When Pine View parent Courtney Rosenthal created her GoFundMe fundraiser for high-quality air purifiers in Pine View classrooms, she expected her lack of experience with the platform to limit her success. Eleven days after the fundraiser was launched, Rosenthal had raised over $70,000 in donations, amassed from parents across Sarasota County. The money was used to buy a total of 130 Aerus Pure and Clean+ air-purifying scrubbers, 106 of which were distributed to all individual classrooms – and a handful of administrative offices – at Pine View.
Rosenthal was inspired by the act of kindness her father-in-law, Ed Rosenthal, performed in buying 24 Aerus air scrubbers for Community Day School in Sarasota. Ed, the founder of fertilizer company Florikan, has a longstanding relationship with air filter company Aerus, as both companies were inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2017 for their contributions to NASA. The Rosenthal family’s connection to Aerus allowed them to purchase the Pure and Clean+ scrubbers at $500 – a price reduced from the market value of $1,500.
With her daughter, Mia, entering eighth grade at Pine View this year, Rosenthal felt as though she needed to step up to make a difference in the community.
“I knew that this was such a wonderful thing to do for the school. At first, [Ed] had thought about buying scrubbers just for Mia’s teachers, but I knew that I didn’t want to get them for only six teachers when so many others needed them,” Rosenthal said. “There were educators who had high risk family at home or had situations themselves that needed help I could give.”
Rosenthal launched her GoFundMe page on Aug. 13. Her first goal was $50,000, which would have been enough to purchase 100 air scrubber units. Armed with the power of Facebook shares and detailed Excel sheets, Rosenthal’s cause quickly picked up traction. It took mere days for the fundraiser to reach 700 shares.
Originally, Rosenthal was receiving the majority of the donations from the parents of elementary and middle school students. Recognizing that the goal would not be met if high school parents were not reached, fellow Pine View parent Anna Nekoranec took it into her own hands to connect with as many parents as possible. Rosenthal considers Nekoranec to have been “instrumental” to the cause.
“Anna was my right hand and helped facilitate this. In the end, I couldn’t have done it without her,” Rosenthal said.
Nekoranec has been familiar with Pine View’s campus for over a decade. Her appreciation for the GoFundMe stems from her concerns about the high numbers of portables on campus. Nekoranec took a more direct approach to contacting fellow parents; as opposed to sharing links online, she made many personal calls and emails to connect with people on a deeper level.
“Social media is not as telling as a person to person communication,” Nekoranec said. “I believed in the cause and wanted to reach people who would feel the same. They made personal choices in making the donations they did.”
As the GoFundMe reached more people, Rosenthal began receiving unique requests. Pine View parents who taught at other schools in Sarasota County asked Rosenthal if they could use the GoFundMe to give a $500 flat donation that would then be used to purchase air scrubbers of their own, as opposed to working with the normal $1,500 rate. Rosenthal obliged. The GoFundMe’s goal was raised to $70,000 to cover the cost of 24 additional units. Though she had planned to keep the fundraiser open for one week, Rosenthal extended it to guarantee that every teacher at Pine View received an air scrubber. This new goal was met in four days.
“I didn’t expect that we’d even get 100 teachers covered. I thought this was a grandiose expectation and almost rolled my eyes at the thought of achieving this success, given that I had no prior experience and [the GoFundMe] was getting around only by word of mouth and social media shares. I attribute the success to the families that really care about our teachers at our school,” Rosenthal said.
According to Aerus’ user guide, the Pure and Clean+ product “destroys over 99% of all surface and airborne contaminants.” Its relatively small size helps it blend into classrooms and workplaces easily, removing the possibility of unnecessary distraction.
“I hadn’t really noticed any [of the air scrubbers], other than the one in my math class,” tenth-grader Ethan Messier said. “I don’t know the breakdown of each little part of the technology, but it definitely helps me feel safer. I’ve been nervous about being back in school but knowing that it’s there eases a lot of anxiety.”
Eleventh-grader Sofia Sueiro’s concern about COVID-19 is due to her father being at high risk. “I’ve honestly been really scared about coronavirus. Knowing about [the air scrubbers] being in my classes makes me feel a lot more safe,” she said.
Rosenthal and Nekoranec feel that while the air scrubbers will work to keep all members of the Pine View community safe, purchasing the air scrubbers was more of a gift to Pine View teachers.
“I was buying these products for teachers. Parents could fund the cause, and then each individual teacher could use it in whatever way they needed. The teachers, knowing what this product can do, will hopefully feel safer and more comfortable,” Rosenthal said.
“I didn’t spread this cause just for the safety of my kids. It’s not fair to risk these teachers who are pouring their lives out for their students. Maybe this fights the virus, maybe it doesn’t, but we all need better, cleaner air for these classrooms,” Nekoranec said.
Pine View’s newest math teacher, Shane Melton, is a testament to teachers’ appreciation for this initiative. Melton teaches AP Calculus BC and pre-algebra.
“Being a physics major, I was curious as to how [the air scrubber] did its job. After going through the process, I felt confident that it was doing its job and that it’s a benefit to the room, keeping the air clean. I’m really grateful that I was able to get one, considering I was hired about two weeks before school started,” Melton said.
Not all responses to Rosenthal’s cause have been positive. Though the district spent over $800,000 on MERV 13 air filters for classrooms throughout Sarasota County, they were placed on backorder for four to five weeks. When the Sarasota Herald Tribune covered the success of Rosenthal’s GoFundMe, the disparity between the air filtering resources at Pine View and other county schools sparked a debate on their Facebook page.
At the time of her fundraiser, however, Rosenthal said she was unaware of this inconvenience. She argues that because air purifiers are a common item on many teachers’ classroom wish lists this year, purchasing the Pure and Clean+ air scrubbers is no different than buying any other device and donating it to a teacher in need.
“Some people think that this was the work of a handful of people writing $7,000 checks just because they could, but a lot of small-dollar donations made this happen. The reason why this fundraiser was so successful was because of everyone who spends all day long at Pine View. This was the work of Steven Dacey, Suzie Shea and Alventina Lazareva and all the other wonderful teachers that have left a mark on the school. All the negativity reminds me of all the teachers who have committed their lives to making the world a better place by educating kids. Instead of fighting, the community bonded together to work for better. This is a perfect example of the way people should be helping each other right now,” Nekoranec said.
Regardless of Facebook arguments, Rosenthal is happy to have been able to make a difference in the Pine View community.
Principal Dr. Stephen Covert had a simple message for Rosenthal, Nekoranec and every parent who made the fundraiser successful.
“I think it is amazing that the parents ran with this,” Covert said. “Our thanks can’t be stated loudly enough.”