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Oklahoma Ambassador Raises Funds to Give Wildfire Families a New Start
Ray and Shelly Blake

Wildfires terrorized the inhabitants of Mannford, Oklahoma in August 2012, but Ray and Shelly Blake were more concerned about their teenaged son than they were about the fires. Their son, suffering from a collapsed lung, needed immediate emergency treatment. Leaving their home quickly with very few belongings, they focused getting their son to the hospital, breathing a sigh of relief when it appeared the fires were moving away from their area.

But the fires turned back toward Mannford, separating them from their home and all their belongings. They later learned that their home and possessions were completely destroyed in the fires, down to the foundation. Ray's mother also died about the same time, increasing their anxiety and burden.

A terrible miscommunication with the insurance company resulted in further bad news -- the family had no insurance coverage for rebuilding the home they had built themselves and lived in for 13 years.

Their church family and generous friends arranged for a rental house for one month for the Blake family, while the Red Cross provided living essentials and foodstuffs. Mennonite friends helped with clearing debris from the home site and rebuilding began with the assistance of friends from church and the community. During the many long and difficult months of rebuilding, Ray stayed with his grieving father and Shelly and the children stayed with friends.

Mannford residents Larry and Deanna Braggs, parents of eight biological and four adopted children, were also keeping an eye on the Mannford wildfires -- from Chicago, where they were attending their oldest son’s graduation from Navy boot camp. 

Having left their of-age children at home, well-trained in running the home and drilled in the evacuation process, Larry and Deanna watched anxiously as the fires turned toward their home. The children safely evacuated, but they were unable to take the family’s pets. Within 3 days, the Braggs home, possessions, and four of the seven family pets were lost. The family’s library, including their complete homeschool curricula for the coming school year and hundreds of precious, irreplaceable momentos of life were lost. The younger children also suffered from traumatizing memories triggered by the odor of smoke, prompting the family to relocate to Tulsa instead of rebuilding on their property. 

The Braggs Family home burning

Meanwhile, Marilyn Mason, HSF State Ambassador for Oklahoma, knew that there would be homeschooling families who lost everything in the wildfires. In faith, she initiated a fundraiser via Facebook and email, raising a substantial amount of money to be used for families just like the Blakes and the Braggs. Through careful inquiry, she found the Blakes and the Braggs, both still feeling tremendous loss and displacement.

“I was completely amazed by the quick response of homeschoolers in the area to a simple email and Facebook appeal. It’s obvious the Lord was watching out for these families and planning to use His people to provide for their needs,“ Mason remarked.

The Home School Foundation matched the funds raised by Mason resulting in sufficient funds to help the Blake family winterize their rebuilt home and be reunited to celebrate Christmas 2013 together.

“We are so touched by the compassion of our Ambassador and the Home School Foundation.  It’s so good to be together under one roof again,” said Shelly Blake.  

Matched funds were also made available to the Braggs so that the family’s personal and homeschool library began to take shape.  

Deanna Braggs gave thanks. “There are some things we’ll never be able to replace, but our homeschooling is in gear again, and we are grateful for that.”

“It’s very gratifying to be a part of giving these families a new start and helping to heal some of the scars the wildfires left." added Ambassador Mason. "I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they received their grant checks from HSF. HSF made it possible to double the gifts."

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