At 6:06 a.m. on November 7, 2015, the neighborhood awoke to a fire at the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) apartments on Valgar Street. Families from seven households had to relocate for over six months as a result.
"People in the community still continue to help us," said Amanda Bragg who lived in apartment 34 that was damaged by the fire. "We had to adjust, we adjusted to a temporary space for awhile and then debated if we wanted to come back."
Bragg said the deciding factor for her return was whether or not WWHT would allow her and her family to move into apartment 38, which she said includes more windows than her previous apartment. In addition, she noted the previous apartment bore too many memories from the fire.
"You can't forget what you saw, it makes it hard," said Bragg.
According to Bragg, WWHT was accommodating to her desires and relieved her of some stress as WWHT hired a mover, free of charge to residents. In addition, to ensure the comfort of those on Valgar Street, WWHT hosted a block party, which they said was to "honor and celebrate the residents' resiliency and positive outlook during the recovery and reconstruction as part of NeighborWorks Week – a week-long celebration of neighborhood revitalization activities."
The Brattleboro Fire Department platoon was first on the scene in November and they returned to Valgar Street in June for the block party, but this time simply with the goal of welcoming children and adults back to their homes and allowing folks to explore and learn all about how a fire truck operates.
While some of the residents were able to move back into their apartments within a day or so of the fire, at least seven families were forced to relocate for six months due to the smoke or water damage. The American Red Cross and the Department for Children and Families through Economic Service Division helped at least 11 families by providing them with the appropriate amount of money for their basic needs such as food and shelter in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
"Losing a home in a fire involves not only the loss of residence, but also many other things of value such as photo albums, important documents and treasured objects," stated a press release from WWHT. "Most importantly, though, the home is a place of security, comfort and safety. After a fire, this sense of security can also be lost and can significantly disrupt the normality of daily life."
WWHT said it has been over 200 days since the fire and many of those affected are continuing the hard job of rebuilding a sense of security in their lives and they are beginning it back at their homes. WWHT noted that positivity can come about if individuals focus their attention toward the future. One individual who has moved back into the apartment complex with his two younger sibling and grandmother is already moving forward and enjoying his home.
"I have more space to play with my Legos," said Austin Pinette, 9.
Pinette was inside apartment 32 when the fire occurred in November and he helped to rescue his baby brother, Adam. In December, Love It Twice resale and consignment shop owner Leigh-Ann Cwikowski held a surprise party in his honor at the Vernon Fire Department. On Wednesday, when asked who has been helpful throughout this transition period of not having a home, Pinette mentioned his Cub Scout friend, Leland, who gifted him a backpack, and Love It Twice for all the clothes that were donated to him and the other children at the Valgar Street complex.
WWHT expressed gratitude to the generous sponsors of the block party, including NeighborWorks America, GPI Construction, Servpro and Service Master.
WWHT is part of the national NeighborWorks network, an affiliation of more than 240 nonprofit organizations located in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275