Former Community Day School math teacher Lin St. Clair no longer teaches algebra, geometry and life skills to middle school students each day. Yet his impact on dozens of pupils, teachers, parents and administrators throughout the 18 years he taught at CDS was on full display this week after St. Clair suffered devastating property damage in a June 20 storm.
The storm — which brought torrential rains to the region — led to significant flooding in his hometown of Bridgeville, a borough eight miles southwest of downtown Pittsburgh.
St. Clair lost his car, washer, dryer, water heater, furnace, multiple pieces of furniture and other items in the flood waters, which reached nearly five feet in the first floor of his house. Now, the munificence of the community could help offset at least some of the restoration costs.
In just more than two days, a GoFundMe page set up by a CDS administrator raised $20,542 for St. Clair from 222 donors, easily surpassing its $20,000 goal.
The former teacher said in an interview that he is in good spirits and is “humbled” by the outpouring of support from CDS affiliates.
“I can’t stress enough how moved I am by the response of the school community, and especially — and maybe I shouldn’t signal anyone out — but especially my…former students,” he said. “It’s very, very gratifying that I had some positive impact on them and they are feeling like they wanted to help out.”
State and county officials have visited the area to assess damages from the storm, which left one Bridgeville resident dead. Depending on the extent of the damages, FEMA could get involved in the relief efforts.
Jennifer Bails, director of marketing and communications at CDS, who helped organize the GoFundMe page, said she was not surprised at the generosity of the community.
“I felt very humbled and proud to be part of the community that stepped up in this way, but I wasn’t surprised,” Bails said. “I think that the incredible response to the crowd-funding campaign is a testament to Lin and his work as a teacher and the impact that he’s had on so many children and families over the many decades that he taught.”
Known for a keen sense of humor and a rigorous teaching style, St. Clair occupied a somewhat unique position at the day school and in the community at large: a non-Jewish staff member who wholeheartedly embraced Jewish culture, prayer and education. Unlike many of his fellow non-Jewish colleagues, St. Clair always donned a kippah at school and was often the sole teacher in attendance at students’ bar and bat mitzvahs, keeping a watchful eye on at-times restive students.
Bill Walter, who taught social studies at CDS, praised St. Clair as a “good person” and said he wished him the best in the wake of the storm.
“His concern wasn’t whether somebody got an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ or a ‘C’ in middle school. He didn’t think that was important,” Walter said. “He thought that what was important was, ‘did you learn anything’ and ‘are you a better person?’”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh contributed $2,000 to the campaign. Federation President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein took the money out of a pool called the President’s Fund, according to Adam Hertzman, director of marketing and communications at the Federation.
“He has touched so many lives in the Jewish community, in the broader community,” Hertzman said. “I think as a much loved and much recognized contributor to the Pittsburgh community and the Pittsburgh Jewish community, we thought it was important to help.”
Cindy Goodman-Leib, executive director of the Jewish Assistance Fund, wrote on Facebook that the organization would be willing to support St. Clair as well.
“The Jewish Assistance Fund can help with damage from floods and storms and with many other Emergency expenses. Please let the community know to call 412.521.3237,” Goodman-Leib wrote.
Aviva Selekman Lubowsky, director of Client and Community Relations at the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh, added that if further funds are needed, that HFLA “has loans available up to $10,000.”
St. Clair also expressed gratitude to local residents and businesses for their efforts.
“The borough has been real good about cleanup, getting dumpsters down on the street and cleaning up all of the trash that people are dragging out of their house,” he said. “Many of the businesses have been donating cleanup supplies, a couple of the restaurants donating food, and people coming down the street, literally passing out hamburgers or water or whatever.”
St. Clair, whose tenure at CDS ended last year, also coached cross country, baseball and softball at the school, in addition to serving as a chaperone on the school’s annual 8th grade trip to Israel on multiple occasions.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” he said of the money he has received. “So that’s clearly a bright spot in all of this disaster.” PJC
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jennifer Bails’ name. The Chronicle regrets this error. The story has also been updated to reflect additional donations and available funds.
Jonah Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.