Coast-to-Coast Disasters Bring Preschool Teachers Together

Students and teachers on Ocracoke Island rally together under an #OcracokeStrong! banner following the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian earlier this year.

By all accounts, Janet “JuJu” Baker is a well-remembered, well-loved former preschool teacher in Malibu. Malibu’s 20- and 30-somethings (not to mention their parents) may remember “Miss JuJu” if they attended pre-K between 1981 and 2000, when she lived and worked here in town. Baker’s own children, Cody and Kyra, attended the now-shuttered Juan Cabrillo Elementary School. Cody was in the second graduating class of Malibu High School. Baker taught pre-K at Malibu United Methodist Nursery School for 18 years. She then taught preschool at Children’s Creative Workshop and St. Aidan’s.

Local preschool teachers and friends are now leading an effort to help Baker and another former Malibu preschool teacher, Teresa Coffey-O’Neal, in their time of need. And, importantly, their friends here say they want to pay back Baker’s kindness after the Woolsey Fire, when the former Malibu resident went out of her way collecting gift cards and other items to send back to Malibu.

“JuJu needs our help,” said Kim Ledoux, a longtime Malibu resident and friend who operated Wonder Years Daycare locally until three years ago. Ledoux explained that Baker moved to Ocracoke Island, N.C., in 2001 to be closer to family and teach nursery school. Part of that family is Teresa Coffey-O’Neal, who also lives in Ocracoke. Coffey-O’Neal was the assistant director at Malibu Methodist for 15 years. Coffey-O’Neal moved to the island first in 1998 to help Baker’s sister run a business. Coffey-O’Neal fell in love and married the local fire chief and then opened a business of her own on the island.

That’s all gone now, after Hurricane Dorian tore up the East Coast in late August.

Though Dorian destroyed 90 percent of the homes on Ocracoke Island, Baker’s house survived, but her car was destroyed. Coffey-O’Neal lost everything—the house, her shop and her vehicle.

This was not her first experience of loss—years earlier, Coffey-O’Neal lost everything in a Malibu fire. “Wherever she goes, she’s been hit. It’s been crazy,” said Ledoux. To make matters worse, Coffey-O’Neal is also battling stage four ovarian cancer. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Since all the businesses on Ocracoke Island were destroyed, Coffey-O’Neal is out of work as well.

Baker’s nursery school—part of the Hyde County Schools—is near destroyed.

Now, a couple of Malibu preschool teachers are leading an effort to help Baker and Coffey-O’Neal, especially since they reached out to Malibu after the Woolsey Fire.

“After the fire, one of the first people to help was JuJu. She sent gift cards. She collected stuff to send. Her son, who’s a volunteer fireman, sent toys and clothing,” Ledoux explained. “They were devastated for Malibu. This is home to them. This is horrible for them now. We need to support them too. It’s scary.”

Ledoux, who lost her home in the Woolsey Fire, reflected on how important the community coming together was for her family.

“I had so much support,” she continued. “I don’t know how I would have made it through without help.” Ledoux emphasized that Baker not only sent her gifts, but also that she provided items to Malibu pop-up donation centers.

Another local preschool teacher, Dru Ann Jacobson, told The Malibu Times, “I’ve known JuJu and Teresa for 30 years. They both were longtime preschool teachers in our hometown. I’m sure older children remember them very fondly.

“During the Woolsey Fire, Janet and her son Cody came out to us and brought gift certificates and toys,” Jacobson continued. “They were so concerned about their old hometown Malibu because that’s where her children were raised. Hurricane Dorian gave them the worst flooding they ever had. All the homes and businesses were flooded. There wasn’t much publicity because it’s a tiny island. The Bahamas was hit so hard that all the publicity went to that. No one knew how hard Ocracoke was hit.

“They did so much for us during the Woolsey Fire, now it’s our turn to give back to them,” she said. “It’s a small town like Malibu. It’s time for us to step forward.”

There is a joint online fundraiser account at GoFundMe for the women who will share any donations:

Donations can also be made to Hyde County Schools:

Ocracoke School Donation

P.O. Box 217

Swan Quarter, NC 27885