Will Harris staff writer
Kate Kotlyar staff writer
JuJu Knighton, Horace Mann Elementary School (HM) playground aide, was in a car accident on Oct. 4, 2020. Knighton “do[es] not remember what happened,” but was told she hit a tree in an attempt to dodge a speeding car. After the accident, Knighton’s BHUSD “family” gathered to support her.
On Oct. 13, 2020, the HM administration and members of the HM PTA started a GoFundMe for Knighton. Within 24 hours, the GoFundMe page reached over $5,000 of donations. As of Oct. 22, the BHUSD community collectively raised over $7,835. The GoFundMe’s purpose is to raise money for Knighton to help alleviate the price of hospital bills, among other things. She went in for surgery to fix her injuries the night of her accident.
“It was so sad because I’ve never broken anything in my body, I’ve never had stitches, I’ve never been in the hospital overnight and never had surgery. I was low-key terrified. It was so scary. I was happy that I was alive. But…I didn’t know if I would walk again. I [didn’t] know if my arm [was] out of it,” Knighton said.
As soon as she woke up from surgery, Knighton called the HM office because “that’s like [her] second home.”
“She said we were one of the first people she called. She didn’t even have her cell phone and so she had nobody’s phone number. So, she had the hospital people look up Horace Mann School and call the office because she wanted to talk to us so badly. She just kept talking about how much she misses us, [how much] she wants to be with us [and that] she can’t wait to come back to work. That’s all she’s been thinking about,” HM Assistant Principal Samantha Jung said.
Knighton thought that the amount of money raised for her was “unbelievable.” Jung shared her beliefs.
“I was watching the numbers go up and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s another thousand! There’s another thousand!’ I kept yelling because it was amazing. I just felt the love…These are people, some of them don’t even know her, [but] they know that she’s a part of the community and [they] said, ‘You know what? Somebody is in need and we’re gonna give. We can, [so] we’re going to give.’ And that to me, [is] what a community truly is,” Jung said.
While the rapid donations took Jung by surprise, HM Principal Craig Bugbee expected the influx of donation money.
“[The donations] didn’t surprise me at all because I’ve seen this community rally together, and when they want something, it’s done. So the fact that they were coming together to support another family member, another community member, doesn’t surprise me at all,” Bugbee said.
Among the 172 donors (as of Oct. 22), parent Rose Kaiserman donated to “help any way [she] could.”
“I have not had the pleasure of knowing JuJu, other than seeing her in passing on a few occasions. However, I know she is a beloved member of the Horace Mann community. I have only heard wonderful things about Juju. The news of her accident was a terrible shock,” Kaiserman said.
Knighton’s job as a playground aide acts as a “first line of defense to manage… interactions that the kids have,” according to governing school board member Tristen Walker-Schuman. HM vocal music specialist Judith Chan agrees that Knighton and her job are “an integral part of our community.”
“Our playground aides deal with hundreds [of kids] at a time in our yard, which is no easy feat. In the sun, in the rain, cold, hot, no matter what it is, they are out there with our kids and they are making sure that they are safe on our playground. Even when she was a crossing guard just making sure that people are following the rules of the road and keeping our kids safe crossing the street, that sort of job is invaluable,” fifth grade teacher Michelle Stradford said.
Knighton’s contributions and hard work do not go unnoticed. Junior Alex Manavi, who never personally knew Knighton, thinks that “people should give back to her for helping keep kids safe.”
“I had great relationships with previous playground aides and I know how much of an impact they make on the community. I could imagine how the kids and the Horace Mann family felt, so I felt the need to do what I could to help her and the community,” Manavi said.
The contributions from Knighton’s BHUSD “family” make her feel loved.
“It makes me want to do something for them, it makes me want to do better. It for sure makes me feel happy. It brought me out of a dark place [from] being in this accident, they’re really uplifting me now. That’s what I need right now. I really appreciate them very much for this. Anybody can fall into a deep hole and just hate the world because their leg[‘s] messed up or something like that. But this is like bringing me out of all that,” Knighton said. “They made me feel like, ‘Juju, we love you and we’re here for you.’ I really do appreciate them so much. I can’t stop saying how much I love them and I appreciate them. I owe them, I owe big time.”