"Somewhere along the way I fell in love with them and they fell in love with me," Jackson said.
When Alabama's April 27 tornadoes tore through Tuscaloosa, Jackson was ready to accept her own death as she took shelter in a bathtub. But after she emerged into the aftermath, word that the storm leveled Tuscaloosa's Alberta City community was too much.
"It was at that point that I just broke down into tears because most of my students live in Alberta City, and I just prayed and prayed and prayed that they would be OK and God would be with them in whatever they were dealing with," she said.
Some of Jackson's students couldn't be reached at first, and she feared the worst. But as things settled down and communication improved, she was spared the worst kind of grief.
"Most of our students completely lost their homes, but miraculously we didn't lose any students," Jackson said. "They all have their lives and for that I will be eternally grateful."
A week later, school started again, but since University Park Middle School was heavily damaged, the students met in West Lawn Middle School.
"I went into class that first day and I told myself, 'I'm gonna be strong and I'm gonna be Super Woman,' and seeing their faces I just broke down and started crying and they started crying," Jackson recalled.
While Jackson's students had their lives, they didn't have much else. Many were living in shelters or with relatives and lacked clothing and toiletries, not to mention school supplies.
Jackson told her sister, Brittney Dunn, a member of First Baptist Church in Birmingham, about her students' plight, and Dunn informed Amy Snow, the church's disaster relief coordinator.
"Word started spreading that the kids were going back to school, and they weren't going to have any supplies or textbooks, nothing in the room," Snow said. "It was a totally different school than anything they were used to."
Snow purchased an initial batch of school supplies for the students, but she and Dunn soon developed a plan that involved the entire church. It began with Jackson sitting down with her students and making a list of those who lost things but hadn't received any direct help yet -- about 40 students. She included their clothes and shoe sizes and listed items they needed. After she gave Dunn the list, Snow announced in church that First Baptist members could "adopt" one of Jackson's students by committing to buy the student's listed needs and praying for him or her. Within two hours, all the students were adopted.
" knowing ... children are getting things they need and being prayed for and ... hopefully will know that we're doing it because we love the Lord," Snow said. "Because we love the Lord we love them and we want to help them."
Dunn's family adopted a boy living with his cousin, purchasing clothes and toiletries for him. "I just want to make his day better, and I want him to know things are going to get better for his family and his brothers. And if I can be a part of that, then I'm excited," she said.
In addition to "adopting" some of Jackson's students, members of First Baptist in Birmingham made about 200 care packages for students at the school. The packages included such items as hand sanitizer, snacks, bottled water, Scripture verses and messages of support.
"I took it down there to them, and they were so thankful," Dunn said. "They couldn't believe that all of it was for them."
Snow said First Baptist is committed to helping the students "for the long haul" and looks forward to ways the church can continue to assist. Jackson said her students will need school supplies for next year and probably counseling to deal with the trauma they've experienced. But she looks for them to learn something positive from the way complete strangers have stepped up to help in so many ways.
Stan Lewis, First Baptist's pastor, said of the outreach: "Our service as Christians shows a hurting world that Christ is alive and real and that there is hope and life beyond our earthly circumstances."
John Evans is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit online.thealabamabaptist.org. For information about donations to Alabama Baptists' disaster relief efforts, go to http://www.alsbom.org/feature3.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net