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‘It’s a new beginning’

Brooksby extends home, generosity to fire victims

Created date

March 20th, 2012

When a fire swept through an apartment house in Peabody, Mass., late last year, displacing six families and claiming the life of a Peabody firefighter, the people of Brooksby, a local Erickson Living community, stepped in to help their neighbors. Brooksby staff invited two of those families Annelly Guerrido and her 15-year-old son, Hector, and Lisa Jaber and her 8-year-old daughter, Jayla to take up temporary residence at Brooksby following their short stay at a nearby hotel courtesy of the Red Cross. Just after the New Year and with few belongings in tow, Guerrido, Jaber, and their children settled into guest suites at Brooksby, where in addition to their stay, they were provided one meal a day in one of the community s restaurants. If we hear of something or someone who needs help, we re more than willing to step in and help them if we can, says Brooksby Executive Director Jim Wingardner. Ultimately, the Brooksby community gave the Guerrido and Jaber families more than a safe temporary home community members raised more than $13,000 for their cause.

Overwhelming generosity

Shortly after the families arrived, Dick Thornburg, chair of Brooksby s Resident Advisory Council, happened upon Wingardner in the hallway. Just a day after moving to Brooksby, Jaber gave birth to Bella Rice Jaber, named for the fallen Peabody firefighter, James Rice. Though Brooksby had provided a portable crib for baby Bella, Wingardner told Dick he thought it would be nice to give more to these families. As the resident liaison to philanthropy at Brooksby, Dick insisted that was his job. He immediately crafted a letter to his fellow residents and later recruited six residents and two staff members to organize the collection, known as the fire committee. These families have become part of our extended family, but they moved with nothing no clothing, bedding, towels, pictures, or furniture, Dick wrote in the letter to his fellow residents. He offered them the opportunity to donate more. It was 2 p.m. in the afternoon, Dick recalls of his original hallway conversation with Wingardner. By 5 p.m. the letter was in the mail, and by 7 p.m. on my way out of the dining room at least six people stopped me to say what a great idea it was. An outpouring of compassion and support ensued. Less than a week after the letter hit mailboxes, Dick s committee tallied the funds, expecting a total in the realm of $2,000; instead, they were at about $6,000. In total, residents donated more than $13,000, mostly in small amounts and all anonymously. Many of the donations arrived with notes thanking Dick and the Brooksby residents who had arranged for the collection. These people are so generous, Dick says. The notes that came to me with the checks were just uniformly gracious and generous. Before the total funds were tallied, the fire committee purchased $300 Kohl s gift cards for each family and reimbursed Brooksby management for the cost of Bella s crib.

Part of the family

Before knowing just how much money had been raised for their causes, Guerrido and Jaber reflected on the compassion they had received from their new neighbors, as well as the Peabody community at large. It s just unbelievable; sometimes I don t know what to say, Guerrido says, adding of Brooksby, This is great, and everyone s been very nice from the employees to the residents. Adds Wingardner, They re just part of our family now. The residents have really stepped up and helped them. In the community s restaurants and hallways, the families met neighbors who asked how they were doing and whether they had what they needed. While waiting for dinners at the Greentree Caf , Jaber s daughter worked with neighbors to solve jigsaw puzzles. Others asked Annelly Guerrido and her athletic son if they were getting enough to eat. We want to stay here, Annelly Guerrido said with a laugh. Jaber echoed her friend s sentiment: It s been wonderful; we have tons of grandparents and tons of support. It s relieving to be around people you know genuinely care. With Bella in her arms, Jaber adds, We keep telling them we don t want to leave because they made it home to us. Brooksby promised the families a month of temporary housing, but both families were offered a second month at Brooksby until their permanent housing had been arranged. Brooksby s fire committee planned to divide the funds between the two families to put toward rent and furniture for their new homes. We ll meet whatever needs we can until [the] money runs out, Dick says. Despite their losses and the emotional month following the fire, both families were looking ahead. Says Jaber, her baby beside her: It s a new beginning.