The actress teamed up with the 'Today' Show to help out some elementary schoolers affected by last year's devastating floods
More than a year after historic flooding wiped out towns and left families grieving in Kentucky, Jennifer Garner returned to the state to check in on how some of its students are doing as they enter a new school year.
In a segment from the Today show that aired Thursday, Garner, 51, took a trip to Perry County, Kentucky to revisit the town’s elementary school that had been wiped out from the flooding — which Gov. Andy Beshear called “one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history” at the time, per NPR.
“It just takes your breath away,” Garner, a West Virginia native, said on Today of the site where Robinson Elementary School once stood. All that remains of the school is rubble after more than eight feet of water entered the premises last summer, rendering it unusable. Its extensive library was one of the more precious things lost.
“My little elementary school library totally shaped my life,” the actress added as she reflected on the loss for the students and paid a visit to the new school building to lend a hand on behalf of Save the Children, which she's worked with since 2014.
More than 500 children from both Robinson and another nearby elementary school now attend class together in the same building, and teachers and administrators are still working to pick up the pieces. Of the student body, 1 in 3 kids live below the poverty line, and more than 100 of them lost their homes during the floods last summer, Today reported.
“The kids’ faces turned when we started talking about the floods,” Garner said of her day spent with the elementary schoolers. “They wanted me to know how scary it was, what it was like to lose their school, what it was like to lose their homes, where their family went.”
As she reflected on the trip, she said, “My takeaway is really that resilience — resilience comes from the doing. It comes from the putting one foot in front of the other, it comes from figuring things out and acting on it. But it also can’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes you need community to wrap themselves around you, and boy, this community is strong.”
The Miracles from Heaven actress then surprised the students and teachers with a gift from Scholastic of more than 500 books for the students to take home, extra resources for the teachers and a promise to donate 5,000 books to both of the two school’s future libraries once they are rebuilt.
During Garner’s visit, she not only met some of the children whose lives have been affected by the flooding — which killed 45 people — she also met the school’s librarian, who walks around the building with a push cart loaded with books to make up for the lack of a library.
“Children’s libraries are some of the most important places in our country, but you know what, a push cart is better than nothing,” Garner said. “A push cart with an amazing librarian like we met today, who’s prioritizing reading, who’s showing the kids that it matters enough that she will push around a cart to make sure they have some books.”
She continued of the children’s resilience, “There’s a lot of trauma just in growing up below the poverty line, and if you can name it, then you can heal, you can be resilient and move on. And it’s amazing — it’s amazing to watch in action.”
“They’re on their way back,” Garner added of the Kentucky school children.
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When historic floods hit Kentucky in July 2022, tens of thousands of homes across the state were damaged and lost power, as well as access to water. More than 550 people were rescued by the Kentucky National Guard, The Tennessee National Guard and the West Virginia National Guard. Over 100 of the rescues were completed by boat.
Gov. Beshear told CNN of the flooding at the time, "This is so deadly, and it hit so hard, and it hit in the middle of the night.”
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