Starting Over: Former Red Cross Intern Shares his Recovery Story

Last Christmas, Zach Zimmerman, a former Red Cross intern, found himself in a similar position as the families he helped during his time here. His family was victim to a home fire sparked by a space heater. Now, 10 months later, Zach reflects on the process of recovery and how his experience at the Red Cross helped him get through the hard times.

It has been a long road for Zach’s family from the day the fire occurred to when his house was finally rebuilt. The weeks following the fire and Zach’s first encounter with his childhood home were particularly difficult, “Walking through the house, I’d see things from my childhood that were extremely sentimental and the remains of what my mom had worked so hard to create for us: a home.”

Eventually, his family regained hope that they could successfully pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. “As new hardwood floors went in, debris and glass was taken out of the yard and a fresh coat of paint was applied, I found myself excited to move back in,” Zach said. “This fire helped me put a myriad of things into perspective. Things are really just things, and nothing comes to being more important than your family.”

Zach stressed the importance of a strong support system when going through a traumatic experience. Family and friends can be the rock you need for long term recovery. “Whether it’s helping you sort through the rubble, or simply taking you out for a much needed day of fun, your family and friends are the best healing doctors in the world.”

As Red Cross interns, we are able to accompany teams when they respond to actual home fires that occur in the greater Chicago region to help communicate with the families and see them through the disaster. Zach and I have both been on the scene while families cope with disaster. When I asked how his time at the Red Cross helped him recover he said, “With the experience seeing others deal with the devastation of a fire under my belt, talking to my family about the fire was easier for me. I knew what they needed to hear, and I also knew how to help them realize the positives in the situation.”

It is crucial to get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Through this disaster, Zach and his family learned the importance of being prepared first hand. “We have created an emergency evacuation plan to be prepared if something like this ever happens again. It’s critical that everyone knows what to do in a situation like that. Being prepared can only benefit you, so take the time to make sure you’re ready to act when a disaster happens.”

The American Red Cross offers immediate support after a disaster, but long term recovery is equally important. For more on Zach’s experience, read his blog post.

Written by: Katie Donabedian

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