JFS Helps Marshall Fire Victims, One Family at a Time

Since the Marshall Fire roared through the Boulder area at the end of 2021, Jewish Family Service (JFS) has been actively responding to the community’s needs in the aftermath of this tragedy. Thanks to JEWISHcolorado’s Boulder Fire Relief Fund and donations to JFS’s wildfire fund, we have served more than 200 households with financial support so far.

Jill Ruggles lost her home of 30 years in the fire. She shares her account of what happened and how JFS came to her family’s rescue when they needed to find immediate housing.

The Ruggles Family
The Ruggles family at their son’s college graduation

JFS: How were you affected by the Marshall Fire?

Jill: Our home was lost, as well as our entire subdivision of 90 homes. With no warning that conditions were life-threatening, and the fire was advancing toward us, we were forced to self-evacuate with only our dog and our computer.

JFS: How did you learn about JFS?

Jill: Many of our good friends said that we should reach out to JFS as the services were non-denominational and our need was great. They said the aid was immediate, which we needed. Other organizations could not meet some of our short-term needs as processes were not established yet and so many people required assistance.

JFS: What services did JFS provide for you and how did this support make your life better?

Jill: A few days after the fire, we received a gift card, and a few weeks later we received cash funding directly into our bank account. There are no words to adequately describe how much your kindness has meant to our family. While it is tragic losing our home of 30 years, the human touch and empathy from JFS was restorative to our hearts. After being the beneficiary of so much kindness from JFS, it has touched our lives in immeasurable ways. We were in fact reassured many times that we could get help faster and with no judgement for our dire situation. Housing in Boulder County is at a critical low due to demand, and we knew that to secure housing we would need to focus on this need first and be assertive in finding a place that would take our elderly dog. JFS funding allowed us the ability to furnish an apartment and be able to move in. JFS provided money before our insurance funds were made available to us.

JFS: How are things going now as you rebuild your life and what else do you want to share about this experience?

Jill: We are grateful and feel fortunate to have housing above all and be able to all be under one roof. I have returned to work after two weeks off, so now we have income again. Emotionally returning to work has been good and bad since there are time requirements to coordinate insurance claims, applications, etc. while still being effective at work. With the change in seasons soon we will need different clothing and need to resume the things we love. One day at a time, I cannot make this too big.

JFS also addressed the emotional toll this has taken on our lives by offering support for our mental health. A month after the disaster, we are trying so hard to move forward despite numerous obstacles like lack of identification, numerous lost legal documents, and the loss of special mementos from both of our parents who are no longer with us. They cannot ever be replaced and there are waves of grief that continue to hit us as we remember the inventory of what our home of 30 years held. My husband and I were engaged at this house, our son came home to this house as a newborn and later had his graduation party in the back yard. We loved our garden, every tree in this place and our personal touches. This house held so many good memories and treasures. Now it is hard to think positive when we see the skeleton of a house that was lost and mourn the loss of what we created there. We have no pictures of our lives prior to 2005, this makes it very hard to come to terms with the magnitude of the loss.

We lived a peaceful and fulfilling life in Louisville and, honestly, it was taken for granted. It was a wonderful place to raise our son. Our cul-de-sac was the perfect image of a community where neighbors were friends and had keys to each other’s houses. We were privileged to watch everyone’s children grow up and begin their own marriages and careers and be included in the ensuing celebrations.

Now we are faced with financial, legal, real estate, and emotional problems that we did not have prior to the disaster. Our neighbors and friends are all going through this same tragedy with us as they too recover, which at times is consuming. Our neighborhood is now disjointed, and we have lost what we valued the most…community connection.

Our bigger community has helped tremendously, but we worry what the future will hold as we try to rebuild a few years from now. We remain grateful for JFS’s help and support!

Due to the increase in demand for services, JFS has hired more staff to do intakes, support those calling for assistance, and provide mental health counseling. To date, we have delivered approximately $12,000 in gift cards to help with immediate needs and distributed 98 laptops. We’ve provided nearly $190,000 to 127 households help with rental assistance, emergency food and supplies, air mitigation, and more. We have prioritized those who have a greater immediate need, such as renters who require help with first and last month’s rent on a new apartment and others who need assistance paying for temporary housing while still paying their mortgage. After addressing these initial needs, we expect more significant long-term housing and support requests.

Many new clients have also registered for mental health services through the Boulder County Crisis Counseling program, and we’ve had an outpouring of support from therapists offering their services. Through this program, individuals and families can receive free sessions with a counselor they select from our list of nearly 200 providers. We encourage anyone in the Boulder area who has been affected by the wildfire to sign up for these sessions.

If you would like to support the relief efforts or if someone you know needs financial assistance or mental health counseling due to the fires, please visit jewishfamilyservice.org/boulder.

About Jewish Family Service

Founded 150 years ago, we currently offer more than 30 programs and services, including food security, housing stability, mental health counseling, aging care, employment support, and disability services. JFS takes a holistic approach, assessing the various needs of the individual or family and provides the appropriate services all from one organization.

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