- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

DILLON, S.C. (AP) — Students who had grown resigned to old, “nasty” furnishings at their dilapidated middle school in rural South Carolina were elated Monday to find new furniture and a freshly painted cafeteria, thanks to a student’s plea, a president’s speech and a businessman’s response.

“I was amazed. They changed the whole thing,” said J.V. Martin Junior High eighth-grader Jessica Manning, 13. “It let me know somebody cares about us.”

Other students could be heard uttering the words “awesome” and “excellent” as they stared at the new furniture - custom-made in black with varnished oak tops - that replaced creaky old desks coated in graffiti and chewing gum.

President Obama brought national attention to the school Feb. 24 in his first address to Congress when he read a letter from eighth-grader Ty’Sheoma Bethea asking for help replacing her run-down school.

Ty’Sheoma had addressed her letter to Congress, so her principal sent it to the White House and South Carolina’s congressional delegation.

Darryl Rosser, chief executive officer of classroom furniture supplier Sagus International, called principal Amanda Burnette the day after Mr. Obama read Ty’Sheoma’s plea. After visiting the campus four weeks ago, Mr. Rosser said he knew he had to do what he could.

Over the weekend, Sagus sent nearly 2,000 pieces of furniture on four tractor-trailer loads. Volunteers worked throughout the weekend to put the surprise together, including a final coat of paint about 8 p.m. Sunday.

The furniture, plus setup and shipping by Sagus partners, was worth an estimated $250,000, Mr. Rosser said.

On Monday, Mr. Rosser said students’ reactions made it all worthwhile. “It was heartwarming,” he said, smiling widely.

The cafeteria is newly painted in the school’s black and gold colors, with a three-dimensional Wildcats logo behind the stage.

Words of encouragement from leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King adorn the walls. But the students chose as their favorite these words of Mr. Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

At a school assembly attended by state schools chief Jim Rex and Democratic legislators U.S. Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., state Rep. Jackie Hayes and state Sen. Kent Williams, Mr. Rosser got a standing ovation.

Mr. Rex said Mr. Rosser, whose business is based in Chicago, demonstrated what South Carolinians should do more often, when it comes to public education.

“I’m a little bit regretful that this is necessary, that we need this type of philanthropy,” he said. “For too long in South Carolina, people have walked away. … We must instead learn to step up.”

At the assembly, examples of the old desks sat in a semi-circle, tagged with their age - circa 1940 to 1980.

They were “nasty,” said eighth-grader Johnarra Bethea, 13. “All the other desks had writing on it and gum under them.”

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