Lake Forest Elementary teacher mobilizes community to help families


Last year, days after the Fulton County schools were closed by the pandemic, a phone call from a fifth-grader at Lake Forest Elementary School sparked a teacher-led effort to ensure that students and their parents have enough food and money to pay the bills.

Lake Forest third-grade teacher Nicole Nagel Gray overheard the call from a fellow teacher student. “They were running out of food, they were worried and they didn’t know what to do,” Gray said, recounting what the fifth-grader had said.

Gray lived in Sandy Springs and decided to drop off some student food that the school was distributing. When she arrived, the whole family of six treated her like giving them gold, she said.

“And it was just boxes of milk and cereal. It was just so small. So I felt bad. And I said, ‘Take this, but I’ll come back,’ ”she said.

It was the start of Lion Pride, a nonprofit organization that helps families in Lake Forest.

“It was just a bunch of teachers checking out their kids and families and trying to make sure everyone was successful,” Gray said.

Teachers began to help, connecting families in need with organizations such as the Community Assistance Center and Solidarity Sandy Springs.

Lion Pride would fill in the gaps left unaddressed by other groups, raising funds to help families with food, rent, utilities, medicine and daily necessities. The donations were made through Venmo after notices were posted on Facebook regarding the needs.

“The community was absolutely amazing. The money would flow, ”she said. “I’ll say this, I wasn’t trying to start a non-profit organization. I was just trying to get us through this. But as we continued we realized that there were people who really wanted to help.

Erin Long, another member of the community, helped the association achieve 501c3 status.

They decided as a team to focus on emergency aid to families at Lake Forest Elementary School and on enriching education.

“That’s what we’re looking to do at this point, emergency aid because pandemic or not, our families don’t have a lot of extra resources,” Gray said.

As part of the enrichment efforts, Lion Pride sponsored scholarships for summer camps at five different locations in Sandy Springs, including the Latina Art Studio, Center Ice Arena, Soccer Camp at the Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, Family Martial Arts, and Peach Pit Gymnastics.

Lion Pride received 120 applications when the scholarships were announced. Each child was to write an essay or draw a picture explaining why they would want to go to camp and what it would mean to them.

They were able to fund 30 scholarships.

“The response from the community was just overwhelming, because at first people were just giving a shovel. Second, I have had people say quite often “Can you tell me the need for a specific family”?

A community member hosted a virtual wine tasting with donations for Lion Pride. Another woman helped her children organize a bike-a-thon. The Lake Forest art teacher sold his paintings for donations while another teacher baked cookies to sell for donations.

The Sandy Springs Society supported Lion Pride, as did the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church.

Donations can be made to Lion Pride through its website, Visit his Facebook page for real-time opportunities to help a student or family.

Gray receives Spirit of Sandy Springs award

For his efforts, Gray received the Spirit of Sandy Springs Award from the Sandy Springs Society.

“Nicole is so humble. She doesn’t hesitate to say, “I didn’t do this alone. It was just a small start-up charity that started and so many people got started, including his fellow teachers, ”said Peyton White, chair of the Spirit of Sandy Springs Prize committee.

Lion Pride organizers saved the lives of many families during COVID-19, White said. The families they helped were working hard, but they had no additional financial resources during the pandemic. Many of them still do not have enough resources because their jobs in service industries like restaurants, hotels and construction may be gone, or their hours have been reduced.

By the end of 2020, Lion Pride had already received more than $ 40,000 in donations and it still continues, White said. And many other schools have seen what teachers in Lake Forest have done and have created similar organizations in their own schools, said Gail Jokerst, president of the Sandy Springs Society.

The Sandy Springs Society exists to raise funds to give back to the community by supporting nonprofit organizations.

Thanks to Tossed Out Treasures and the Elegant Marketplace, the organization is raising funds with the Holiday Market and the massive upscale community garage sale. Despite the pandemic, the Sandy Springs Society still managed to distribute $ 151,197 in grants to 31 nonprofits, Jokerst said.

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