On just the second day of this new year, .
Weeks later, the Chudziks—Len and Lisa and their children, Jake, Emily and Joey—are understandably still adapting to the tumult that blaze has caused. But the family is getting through it thanks to the generous help of family, friends and concerned residents.
"We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts," Lisa Chudzik said this week in a phone interview from the family's temporary housing near . "It means more than you will ever know. ... It's amazing how everybody is helping out."
When I spoke with Lisa, she had just returned from the fire site where she had been taking pictures, making sure there wasn't anything that was still able to be saved.
"It's hard to believe how much we've lost," she said, adding that most of the damage done to their belongings was from soot and water. "We lost 90 to 95 percent of our stuff. It kinda really sucks."
Most of what was salvageable was in an outdoor shed, Lisa said. But it was losing some of the sentimental items that's hurt the most. For instance, Jake is big into volleyball, and he lost all of the T-shirts he's collected from tournaments and other competitions.
There have been bright spots cutting through the clouds, though. For instance, they were able to recover much of what was on the hard drives of the family's computers stuff, including a slew of photos, Lisa said.
And last week, the students and faculty of , where Emily is a junior and Jake is a freshman, held a pie-in-the-face fundraiser for the family. Principal Michael Gardner asked the Chudziks if the school could do a benefit. Jars were then set up for each of the school's deans, and students would put money in those jars. Pat Shaughnessy, the dean with the most money, received a pie in the face delivered by Jake.
At the end of the week, the benefit raised about $600 for the family, Lisa said, adding that the thought of the event brings tears to her eyes.
The effects of the fire, however, have been hardest on the Chudziks' youngest child, Joey, who's 12 and suffers from Down syndrome.
"He does ask about the old house," Lisa said, adding that children with special needs thrive on routine. "He's adjusting. ... He's doing much better than he was that first week."
"I don't think he really understands the magnitude of it all," she added. "He's sleeping through the night, but before he goes to bed, he'll ask about getting a new house. I don't think he knows how long it's going to be."
One complicating factor of the fire was the loss of Joey's DynaVox, a device that he uses to communicate. Joey is non-verbal, Lisa said, and he uses the DynaVox to flash programmed pictures on a computer screen, allowing him to tell others what he needs, such as asking for a snack. The device, which costs around $10,000, was destroyed in the blaze, and Lisa said she's hopeful that insurance will cover the loss.
Joey's school——is renting a replacement device to be used there, Lisa said. At home, he uses limited sign language to communicate, she added. In fact, Lisa said she planned to get Joey sign language lessons this month. Of course, that was before the fire.
Right now, the family is playing the waiting game. Waiting for builders, waiting for insurance companies, and waiting for estimates. And in that waiting, there's a bit of comfort that one of the most overwhelming aspects of this whole experience has been the support the Chudziks have received from the community. It's why Lisa asked to list the people she thanks for helping her family through this tough time:
- family (especially Lisa's parents)
- neighbors on Spruce Drive
- Lisa's employer, Lens Work
- Chicago Ultimate Volleyball Club in Frankfort, which Jake belongs to
- St. Vincent de Paul
- Spencer Crossing
- Lincoln-Way North High School
- the children's teachers and bus drivers
"I'm sure I am forgetting someone, and I don't mean to," Lisa said.
How You Can Help
Michele Jurgens and a friend are still accepting donations for the Chudziks. To find out what the family needs or to make a donation, contact Jurgens at 708-494-4257 or call 708-712-7054 and ask for Kathy.