Stephanie Sewell is a mother of two who has fought her share of tough battles. And won. She struggles daily with diabetes and kidney disease. More recently, she succeeded in overcoming homelessness and put her household back together. Over the course of nine months, she and her 12-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son were well on their way toward rebuilding their life in a new apartment—their new home. Stephanie was working; the kids were in school. Then, on a Sunday afternoon, events took an unexpected turn.
“The smoke detector went off, my son grabbed me and pulled me outside,” Stephanie said, explaining that her family was lucky to evacuate quickly. The entire apartment had rapidly filled with the smoke of a kitchen fire.
House fires are an ever-present risk in our community. However for Stephanie and her two children the losses were especially profound. The apartment was uninhabitable. Smoke damage ruined all their clothes and bedding. Couches, appliances, boxes of food and all the goods needed to establish a home were lost. The family had few resources and nowhere to go. Stephanie’s was facing her greatest fear: Would they be homeless once again?
“A home fire is a devastating event for anyone and our priority was to get Stephanie and her kids could get back on their feet,” said Jamie Gravelle, disaster program manager for the Snohomish County Chapter of the Red Cross. The Red Cross coordinated a hotel stay for Stephanie and her children. Jamie visited with Stephanie and her kids and recalled, “I was particularly concerned for them, they had come a long way to find home, and suddenly, their home was gone. My heart really went out to them.”
The Red Cross helps people facing a crisis, such as a house fire, in diverse ways: making sure they have a warm place to stay, meals, access to health services and emotional support, as well as the resources needed to begin their recovery.
Stephanie was understandably anxious to return to her home. Finances were tight. “I was lucky, I had people looking out for me,” she said. “Jamie came to see me to make sure were getting by, she did it on her own time, and she didn’t have to do that.”
Jamie then got in touch with the apartment manager to help Stephanie and her children get back into an apartment as quickly as possible. Within days, they were back in.
Looking back, Stephanie found that the fire turned her life upside-down in ways she could never expect. “Everything got a little overwhelming when this tragedy hit, but we had people standing by us in a hard situation and we are so blessed,” she added. “Now my son, tells me, after all we’ve been through, he wants to give back.”