Wilton Parents Mobilize to Help School Bus Driver who Lost All in House Fire
Our kids get on the school buses in the morning and get off in the afternoons. We wave to the drivers, say an occasional ‘Thank you!’ and move on about our day. At holiday time and the end of the school year, perhaps we give them a gift card or some homemade cookies.
Hubenson Anicette–better known as “Ubie”–is one of those Wilton school bus drivers. He started working in the Wilton school district in 2009, just 10 years after he moved to the United States from Haiti. It’s a job he absolutely loves.
“I like being around the kids. I worked as a dialysis technician before, but once I got this job I really felt comfortable. I was called by Columbia Hospital to work, but I prefer working with the kids–they’re fun, they joke around. Even if you don’t feel okay they will make you feel good. They talk to you, they ask you, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘Did you see that?’ I love the kids. I try not to miss one day–last year I think I missed one day only, I was sick and you have to stay away. But it’s a tough job, an important one–you’re responsible for everyone. I have to teach them, to honor them, to show them that they’re special,” he explained, his face lighting up.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 19, Ubie was at that much-loved job, driving his usual routes on bus number 17, when he received a call from his brother. “He called me and said, ‘Your house…,'” his voice trails off.
Ubie’s brother had heard the news on TV, as the house fire was a big enough story to make News 12, headlining the story, “8 Homeless after Bridgeport Fire.” Ubie hasn’t yet been able to bring himself to watch the video.
The fire, smoke and water destroyed everything. “The bed, clothes, electronics…everything” Perhaps trying to look for the sliver of bright side, he laughed–“I still have the vacuum! It works!” Also lost in the fire were dishes, his suits–and wedding gifts. That’s right, Ubie is engaged to be married on April 26 to his fiancee, Djouviska Lesperance.
As he talks about what happened, it’s clear he is very humble, with a sense of dignity you can tell he’s trying to hold on to. He doesn’t want to ask for anything–which makes the need that much more apparent, and heartbreaking, especially when you hear that the Red Cross placed him in a hotel the first night after the fire, but since then he’s had to rely on the kindness of relatives or friends who let him crash on their couches until he can find a new place to live. “The most important thing,” he said, “is that I need an apartment.”
Typical of kids, they find out everything. The kids on his routes knew he was getting married, and they learned that his life changed last week with the fire. It’s likely that the students he drives each day relayed the news to their parents.
Over this past weekend, emails about Ubie’s house fire and efforts to organize something in Wilton to help him started circulating among parents and posts started appearing on Facebook. One of the most striking things about the emails was the consistent appearance of accolades about Ubie– “He’s such a nice guy!” “He’s so great with the kids.”
Even those who didn’t know him personally chimed in to ask, “How can I help?” Offers of furniture and housewares have been extended. Rachael Dineen was one such parent who heard the news via the grapevine. “My heart just aches for him. Everything is gone.”
She has gone a step further, taking the lead to organize efforts to help him raise money for the first month and last month’s rent as deposit on an apartment. She created an online fundraising page on youcaring.com with an initial goal of raising $3,500.
With a child on UB’s route, Dineen has gotten to know Ubie well enough to share jokes with him, and now to extend a hand of help. She is grateful for the response from Wilton that the story has gotten already with only a little circulation. “I love this town. I love how everyone gets on board. The emails I keep getting, [saying] ‘I have a couch!’ ‘I have clothing–what size does he need?’ It really is so nice.”
Dineen emphasized that right now, Ubie isn’t in the position to accept donations beyond assistance to the apartment fund, and perhaps gift cards. She said she’s hopeful people will donate through the You Caring site and then consider Target or Walmart gift cards.
“He needs to get his life started over. Let’s get the apartment going first. Then we can help him with other items.” She said she’ll post updates on the site and spread the news through GOOD Morning Wilton and on the Wilton CT 411 Facebook page, as well as elsewhere, as to when he needs more specific items.
Dineen’s words echo what a lot of other parents have said about Ubie: “He’s a good guy. He’s on time with a smile. He takes care of my kids–to me that’s so important. Even though it’s icy out, even though there’s a storm, we’re entrusting our kids to these guys. I want him to have a good night’s sleep before he gets here at 8 o’clock in the morning.”
Even more important, she said, it’s the right thing to do. “I would want someone to do this for me, or if I was in another country, I would hope someone would help out. If my child went someplace else, and he had a fire and I couldn’t be there, I would hope someone would lend a hand. It breaks your heart. We are all there–we could all be in that position tomorrow.”
As for Ubie, he knows that it could have been worse. That the electrical problem could have sparked at night, and it could have been so much, much more devastating had he or Djouviska been at home. It gives him a lot of comfort to know that he’s the recipient of whatever kindness Wilton extends to him.
“When they heard what happened, they approached me, to ask what they can do. ‘How can I help?’ they asked me. I can say that anything they can do, I will be grateful. What is special about this community, what I am thankful for, I am glad I work here in Wilton, and that they consider me as family. It was there, but now I can realize it. I want to thank everybody, every single person who thinks about me. I thank everybody for their help.”
In an email, Wilton Public Schools’ transportation coordinator Mary Channing said that there’s an effort afoot among his co-workers to help Ubie as well. She wrote, “There is a collection box at the bus terminal for Hubie along with a list of needed items. We are all thankful that no one was home at the time of the fire!”
To help Ubie, visit the YouCaring.com page that Rachael Dineen has set up.