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Students Raise Money After Fire Destroys Teachers' Home: ‘Humbled and Overwhelmed'

"Our hope is that we teach our kids to become great people who step up to help when the time arises," Jennifer Ghelf tells PEOPLE

<p>Jennifer Ghelf</p> Iowa couple and educators Jennifer Ghelf and Dean Lange lost their home in a fire on Jan. 14, 2024. A GoFundMe was established to raise money for their family

Jennifer Ghelf

Iowa couple and educators Jennifer Ghelf and Dean Lange lost their home in a fire on Jan. 14, 2024. A GoFundMe was established to raise money for their family

A pair of Iowa teachers are expressing their gratitude after their community, including a number of former students, came together to support them after their home was destroyed by a fire.

“We would like to thank our families, close friends and the various communities that have shown us immense support since the fire occurred,” Jennifer Ghelf tells PEOPLE in a statement. “The three school districts our family are a part of have shared their time and energy to help us as well.”

Last fall, Ghelf, her husband, fellow teacher Dean Lange, and their daughter Faith moved into a home in Norwalk, ABC affiliate WOI reported. On Jan. 14, when Lange was running an errand and Ghelf was about to shovel snow outside, Faith smelled smoke inside the home, per the report. Then the fire alarms rang.

Fortunately, Ghelf saw the flames and the family was able to evacuate safely, per CBS affiliate KCCI.

Related: Community Raises Thousands After Burglars Target Teachers' Home: 'It Is Energizing Us'

"[The firefighters] were doing everything they could, but everything you could see, everything was icing up and you could see them struggling," Ghelf said, according to KCCI.

Fire officials later said the home was a complete loss, per WOI.

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Although the experience has been "a lot" to handle, the family is incredibly grateful for all the help they've received.

"Because of all the support we have, whether we realized we had it or not, we're getting through it a day at a time right now," Ghelf told WOI.

<p>Jennifer Ghelf</p> The home of Jennifer Ghelf and Dean Lange was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 14, 2024

Jennifer Ghelf

The home of Jennifer Ghelf and Dean Lange was destroyed in a fire on Jan. 14, 2024

Related: Burger King Employee Who Went 27 Years Without Missing a Day of Work Buys First Home Thanks to Donations

Part of that support has come through a GoFundMe fundraiser established to raise money for the longtime educators. Those who have contributed to the fundraiser have included current and former students of both Ghelf, a teacher at Waukee South Middle School, and Lange, who works at Valley High School.

“Jenn was my high school choir director and very instrumental in helping me to become who I am today,” one contributor wrote in a comment on the fundraiser. “Jenn, I am so sorry to hear this happened and I am so glad you and your family are safe! I’m thinking about you.”

“Lange is an amazing teacher and an even better robotics coach,” added another donor. “He inspired me to continue pursuing robotics and engineering. I'll never forget the impact he made on me and my future. Thanks for everything you did for us Lange.”

As of Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe has raised over $40,000.

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Ghelf tells PEOPLE that the support from their former students has been particularly moving.

"We are most humbled and overwhelmed by the support of our former students who have shared not only their financial support but also as we have been reading the way they have shared their connections with us in seeking help for us during this time," Ghelf says. “Our hope is that we teach our kids to become great people who step up to help when the time arises."

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