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Fire survivors to mentor Black Forest residents

July 26, 2013 Updated: July 26, 2013 at 12:35 am
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Mountain Shadows residents, many of whom lost their homes in the June 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, commemorated the rebirth of their community a year later.

On Thursday night some of them took another, unusual step - they signed up to mentor Black Forest fire survivors, who have only started the wildfire recovery process.

The nonprofit Colorado Springs Together, in one of its last major community acts, is helping launch a mentor program that will unite fire survivors on both sides of Interstate 25.

About 20 Mountain Shadows residents gathered at Wilson United Methodist Church on Flying W Ranch Road to learn the basics of guiding others on what they just went through.

"You guys from the Waldo Canyon experience have the chance to do something very unique" in helping other community residents by using personal experience, said Bob Cutter, president of Colorado Springs Together.

The 18,247-acre Waldo Canyon fire, which started on June 23, 2012, killed two people and destroyed 347 homes in Mountain Shadows in northwest Colorado Springs. It is the most costly fire in state history.

The 14,280-acre Black Forest fire, which started on June 11, killed two people and destroyed 488 homes in El Paso County. It is the most destructive in state history.

"In many respects, this was your idea," Cutter told the crowd.

Colorado Springs Together, which was founded after the Waldo Canyon fire, got a slew of requests from Mountain Shadows residents asking how they could help the Black Forest fire recovery effort.

The best way, they were told on Thursday night, is to listen.

"You are not there to give the answers. You are there to listen. It's so important for you to bring your heart and ears," said Gerald Albrent, disaster response coordinator with AspenPointe, a local nonprofit mental health provider. "Your experience is absolutely invaluable."

Above all, Albrent cautioned the Mountain Shadows residents to make their mentor relationships about helping, not unloading their own troubles on the latest group of fire victims.

"They are probably not ready to share the depth of your pain," Albrent said. "Because this isn't about you. This is about them."

Carla Albers, who lost her home to the Waldo Canyon fire, is working with the founders of Black Forest Together to set up the mentoring process.

Albers and Cutter were adamant that mentors should remain neutral; they shouldn't tell people which insurance adjustors to use, for instance, but share what worked for them.

The evening ended with the residents discussing what they could do, based on what had not been done for them.

One woman cried when she recalled that she couldn't attend evening informational sessions; the residents resolved to work on creating webinars for meetings Black Forest residents miss.

Michael Currey, who also lost him home, urged Albers to organize insurance company-specific meetings for residents to trade tips about dealing with their agencies.

Two teenage sisters, Clairelise and Elizabeth Post, who lost their home on Mirror Lake Court, came to the meeting to make a plug for starting a teenager-friendly mentor group to help with fire recovery.

All Gloria Horne wanted for the Black Forest fire survivors was what she got from Colorado Springs Together.

"I got everything from them. If it hadn't been for CST (Colorado Springs Together), I'd still be drowning," she said.

Horne used the former Colorado Springs Together center off Centennial Boulevard as a home away from her rental apartment.

"Wherever you set up your physical place, put pictures on the wall, get furniture in there as soon as you can" to make it a comfortable place for survivors to use, she said.

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