Tragedy has struck twice for a local tutoring facility — this time amid the standardized testing season.
Torrential rains in late September 2018 collapsed the ceiling of the Teachers Who Tutor facility in Ovilla. Diana Phillips, its executive director, continued to provide services to students in need by holding classes at Ovilla Road Church of Nazarene.
On April 13, Phillips then moved into her brand new facility on the corner of Ovilla Road and U.S. Interstate I-35. That was when the unbelievable happened — again.
Phillips moved into a modern structure, much bigger than what previously housed the tutoring center. Phillips' daughter had bought laptops that had been lost in the flood and new cabinets. Nearly all the supplies were moved in when Phillips was ordered to evacuate.
Gregory Johnson Sr. is the landlord of the building and cuts hair next door at Gregg's. From where Johnson cuts hair, he has the perfect view of customers driving in and out of the lot, dragging dust each way.
He realized a single car had not entered, but the dust was stagnant. He then realized it was not dust in the air, but smoke.
"When I stepped outside and saw that smoke, my heart was beating," Johnson said after he admitted this was his first fire to encounter on one of his properties.
"The turbines on the top of the building were smoking like a freight train," Johnson elaborated. "I ran over to the barbecue place and told everyone to get out, that there was a fire."
In despair, Phillips watched the fire be tended by the Red Oak Fire Department. Tears rolled down her cheeks as teaching materials became smothered in foam to distinguish the flames.
Phillips recalled a firefighter comforting her saying, "'Ma'am, they are just things. You didn't have no kids in there.' Second time I heard that."
Red Oak Fire Chief Eric Thompson stated the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction in the breaker box located on the back wall of the barbecue restaurant.
"It started and traveled up the back wall into the attic Once it reached the attic — it had a common attic — it kind of went throughout the rest of the building."
The barbecue restaurant and shared attic suffered the most damage, but the building is not a total loss. The rest of the suits were damaged by smoke and water that extinguished the fire. ROFD utilizes a foaming agent that is incorporated into the water. The efficiency allows better penetration, water to last longer and cools the surface faster.
"It was not a total loss, but it was a significant fire and significant damage," Thompson concluded.
Johnson emphasized, “We have the best fire department in Texas.”
Once the fire was extinguished, the suites were a mess. When Phillips had all her furniture and damaged materials removed and placed back in the parking lot, she had it hauled to a dumpster since everything appeared to be worthless.
Phillips has dedicated that past 10 years to helping students be successful in the classroom. On a weekly basis, approximately 25 students see Phillips and four other certified teachers who provide one-on-one tutorials.
Phillips noted this will be the first summer in a decade that programs will not be held by Teachers Who Tutor.
The displacement has added stress to Phillips as she continues to tutor the kids. Due to the nomadic situation, not all of the students have been able to attend sessions as regularly as before the fire or flood.
"The sad part of it is that I lost parents that I've had for over three years," Phillips expressed. "They can't keep bouncing all over the place."
One student that has stayed is Meredith Thomas, a Midlothian student who has utilized Teachers Who Teach for the past two years. Her father, Mike Thomas, spoke with the Daily Light in a previous article and emphasized the quality of education has pushed his daughter to accomplish more in the classroom.
Thomas explained his sixth-grade daughter's uniqueness as "she has special educational needs but is not specials needs — she falls in that crack."
When Thomas heard of the fire, "My first thought was 'Thank God, that nobody got hurt.'" We are still able to get services from Teachers Who Tutor because as a result of the first storm, they are at the local church."
WORTH THE WAIT
While Phillips operates her business at the church, she remains patient until the building will be safely cleared for occupancy. The location proved to be ideal due to its visibility, which makes it easier to serve the community.
But Phillips is there for a reason.
Johnson, the landlord, sought out Phillips after he heard about the flooding disaster in Ovilla. One of the most appealing aspects of the Ovilla structure was the affordable monthly rent.
"I wanted her in it," Johnson remarked. "I like to pick my tenants that I feel comfortable with who I am."
Johnson has a passion for youth and has mentored boys since 2006. He noted the two easily agreed on an affordable rate.
He and his uncle, Otis Adams, established their own mentoring program for young men between the ages 8—16. The organization called L.A.W. stands for love, accountability and wisdom.
Phillips expressed her gratitude to Johnson and explained, "Being a woman, especially a Black woman out here, trying to operate in a business like this can be very difficult."
If interested in helping Phillips replace lost materials, individuals can donate to https://www.gofundme.com/66c862o.
Related article: Roof collapses on Ovilla tutoring facility, leaves executive director desperate for new location
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450