In October of 2014, Jeff Klonowski, his wife, and two children returned home from church, finding that their home was on fire. Both apartments they rented in Hitterdal, Minnesota were destroyed along with all of their personal belongings. It was a traumatic day for the family, but they appreciated the immediate support provided by volunteers with the American Red Cross, which included assistance with lodging, food, clothing and toys for the kids.
“They helped us so much throughout this transition. We didn’t know what to do next,” Klonowski said. “What surprised us most is that all the people helping us were volunteers, it blew me away.”
In the weeks following, Red Cross caseworkers continued to work with the Klonowski’s, helping them find another place to live and get back on the road to recovery. The whole experience is something that made a huge impact on the family.
“It made me want to do what they (volunteers) were doing,” Klonowski added. “I made a decision that someday I was going to help others like they helped me.”
From Victims To Volunteers
Six months after a fire destroyed his home, Jeff started training to become a member of the Disaster Action Team for the Red Cross. He took a number of courses and started working in the Fargo office, organizing supplies in the warehouse and taking shifts as an emergency responder. However, Jeff didn’t join alone. His wife, Kate, and sons Christian (16) and Solomon (8) also came on board as volunteers.
“I really wanted this to be something we all did together because I thought it was important for us all to pay it forward,” Jeff said. “It has been good for us to experience both sides of it because we can relate to those that have had hardships in their lives.”
Kate started helping with home fire preparedness events around the area and also in schools helping instruct children through “The Pillowcase Project”. Christian participates in preparedness activities and also organizes the warehouse, while Solomon washes Red Cross vehicles and participates in parades and community events.
Jeff Klonowski and his family have been volunteers for almost a year. They have helped with large scale events like the tornado response in Delmont, South Dakota and have even led home fire preparedness events. Recently, Jeff and Christian organized a canvassing in a north Fargo mobile home park, installing over 50 smoke alarms in homes that needed them.
“Sooner or later, we are going to go to one of these homes we are called to after a fire and realize it was one of our smoke alarms that got them out,” Jeff added. “I just cannot not believe all the homes that don’t have them.”
So far, Jeff has participated in ten home fire canvassing events, four of which he organized on his own. Christian has participated in eight, and wife Kate in four.
“It feels good to give back to the community, knowing that you are a part of something that can make a difference,” Christian added.
Jeff has spent over 4,300 hours volunteering for the Red Cross, not including 4,000 hours he has been on-call to respond. Christian has logged over 1,000 hours in just over a year.
The Klonowski’s have truly gone from disaster victims to difference making volunteers.