When a teacher from New Jersey discovered one of his students had just been evicted from his home, he decided to step in to lend a helping hand.
Nicholas Ferroni — a Social Studies instructor at Union High School and PEOPLE’s 2014 Sexiest Teacher Alive — recently found out that one of his former students, George Hued, a senior, was facing problems outside of school.
“A few weeks ago I noticed a change in George’s demeanor and mood, so I had to see if there was something going on his life that was affecting him,” Ferroni tells PEOPLE of his former student, who he says has always treated everyone at school with kindness. “Like most teachers, it breaks my heart to see a student, or any child or adult, stressed, unhappy and overwhelmed.”
That’s when Ferroni found out that George and his family had been evicted from their home in Union County when his mother, Melanie Robinson, lost her job.
After hearing about what the family was experiencing, Ferroni felt compelled to help out.
“Most teachers, including myself, see our students as our ‘kids.’ They are not just students to us, and we care as much about their success in life as their success in class,” Ferroni says. “We [teachers] also know that so many students and their families are going through so much that we try our best to be there for them inside and outside of the classroom.”
And for as long as he’s been teaching, Ferroni says his students aren’t the only ones who he has come to admire.
“As much as my students inspire me,” he says, “I am inspired by their parents as well.”
Ferroni soon turned to GoFundMe to help the family during their difficult time, asking the community to make donations, no matter how small, to help get Robinson and her sons a temporary place to stay.
In just under a week, Ferroni was able to raise over $5,000 thanks to 155 kind donors. Ferroni then invited the unsuspecting family to the school to surprise them with the check. Both George and his mother were swept with emotion.
“George said ‘thank you,’ but he didn’t have to say a thing — his reaction to his mom said it all,” Ferroni recalls. “Both George and myself were fighting back the tears. George knows how hard his mom works to support and help him and his brother, so he didn’t have to say a thing.”
While he was able to help the family using the donation page, Ferroni is thankful for the strangers who gave donations as small as $5 and as high as $500, which all made a difference.
“I want to reiterate that all I did was share their story and start a campaign,” he says. “It was the kindness of 155 people, people who never met Melanie and George, and probably never will, that made this moment possible.”
Ferroni says teachers regularly go to great lengths to help their students.
“I know all that teachers do for their students that go unrecognized and can not be included in their evaluations, from buying supplies, to providing foods, clothes and comfort,” he says. “Teachers everywhere are going above and beyond for their students and their families.
He adds: “My only advice to teachers would be to never doubt how powerful one small act of kindness can be, and how its impact will matter so much more than any lesson we teach in class.”