Many people lost their homes in the multiple wildfires plaguing California. The Camp Fire, in particular, destroyed almost the entire town of Paradise. When 89-year-old real estate developer Bob Wilson saw he could make a difference, he went above and beyond, Buzzfeed News is reporting. Wilson handed out $1,000 to each of the 982 students who attended Paradise High School, as well as 105 employees. He ended up giving away around $1.1 million in total.
Many students lost their homes entirely due to the fire, which reportedly killed 88 people. When Wilson read an article in the Los Angeles Times telling the stories of victims of the fire attending Paradise High, he felt called to do something to help. He stated that reading about the teenagers who were struggling resonated with him and his own “carefree” days of high school. He also shared that providing aid to people had the businessman feeling “over the moon.”
“I made up my mind in five minutes,” Wilson was quoted as saying.
“I had some of the most profound experiences in my life in high school because I was still able to be a kid, and it broke my heart to think of the experience these kids were missing.”
Wilson got in touch with the principal of Paradise High, Loren Lighthall. Lighthall himself was in need of a new home for him, his wife, his six children, and his dog after his house was burned to the ground. Residents of Paradise have been meeting up at Chico High School as of late to share updates about their community. Wilson showed up at one of these meetings only to give out envelopes containing a heartfelt letter and a check addressed personally to every faculty member, student, and custodian.
“Please know that you are not alone as someone as far away as San Diego is rooting for you and has the firm belief that tomorrow will be better than today, if you possess the will to make it so,” one letter read. “You deserve no less.”
Paradise High School was already known to educate several impoverished students, with 67 percent of students qualifying for the free lunch program last year. Principal Lighthall shared that most students lost “everything they own” in the fire. Students will finally be able to return to class on December 3, where they will attend “drop-in labs” at Chico Mall. Younger students in elementary school are to be bussed to other towns, with officials aiming to announce a more “long-term” solution to the problem by January 7. While the fate of Paradise is still unknown, Wilson’s contribution has made a huge difference for many families.