Rec Plex event for Dennis students draws hundreds

Just a few days ago, three friends gathered at an apartment, looked at each other and said: “We have to do something,” referring to last week’s school shooting at Dennis Middle School.

Taking a break at the Rec Plex event are, from left, Sam Raatz, Stephany Blunk, Michelle Arcos and Lora Allen.

On a recent Monday — as they watched more than 300 kids laughing, playing or munching on donated food — they were overwhelmed by the community response. “This is so great. We did not expect this,” said Sam Raatz, a critical care nurse at Reid Health, as she watched all the activities going on at the Family Fitness Works Rec Plex in east Richmond.

Raatz, Stephany Blunk and Lora Allen – who all work in Reid Health’s Critical Care Unit — had gotten together at Stephany’s apartment last Thursday evening. They felt compelled to help in some way after the tragic shooting that left a student dead and hundreds shaken and afraid. They brainstormed, made a few phone calls and in a short time had pledges of help from all over for an event this week that exceeded all their expectations.

Restaurants offered food. Businesses offered money and volunteers. By Monday afternoon, the event had drawn dozens of helpers, 345 students and numerous parents, first responders and community members.

“We just wanted the students to have fun and feel loved,” said Michelle Arcos, Stephany’s sister who is another Reid Health employee and volunteer. As lines gathered at the registration tables and the deafening sound of music, laughter and fun filled the complex, the three nurses were clearly stunned by the success of their idea.

Allen said multiple community businesses donated funds, prizes and time. Family Fitness donated the use of their facility. Employees of Reid Health, Family Fitness and numerous others volunteered to help.

Gift cards and bags were put together for officers, the kids received tickets for drawings for prizes, and Santa walked around handing out treats. Police officers chatted with students, one giving a young man a yo-yo demonstration.

Blunk said counselors from mental health agencies were on hand, noting that several students took advantage to talk to them.

The nurses who started it all stood almost speechless for a moment as they scanned the room.

“We did not expect this,” Raatz said. “So many people donated. It is just insane.”