Affected by Fire, Young Woman Returns to Serve
My family lost our home on October 3, 1995 (which happens to be the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted in his murder trial). I was in 5th grade at the time. We lived on a farm 10 miles from the nearest town. I had just gotten home from school and was doing homework while the rest of my family were checking on cattle at a neighbor’s farm. When my parents got home, my dad said he could smell smoke coming from the basement. As he opened the door to go to our basement a cloud of black smoke flooded the kitchen. We were all so scared that we ran out of the house without anything…including shoes! I remember running down our gravel road barefoot because I was so scared. My dad tried to fight the fire with hose, but it was pointless. By the time the fire department arrived, all they could do was contain the burn to make sure it wouldn’t spread to the outbuildings.
I didn’t handle stress well at the time so I went to my grandma’s across the road to pretend it wasn’t happening. I remember watching the show “Rugrats” and trying to take a nap. A short time later my cousin came inside and forced me to go stand with my family. Seeing our house collapse was the most devastating feeling. We were all okay (except some pet fish), but EVERYTHING was gone. As a kid, I wasn’t worried about most of belongings except the extra credit homework I had just finished and my teddy bear I got from my aunt as a baby.
Since the fire happened to be around dinner time…the firemen found our freezer on a outside wall and began cooking steak on the outskirts of the fire. It may not have been the best of ideas, but at least something wasn’t wasted!
That night my sisters and I stayed with classmates. Reality sunk in when I returned home to see a pile of rubble that used to be our home. My parents were still trying to figure out a temporary place for us to stay until they could decide what to do next, move to town or rebuild. That weekend the American Red Cross provided us with a hotel room so my parents had time to figure out our living situation. As a typical kid I was excited because the hotel had a swimming pool! I remember asking my mom who was paying for the room since I knew we would need any money they had to replace everything. She explained to me that the American Red Cross provides assistance to families, like ours, who lose their homes in fires. Until that time the only thing I knew about the Red Cross was swimming lessons. The Red Cross provided us with financial assistance so we could have a couple new sets of clothes so we didn’t feel like we were relying solely on donated clothes from our neighbors. In small rural communities, your neighbors make sure you are taken care of. The local Hutterite Colony even donated a trailer home so we could stay on the farm and rebuild.
Of course, the meaning of the assistance we received did not hit home until I was older. In college, I was minoring in nonprofit leadership and management. When the opportunity came for me to serve as a college student representative for our local Red Cross Board of Directors there was no way I could refuse. I wanted to be there for others as the Red Cross had been there for me and my family. I have been on the board of directors for my local chapter since 2005. Through the American Red Cross I have not only had the opportunity to give back to the organization that provided a glimmer of hope to my family in our time of need, but I have also met wonderful people! During my time with the Red Cross, I have served in many capacities from the local (student rep, board member, chapter chair), service area (Midwest Service Area Resource Council – youth liaison, and national level (National Youth Institute planning committee). The Red Cross means so much to me that I studied the satisfaction & motivation of American Red Cross volunteers as my Masters thesis.
I cannot put into words how honored I am to donate my time to an organization that improves the lives of so many individuals worldwide. I am a Red Crosser for life!
~ Jessica Kirkham