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Help Offers Lift Spirits at Vandalized School

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The first person who called Principal Helen Hartel on Thursday offering help was a television producer, ringing in from his car phone on his way to work. He wanted Hartel to know that he was sending a check.

“Then another man called and said he was mailing us $300,” Hartel said. “Another man stopped in and dropped off $500. And then, the phone didn’t stop ringing. It was unbelievable.”

Thursday, accounts of attacks by vandals at Hartel’s Lowman Special Education Center prompted a shower of donations from strangers that helped lift gloomy spirits at the school--and helped administrators recoup most of the losses, Hartel said.

For the second time in four months, thieves this week had broken into the school and used wheelchairs of the indigent, severely mentally and physically disabled students who attend the public school to bash in vending machines, smash windows and steal expensive computer and communications equipment.

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The outpouring of sympathy and aid Thursday was remarkable, school officials said.

“It shows us there is more goodness in the world than there is bad,” Hartel said. “It’s been unbelievable--it restores our faith in humanity. Everybody here is thankful, and completely overwhelmed.”

One donor who insisted on anonymity delivered a new fax machine, a critical piece of equipment that replaces one stolen in the latest break-in. The fax is used heavily by teachers to communicate with doctors on the medical conditions of the 275 seriously disabled children and young people, ages 4 to 22, served by the school.

Hartel also received about a dozen offers to replace the computer that was stolen. One person called from Orange County to offer used computers. Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills also called to offer equipment.

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But they were too late: The Good Guys in Studio City, an electronics store, had already delivered a new Macintosh to the school.

“It was such a sad, sad thing,” sales manager John Bortscheller said. “We got the OK from corporate, and we decided to give them a new Apple computer system.” The value of the new Macintosh: $1,700.

Dozens of offers of help and donations poured in, including a pledge by a security firm to patrol the area near the school. Between telephone calls, Hartel scrambled to keep up with television and radio interviews and to thank those who had dropped by with contributions.

“One of our neighbors brought in a big bag of spare change,” Hartel said. “There was about $250 in it, pennies, nickels, dimes. But it added up.”

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Frank Burns, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Northridge, which supports Lowman with weekly donations of bread and eggs, said he too was comforted by the swift and substantial support for the small school, where more than half the students belong to families that fall below the federal poverty line.

“The guy who brought in the fax, he didn’t even want to be identified,” Burns said. “He just came in, dropped it off, and left. Didn’t ask for thanks or anything. It really does show you that the good people are stronger than the bad ones.”


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