Thursday
November 27, 2014

The One Who Stood Up When Everything Was Falling Down

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The One Who Stood Up When Everything Was Falling Down

When a tornado wiped out parts of Monson, Mass., in 2011, the town had no emergency plan. Using her extensive real estate expertise, Karen King changed all that.
Karen King, center, represents the town Wilbraham, Mass., at a FEMA conference.

In the shock that followed when an EF-3 tornado roared through Monson, Mass., in June 2011, people were looking for a leader. The state’s second-strongest twister on record killed four people and destroyed about 1,300 homes. Someone had to step up to the plate to start a recovery plan — so Karen King, GRI, CRS, did.

It started when King, a sales associate with RE/MAX Prestige, took in 13 of her family members who were left homeless after the storm. As the magnitude of the devastation became clearer, she began to see how many more people had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help with emergency housing.

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“Most of our town was reduced to rubble, and there was no go-to housing person in our town,” King says. At the time, she had several vacant homes on the market, and the sellers were willing to use them to help storm victims. “So I started taking those houses off the market and having them rented to people who became homeless,” King added.

King rounded up some volunteers to form the Street Angels group, which went door-to-door asking what people’s needs were and matching them with a volunteer. Through her efforts, King discovered that her town had no designated volunteer disaster coordinator to round up volunteer efforts in the wake of disaster. She volunteered to fill the position herself.

“That means that I’m on the team that will find out what the needs are and get all volunteer groups together to form a big team to figure out what people need,” King says.

Street Angels continues its work today, more than two years after the storm, by spending every Saturday helping with projects to rebuild homes that were destroyed. As part of her work as the town’s volunteer disaster coordinator, King travels to colleges to recruit new Street Angel volunteers and teach about emergency preparedness. She even created a guide on disaster readiness — which includes tips on how to safeguard homes and guidelines on how families can create an emergency safety plan — which has been passed around town.

“People need to understand that disasters can happen to them. Before it happened to us, we only talked about what we would do [to prepare], but never did anything about it,” King says.

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