Families donate thousands after beloved AISD teacher’s home destroyed in fire

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Donations are pouring in right now for a beloved teacher at the Austin Independent School District after a fire destroyed her family’s home in Pflugerville.

The fire happened late Friday night at Sheryl Southwell’s house. Word spread quickly about what happened among the families whose children attend Hill Elementary School, where Southwell teaches second grade.

Someone then started a fundraiser through GoFundMe.

Sandy Knight told KXAN that she immediately donated because Southwell made such an impact on her daughter four years ago.

“In elementary school, we all have a few teachers that made a difference in our lives and really changed our path and made us think more deeply about what life was about and made us feel special,” Knight said, “and Miss Southwell is definitely one of those teachers that she looks back on and remembers.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the online fundraiser brought in more than $21,000. The GoFundMe page states that this money will “help cover the cost of replacing her house and contents due to the fire.”

“The GoFundMe is as much about showing the support and this love for a person we care about so deeply, as it is about money for material things,” Knight said. “It’s just to show her that we love her so much.”

Alexis Bagshaw, who fondly remembers her son’s time in Southwell’s class three years ago, said several in her family donated.

“My sister’s son just had a birthday and got some birthday money, and the first thing he said was, ‘I want to give some of my birthday money,'” Bagshaw said. “He donated as well, and it was really sweet.”

After receiving so much support, Southwell expressed gratitude in the following statement sent to KXAN:

“I can’t thank everyone enough for their generosity and kind words this week. When friends asked if they could share what happened on Go Fund Me, I never imagined this kind of response. It is hard to find the words to express how grateful I feel to all of you! The world we live is filled with so much conflict and sadness…it is such a blessing to see and experience how much goodness there is in the world. You all have not only blessed my husband and I, but also his daughter and her two children. Her employer transferred her to this area and they moved here the day after the fire! THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE.”

The Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office is now investigating the cause of the house fire. A county spokesperson told KXAN that the cause has still not been determined yet.

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