Teacher organizes effort to help hard-working para, scrambling after car fire

A Wichita paraeducator is struggling to hang on to several jobs after losing her car in a fire. Now, the community is coming together to help her stay afloat.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 7:12 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: Donations to help Pam Coker buy a car have eclipsed the fundraiser’s $5,000 goal. A man also has offered to let her borrow his Ford Explorer until she gets a car of her own. Coker said she’s grateful and that “thank you” isn’t enough to express how she feels.

A Wichita Public Schools paraeducator is scrambling to try to find a way to travel to her several jobs after losing her car. It’s the latest in a string of misfortune that has an organized effort underway to help her.

It was briefly a hectic scene outside the 47th and Broadway Dillons in south Wichita where Pam Coker does her grocery shopping. In the parking lot, her car caught fire. She quickly ran outside to see firefighters surrounding the car.

Coker said she was praying, hoping that firefighters put out the blaze before it destroyed everything in the car. Inside the trunk were all of the Christmas gifts she’d bought.

“Luckily, I only lost a couple of those,” she said.

The car was a total loss. Coker said it was her only form of transportation and that she currently can’t afford to by a new car.

Coker said she loves her job working with children as a USD 259 paraeducator for Anderson Elementary School, but it makes for a tough budget, so she works three additional jobs to make ends meet. While appreciative of rides she’s been offered to places she needs to be, she hates having to ask for that help. But the loss of her car was the latest setback in what has been an especially difficult year for Coker.

“I actually lost my home as well back in July from the whole COVID thing because I was only able to work the para position, which basically cut my paycheck in half,” she said. “So, it was very discouraging. I just feel like I can’t catch a break. You know, I lost my home and now my car.”

But, Coker said, she works with a kindergarten teacher who is raising money to help her.

“She’s just a wonderful human being. So, when she asked, ‘how are you getting to and from?,’ I said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going at this point,’” Coker said.

That teacher, Naomi Sevart said she realized Coker needed community support after hearing her story. So, Sevart created a GoFundMe page for Coker, trying to get her a new car. In three days, the page raised about $4,300 of the $5,000 goal.

Coker said she’s moved by the support she’s received, even from strangers.

“They are willing to step up and help someone they don’t even know. It’s wonderful to see that there’s kindness and compassion in the world,” she said.

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