How one student is paying back her teacher for teacher appreciation week, 32 years later

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SOLVAY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Sue Wawrek and her husband Bob purchased a home in Mississippi a few years ago to be closer to their family.

When Bob was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the couple had to put their move on hold. Then COVID hit and the move was yet again pushed back. Then in the fall of 2020, hurricane Zeta hit the south and tore the roof off of their new home. 

Sue said that because the house is the couple’s second home, FEMA won’t cover the cost of the damage. 

The roof itself will cost around $20,000 to repair. 

Sue had never used social media to collect donations before, but when she saw on TV that Kylie Jenner had set up a gofundme page, she thought, “well if Kylie Jenner can go fund me so can I. I should be able to do this.” 

So she set up a Gofundme page in hopes of getting some donations to repair the house and shared the page on Facebook.

Her former student, Melissa Boileau, was scrolling through Facebook back in April when she came across Sue’s post.

“Like you don’t necessarily see everybody’s posts and I saw the gofundme thing and I got what the heck is going on. I knew nothing was going on, nothing I had no clue,” Boileau said.

Wawrek has been substituting at Solvay Elementary School since she retired in 2003, at the same school she taught Melissa, and the same school Melissa now teaches at. The two see each other just about every day at work.

Boileau credits Wawrek with being one of the women who came into her life and completely changed the trajectory of how her life was going to go. She was the teacher who inspired Boileau to get into teaching.

“I’m not doing nearly what she did for me, but if I can help in any way, one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Melissa Boileau

“I definitely started to think about possibly going into education because I saw personally as a student who struggled with learning, who struggled through school and didn’t like anything about it,” she said. “I finally had somebody as a teacher who believed in me.”

Boileau knew that she had to do something to repay the woman who spent so much time and effort helping her gain the confidence she said she lacked back in fifth grade. 

“I messaged her, do you have PayPal or Venmo? I’m just going to send you money,” said Boileau. 

She ended up taking over the GoFundMe that Wawrek had made and because the website takes a percentage of donations, she also collected money on her own from coworkers, friends, and even complete strangers who had never met Wawrek.

Many of the strangers who donated were people who had a teacher impact them in the same way that Wawrek impacted Boileau. Even members of Billy Joel’s band sent donations. 

From posting on social media to speaking at faculty meetings, Boileau did everything she could to get the word out there and raise as much money as she could.

“The names and the people and the stories and the people that she has impacted families and kids that are coming out of the woodwork, it’s just, as a teacher you think oh my god look at the fact that they make a difference.

So during teacher appreciation week, Boileau gifted Wawrek with a check and a list of the names of people who donated. 

In total she raised $5,175 that will go toward rebuilding the Mississippi house.

“It’s some of these people it’s like oh my gosh I haven’t heard from them in so many years,” Wawrek said while looking at the list of people who made donations. 

Boileau explained that people kept telling her they wished they could do more because this is what teachers deserve.

“I’m not doing nearly what she did for me, but if I can help in any way, one of the greatest honors of my life,” she said. 

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