By TERESA HAMMOND
People are good.
That’s the lesson life dealt the Learning Tree Preschool, its families and Oakdale site director Jonyce O’Neill in late March, when something bad was made good all via Social media.
Originally opening in Escalon, the Learning Tree later expanded to include an Oakdale site and the two communities collided under unusual circumstances recently.
As Oakdale schools shut down last week for Spring Break, the Learning Tree Preschool remained open for its pint sized attendees. What should have started as a mellow Monday, quickly took a turn as O’Neill received a text from a parent stating she should go check the school’s van.
The van, O’Neill said, is used strictly for the purpose of transporting children to and from Magnolia Elementary School. It’s kept on the west side of the preschool, which is housed at an Oakdale church in an older, quiet neighborhood.
“I’m thinking it’s Easter, we’re at a church and it’s a preschool … how rude,” O’Neill said of finding the white spray painted words covering the van.
With time being of the essence and a week to get it restored and cleaned up before her kindergartners returned and needed the transportation, the director turned to Facebook. A simple post, somewhat tongue in cheek, with photos of the vandalism was placed on the school page as well as her own.
Parents and friends began ‘sharing’ the ‘bad’ news with hopes that someone may have spotted the individuals responsible. Others offered suggestions of how to remove the unsightly markings.
The suggestions and do it yourself removal process was put to a halt by the end of that same day. O’Neill would not need to visit the hardware store and prepare herself with products to remove graffiti. Thanks to social media and the close to 70 shares her post received, Travis Sutis, owner of Escalon based Detail Machine Auto Detailing private messaged her offering his services, free of charge.
“I don’t know how he saw it,” O’Neill said of the Good Samaritan tracking down the trouble, adding that his work was spot on. “It is beautiful. The paint is greener than it has ever been.”
“I actually saw it from the Facebook post she shared,” Sutis stated of learning about the vandalism. “I saw what had been done and thought that was horrible, so I shot her a message.”
The business owner stated he noticed all the ideas people were offering of ways to remove the graffiti.
“I have a skill set that could help her out, so why not offer to do it,” he said, “The time frame also worked out perfect because the kids were on Spring Break.”
But Sutis did more than remove graffiti and give the paint job a shine; he went one step further and solicited the help of shop neighbor and fellow businessman John Vilotti. Vilotti owns and operates I’ll Say Anything Designs, a business specializing in apparel, signs and banners.
“I reached out to John when I saw the letters were cracking,” Sutis said of the signature decals which identify the school van. “So we removed it all and polished the whole van. It was super oxidized, which happens over time. So I just polished the paint, full sticker removal and detailed the interior.”
O’Neill could not say enough about the quality of work and current state of the van the day after it was completely serviced. She noted that the inside was cleaner than it had ever been and what a gift she felt this was for her staff and students.
“That’s a total blessing,” she said of the once-stranger reaching out to her. “I mean something that was a really crappy situation turned into a total blessing.”
“I was a little overwhelmed,” she said of her first discovery. “I was mad.”
O’Neill shared she had encountered a few rough spots in her personal life the days prior to the vandalism. She pointed to a candlelight vigil the Thursday before for some friends who had passed and a sudden bombardment of negativity on social media which troubled her, noting the anger and disregard adults had for one another in such a public setting.
“So nice to see for a change some positive on social media,” she said. “To see everyone come together in a positive way.”
“I like giving back,” Sutis frankly stated, sharing his family philosophy on helping one another. “We’re all about helping people out if they need it. I just wanted to make it right.”
The Learning Tree van went back into action on Monday morning, April 4, safely delivering a small load of kindergartners once again to Magnolia Elementary School.