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Team member, family survive fire; "A positive thing is my world is so much larger now." accent

February 2, 2023 | By

leanne and family IILeanne Benson could not have imagined as she drove home from work on Monday, November 14, that her world was about to change forever.

"My son and I had not been home long when an electrical fire started on the outside of our house," Leanne, Executive Assistant at the WesleyLife organizational headquarters in Johnston, said. "By the time my son noticed it and we called 911, the fire was to the top of the roof.

"Emergency responders started arriving so quickly – the response was amazing -- and it didn't take long for people to start tossing around the words 'total loss.' There was no coming back from it.

"My husband and daughter had arrived home by that time and we literally stood at the end of the driveway and watched our house burn."

For many people, such a life-altering event would be difficult one from which to recover. But Leanne knew that for her own mental health as well as her family's, she would need to find a way to rebound -- quickly. And she hoped and prayed that she would find a way.

In honor of National "Get Up" Day -- an observance that reminds us that when life looks its bleakest, we are worthy of finding the reserves to keep putting one foot in front of the other -- here is Leanne's story of hope and recovery.

leanne house fire"That first night, it was shocking to realize we had nothing but my car and the clothes on our backs," she recalls. "The neighbors kept telling us to come in to their homes and get warm, but it was like our feet were glued to the driveway.

"We didn't want to leave the ashes that were left of our house. At that point, we didn't know where our cats were. We jumped in my car and just watched.

"Then two angels showed up -- truly. They were volunteers from the Red Cross and they had come from Adel. They forced my brain back into gear with their questions: 'Do you need toothbrushes? Pajamas?' They gave my daughter a stuffed animal -- and that's something she still treasures today. 

"My mom and sisters are local, thankfully, and they rallied together to help us. We ended up staying with my sister in Norwalk; we were so grateful to have warmth and a roof over our heads. For a couple of days, we hunkered down as a family. We didn't go to work or school.

"I felt like I was still in somewhat of a fog when Kristy (VanDerWiel, Chief Culture Officer for WesleyLife) reached out and said, 'We are here. Tell us what your needs are.' That forced me back into 'productive Mom' mode and I came up with a list. The kids were going back to school and they had no warm clothes, no snow boots. Coats and boots were the first things we received and it felt like Christmas.

"That is when I started to feel an overwhelming and almost incredulous sense of gratitude. The generosity from so many people was amazing and really lifted our spirits. Our church and school communities were there in such a big way for us. And my WesleyLife family -- my goodness, the generosity. People I didn't know well, that I don't work with that often, were coming up to me and saying, 'I can do anything. Please. Don't put a limit on it. Let me help.'

Leanne and family"If you would have asked me before the fire about my social situation, I would have said my world is pretty small. My family and I are a very tight unit. I would never have assumed that so many people would be willing to help us. I found myself becoming very emotional as I looked around at all these relationships, all these people who cared about me and my husband and our children. 

"That realization picked me up. I knew we were going to be OK. I was able to begin to transfer that optimism to my family and be 'happy Mom' again. 

"Patrick and I started talking with the kids about the fact that change is good and that material things are just material things -- how lucky we were to have each other and to have our cats. This was a setback, but we had our family and our faith and the ability, thanks to so many wonderful, generous people, to get past this.

"Are things easy now? No. We are in a rental home that we are very grateful for, but it's not our home. We are hoping to buy or build our own home by summer, but there is a lot of red tape to deal with and we have some hoops to jump through. But we know we will be fine.

"I am a worrier by nature -- but I was able to become resilient in this situation, and help my family be resilient, due to the concern of others. From the money and gifts we received to the flexibility of my job, we were blessed -- and have been blessed every single day since this happened.

"It's a long journey, and we're not there yet. I won't be 100 percent OK until I have a real home for my kids again. They are only 14 and 11 and they need their home. But we'll get there. And we've already talked about a plan, after we get back on our feet, to pay it forward.

"I would not have turned the corner without help from others. The biggest lesson that I hope to share from this is to ask for help when you need it. Allow people to help you and give you strength. My world is so much larger now, and because of all the people who have been in this with us, I am able to choose positivity."


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