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Rival high schools in Blount County unite to help Florida school impacted by storm

Students and teachers have put their school pride aside for one goal -- to help students just like them going through one the hardest times of their young lives.

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — Three schools in East Tennessee are putting their rivalry aside and uniting to help 25 students at Cape Coral High School after they lost everything due to Hurricane Ian. 

Students at Alcoa, Heritage and Maryville High Schools are on a mission to raise $5,000 by selling shirts with a message of solidarity. That message is "standing strong with Cape Coral."

Annalise Erhart, an Alcoa student, says this effort centers on comradery, community and giving.  

"This is just yet another thing that brings us together and I feel like all the schools surrounding are always looking for ways to help other people. This community has really just come together to help people even from Florida."

These efforts all began with a common friend connecting Alcoa teacher Joy Gornto with a teacher in Cape Coral High School. After a few emails, he learned about the destruction the hurricane left behind. So, Gornto and her students felt called to step in and help.

Students and teachers from these schools rolled up their sleeves and took the lead by organizing the shirt sales, designs and orders. 

"I think one message coming from us and from our school personally, is that you're not alone," Erhart said.  "And even from up here in Tennessee, we see the devastation and we're always looking for a way to help and I think our students really stepped up and found a way that we could help."

Their kindness and service extend from hundreds of miles away and supersede any state border. It demonstrates that kindness and service know no bounds. 

Cape Coral High School teacher Stacey Greene says she was feeling overwhelmed when Gornto proposed her the fundraiser idea. 

"For somebody to take that on, and be willing to do all that and organized and set up it's so heartwarming to know that," Greene said. 

She said the landfall of Ian not only left physical marks on her community but also a mental effect on her students. 

"Some of the behaviors is you can see the students have anxiety, you can see that they're stressed because their home life is not even close to what it was," she said. 

The public's support from another state left her and her school community in awe in the days before Thanksgiving. 

"First of all, thank you it means a lot," she said. "And it's, it's such an incredible feeling to know that other teams are willing to give so much time and energy to support other teams and just getting back to normal life."

Students are planning on sending the first round of funds by December, right before the holidays. 

If you are interested in joining the cause, they will be hosting a fall holiday market this Saturday where they will be accepting donations. 

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