A special housewarming party drew a happy crowd in front of a new yellow house on a hill outside Molalla just before Labor Day. Homeowner Shilah James’ family just moved in, two years after the 2020 Riverside wildfires destroyed their home. “It’s probably going to be winter before we realize, we have a house. I’m just like kind of in shock… it hasn’t sunk in yet.” Community members who helped build the house came together to celebrate her new beginning.
With 125,000 acres burning near Estacada, Molalla residents were told to evacuate in September 8, 2020. The James family fled to the Clackamas County Fairgrounds, where they lived for two weeks. Pat Olsen with the Clackamas Long Term Recovery Group came to tour the James previous home shortly after the fires died down, and found the walls yellow from smoke damage. “We determined very quickly the home was not something we’d like to try to rehabilitate.” Volunteers formed the LTRG to help families like the James rebuild their lives with new homes.
Home Builders Help out:
Home Builders Foundation- HomeAid Portland and Home Builders Association members quickly stepped up to help the LTRG. HBF presented a $10,000 check. In addition, HBF and HBA provided ongoing support by serving on the LTRG’s construction committee. HBA Metro Portland member Blue Mountain Community Management awarded $10,000 to help the families through Associa’s national nonprofit organization, Associa Cares. HBF forwarded donated kitchen cabinets from Pacific Crest, as well as subflooring and other construction materials to help with the first home that was re-built. HBA partners Energy Trust of Oregon, Milgard Windows and Doors, and Precision Truss and Lumber were contributors to the second rebuild, the James home.
As Olsen explains, rebuilding homes after a disaster is a long process. The James previous home was not insured, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Funds (FEMA) allows only $35,000 per homeowner. The new home was built using plans and coordination from the Mennonite Disaster Service, who tell us a rebuild typically takes between 18 months to two years. The new home is described as “fire hardened” with a fire -resistant roof. Energy Trust standards mean the house is more energy efficient. LRTG leader Olsen says he is grateful for all the help “We live in the community, we love our community. Myself from Oregon City, we have great passion for this work. It has been tireless up until now.”
New Beginning for a Family with Deep Roots
James explains she grew up on this property, where her relatives settled in the 1800’s from Poland. Today, more than 50 first cousins live nearby. With her heritage at risk, it was tough to leave for the fairgrounds. “That was great for my daughter to have her horses…that’s all we could take, we had to leave the cows and pigs and everything else.” The James family lived with relatives at times during the past two years, once living above a barn. And, eventually they settled in a camper on their 7- acre lot.
James proudly showed awards her daughter recently won for her goats at the Clackamas County Fair, which made happy new memories from the place where they had evacuated. James says she has never taken charity before, and is very appreciative to be chosen for the building of her new home. Typically, James is the giver. She leads a 4-H group, a program for 65 home schoolers, and volunteers for the food recovery group the Gleaners. The Molalla community is supporting her in this time of need. She is touched that her 4-H troop members helped her move in after a recent meeting, and thanked her for the opportunity to lend a hand.
Home Builders Foundation works to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community who are experiencing homelessness by building or improving shelters and housing. If you’d like to help one of our projects, contact our Project Manager Chris McDowell, Chrism@hbapdx.org. Your financial support can also help.