This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
It was the worst thing that could possibly happen to the Ceffaratti family last Thanksgiving.
A fire broke out in the house during the night and, thankfully, everyone in the house was able to get out safely in time, but the house was lost to the flames.
“It took the firemen an hour and a half to put the flames out,” said Mike Ceffaratti. “There were 10 fire trucks from five stations.”
Ceffaratti’s brother was a fireman in New Jersey and came over immediately.
Once the fire was out, Ceffaratti, his brother and his son went back into the charred remains and tried to recover as many pictures as they could.
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“He got our wedding album and some pictures of when our kids were little,” Ceffaratti said. “They were all in really bad shape, but he got them and put them back in our shed.”
West Chester Rustin High School, soon after hearing about the fire, stepped up to help the family.
Ceffaratti’s son graduated from Rustin, while his daughter is currently a student there.
“In a faculty meeting, we basically said we’re going to gather for gift cards and things like that,” said Joe Arscott, a photography teacher at Rustin. “We just thought, ‘Hey, if the Ceffarattis have photos and this school has a bunch of Photoshop operators, we can tie that together and be able to do a little bit of magic.”
Ceffaratti, unbeknownst to the rest of his family, took the black and bubbled photos to Arscott, not knowing what would become of them.
“I thought I was dropping off the pictures, but I wound up meeting with the class,” Ceffaratti said. “He wanted me to explain the pictures to the class. When I got to the one with my wife and her (deceased) parents, I’m showing them a framed picture that was completely black.”
It was an emotional moment between Ceffaratti and the students. Several of them were crying while listening to his stories behind each captured memory.
“For the first couple of days, the room smelled like a fire,” said Matt Malone, a senior in the class. “You could smell the smoke.”
Armed with cotton balls and Q-tips, Arscott’s Photography 2/3 class set to work on the pictures.
Over the next four months, the students put aside their curriculum and free time to dedicate themselves to restoring the photographs.
“We took a water and soap mixture and just gently rubbed off all the soot we could with cotton balls and swabs,” said Nichole Yakas, a 10th grader. “After that, we scanned them into our computers and sent them over to Photoshop to restore them.”
When you take into account to amount of photos the students worked on, it’s amazing they were able to do it in just four months.
“In our server for the two albums that we did, there were about 500 4x6s,” said Ashlyn Dankanich, a senior. “Then the wedding album had about 60 pictures in it.”
Working through all the photographs, the students began to feel like they were a part of the Ceffaratti family.
They were able to go on the trips with the family and spend holidays with them.
“We’re part of the family now,” said Kirsten Bauernschmidt. “We went to their wedding that was (28 years) ago. We went to the beach. We’ve been through everything now.”
When all was said and done, the school set up a special presentation during a teacher’s assembly at the school for the Ceffarattis.
Everyone except Mike Ceffaratti were in the dark to what it was about.
“The principal sent us an invitation saying one of the departments wanted to give us a gift,” Ceffaratti said. “They started showing a video (of the students restoring the photos). Some of the kids came up and told us what they did and they gave us the pictures they were talking about.”
That included a newly made wedding album.
“It was great to see (Mrs. Ceffaratti’s) face when all of them were restored after thinking that she didn’t have most of them,” said Shelby Speaker, a 10th grader.
The students did more for the Ceffaratti family than they’ll ever know.
One of the photographs restored was of a little league baseball team, who the students thought was Ceffaratti.
Instead, it was his brother, the fireman, who was in it who, six weeks after the fire, unexpectedly passed away.
“Everything else was gone and this was all we looked for,” Ceffaratti said. “Being able to give these to my wife and daughter was just amazing. They completely redid the wedding album. The fact that my brother recovered (the photos) means so much more.”
The dedication the Rustin students showed to helping the family in some small way is something they all agree they’ll carry with them for the rest of the lives.
Not to mention the Ceffarattis will also now have their photos back in their lives as well.
“I love those kids more every time I see that (video),” Arscott said. “Everybody found their own level. We told them what the assignment was and what needed to be done and I got out of the way and let them be brilliant. They found it and they did it.”