nearly a third of the student body had lost their homes in the disaster.  As teachers grappled with their own devastation, they had the added struggle of teaching classrooms full of traumatized students.  

Dr. Lisa Zamora, Academic Dean, counselor, and Algebra I teacher at Maui Prep reached out to a few local counselors and asked if they could volunteer their services during students’ first week back. Dr. Zamora knew Maui Prep needed a solution to help students cope with trauma now, as well as long term.

“Everybody’s different. Somebody could be going through the effects of the trauma in the first few months, but for others you might not see it until later on,” Dr. Zamora said.

One of the counselors who answered the call was Tori Davis, a therapist for almost 40 years.

At the time, Davis, 65, was teaching pickleball and providing counseling on the side, but when the fires ignited, she put down her racket and began serving her community. She joined a therapy first response team and spent 12-hour days providing counseling services to communities in the burn zone.  

One day she was assigned to Maui Prep, and Dr. Zamora immediately noticed Davis’ ability to connect with students and teachers.

“Students were instantly comfortable with her. A lot of the teachers that spoke with her initially in those first few days [were saying things] like ‘Wow, when we talk, I feel good. I can do this. She re-energized me,’” Dr. Zamora said.

BBF Global Relief gave Maui Prep a grant to hire Davis as a part-time counselor for the entire school year.

Davis visits Maui Prep two days a week, providing cognitive behavioral therapy to about 10 students each day. The services are also available to teachers and parents.

About halfway into the school year, Zamora and Davis both agree that things on campus are looking better. Preschoolers enjoy their day riding balance bikes and seniors are excited for college.

But there’s still a long way to go. Many students are still in temporary housing and struggle when moving hotel to hotel and teachers and school administrators are taking on more than usual.

Davis says some people estimate it will take three to five years to recover from the wildfires. She doesn’t know if that will be true. Either way, she’s optimistic.

“I don’t know why I’d be a therapist if I didn’t keep hope in my bonnet,” she said.

Prior to arriving in Maui 6 years ago, Davis worked at the Child and Family Psychiatric Center in Medford, Oregon. She provided counseling services in the aftermath of the 2020 Almeda wildfires that destroyed over 2,000 structures in Oregon and the Paradise wildfires that killed 85 Californians in 2018, the deadliest wildfire outbreak in recent US history–until the outbreak in Maui last year. 

I truly thank your people who fund situations like this … you’re an angel out of nowhere. Thank all of your contributors. Please let them know they made a huge difference and really continue to make a difference.”

Tori Davis, LCSW