PAYING IT FORWARD
The Fired Up Sisters women’s support group is made up of a group of women who lost their homes in October 2007 by three wildfires in the San Diego, California region. The fires were fueled by the Santa Ana winds, which move from the mountains to the ocean during that time of the year. The burning started in the inland, back country and quickly spread into populated areas. Burning stopped several days later, but not until over 1,000 homes, ranches, and rich agricultural vegetation had been destroyed.
Soon after the fires occurred, it was recognized that many survivors were severely underinsured and needed help in numerous areas. One of the fire survivors, Renee Van Heel of Rancho Bernardo, organized a women’s support group to help other survivors get through the maze of insurance, rebuilding, and personal problems that had to be addressed. A major concern was keeping the family unit intact.
FIRED UP SISTERS ESTABLISHED
The women’s support group formed and became known as the Fired Up Sisters (FUS). Their founding focus was to facilitate recovery for 2007 fire families. The current mission is to “pay forward” the community assistance received to other natural disaster survivors. FUS does this through:
- Staying connected to each other, community leaders, charitable foundations, and donation organizations, so that they can respond to the next event.
- Seeking out geographically local survivors, inviting them to the group and sharing experiences and resources.
- Sharing a recipe for recovery with other communities, with support, and outlining our path.“The 2007 Firestorm changed our lives, brought us together, and strengthened our resolve. It is our goal to turn life’s lemons into something sweet.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
Fired Up Sisters Southern California recognizes that theirs was not a unique situation and disasters will continue to devastate this country. In our area in southern California, the question is not IF there will be another wildfire, but WHEN it will be. As a result, the Fired Up Sisters would like to share their knowledge on how to start a similar group in your area. The Fired Up Sisters were helped in their efforts by the experience of a previous women’s support group, Burnt Out Sisters, a 2003 San Diego fire survivor group, who met with them to offer support and “Pay it Forward”. The Fired Up Sisters Southern California offers the same support to you.
The organization provides information to members on rebuilding resources, securing financial grants, furnishings, clothing, and emotional support to the family. They believe that the success of the organization is due to the fact that all of the members suffered a loss. They bonded and vowed to “make lemonade out of lemons.” They are ordinary women who have managed to accomplish extraordinary things. Several years later, the group, now called the Fired Up Sisters Southern California, still exists. Their current focus is to “Pay it Forward”.
DONATION MANAGEMENT AND CAGI (COME AND GET IT)
One of the most rewarding and successful achievements of the Fired Up Sisters has been in donation management. Many of the members actively participated in procuring donations from local stores and through excess inventory companies. For more than a year, there were so many donations that the group rented warehouse space. The donation management activity continued for five years after the wildfire disaster until all survivors were back in their homes (from 2007 until 2012). Donation management included:
- coordinators who worked with the local stores making the donations
- people to pick up the goods, sort it, and prepare it for distribution
- distribution event coordinators
- people to help people choose the donations they need
Our distribution events were called CAGI (COME AND GET IT). They were held either in our warehouse or later in space donated by a local church. They were originally held monthly and later were held once a quarter. We displayed the available goods and fellow fire survivors would come and get what they needed. Some of our CAGI included furniture, mattresses, and building products.
We are especially thankful for several companies for their generous collaboration with us:
Gifts in Kind (which has become Good360) help us as an excess inventory company. Bed, Bath, and Beyond was a long term partner that provided us with much needed home goods and discounts. Home Depot also was a long term partner that helped us with numerous products for rebuilding and discounts. Other companies for which we are very thankful include Tempurpedic, Disney, Williams and Sonoma, Home Goods, Guess, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Home Accents, Illuminating Interiors, Fan Diego, Pacific Sales and others.
During the rebuilding process there were special needs that needed our assistance:
DRIVEWAY PAVING: A fellow survivor from the 2003 wildfires was unable to move back into his home, because he did not have the funds to pave his drive way. The county would not allow him an occupancy permit without the driveway. The Fired Up Sisters organized a donation drive and helped coordinate other grants so that our fellow survivor could move home.
DRY WALL PROJECT: In another instance, one of our Fired Up Sister members was unable to move forward with the building of her home, because she did not have enough funds to pay for the dry wall. The Fired Up Sisters organized a dry wall fund and helped coordinate other grants, so that she could complete the building of her home.
BASKETS: As a special “welcome home” gift, the Fired Up Sisters distributed different types of gift baskets to members.
BASTROP TEXAS WILDFIRE: The Fired Up Sisters mentored the wildfire survivors in Bastrop Texas and helped them set up a donation warehouse. We sponsored their membership with Good360.
HO– USE FIRE: In another instance, a colleague of one of our members, a single mom, lost everything in a house fire. The Fired Up Sisters were able to welcome her to our group. We collected many donations for the things she needed.
RECENT WILDFIRE: . When a wildfire occurred in 2014, we were able to welcome these wildfire survivors to our group.
TREE DONATION: Our members chipped in and bought living, holiday tabletop trees for each of these survivors.
LUNCHEON: Later we sponsored a luncheon for this same group where we were able to share our experiences and offer our advice.