$3,210 raised for family who lost everything to fire
Some names have been changed or withheld to protect the identities of the individuals.*
Any other day, James* would have gotten in trouble for staying up until 4 a.m. playing video games, but in this case, he saved his family’s lives.
On the night of Jan. 28, Carmen Johnson was woken by James, saying he smelled smoke. A fire had started in the attic and was spreading quickly.
“We got out with the clothes on our backs,” Johnson said. “We didn’t have coats or even shoes on. We are truly blessed we are alive.”
Sadly, the house that Johnson shared with her husband and son James was completely destroyed. Johnson added that after 34 years, their mortgage was going to be paid in full come May.
Though the family has homeowners insurance and expects to be back in a newly-built home in six months, there were things the family needed now, like clothes, cookware, bedding and school supplies. That’s when the community stepped in to help.
“Just random strangers have been helping us,” Johnson said. “With God’s will and the kind-hearted people, they are doing so many things for us.”
It started the morning after the fire, with neighbors dropping off pre-made meals. A local church donated money to the family. Families started dropping off donated clothing for James at the REALM at Kerr Middle School, where he attends. A Go Fund Me was also started, in which $3,210 was raised by 44 people in just nine days.
The family has faced other hard times in the past year. In October, Dennis Johnson, Carmen Johnson’s husband, was laid off from his employer of 30 years. Then, in November, Dennis’ mom discovered she had stage four colon cancer and is currently in the hospital.
“It’s been a rough year,” Johnson said. “But Lord willing, it will get better.”
Cheryl Essex, dean of the REALM at Kerr, said young James has taken the fire in stride.
“The image of the devastation on the Go Fund Me site took my breath away,” Essex said. “He’s an easy going kid, you could tell he was sad, but he said, ‘I usually get in trouble for playing games late at night, but in this case, it was a good thing.’”
Students found out quickly what had happened to James’ house, but Essex said his friends at the REALM have been by his side the whole time.
“The support is all around him,” Essex said. “This is kind of a home away from home for a lot of our kids, and the parents, I think, rely on us.”
Essex instructed the REALM students to be caring towards James while he deals with this tragedy in his young life.
“We’re getting on with our lives,” Essex said. “They’re kids, we want them to be kids. He’s doing well.”
James’ teacher also said she expects the boy to recover from this sudden, sharp turn in life.
“James is a resilient student and we know he will be able to bounce back and we are making sure that happens,” she said.
This is the third house fire that has happened to a student this school year, Essex said.
“The REALM at Kerr is like a family and when a tragedy occurs we see our students and parents reach out in such a healing, supportive, way,” Essex said. “Our school district and community is evidence that a growing, progressive town can still retain it’s small-town heart.”
If you would like to donate to the family, donations are being taken at the REALM at Kerr, or you may visit https://www.gofundme.com/carmen-and-dennis-house-needs.