Community Comes Together to Help Fire Victim

pcacsPorter County Aging and Community Services staff united with community members to help a recent fire victim get her life back on track.

Carlotta Swain was in need of a place to live after an apparent kitchen fire in Portage’s Breckenridge Apartments caused smoke damage to her apartment and belongings.

PCACS Section 8 Housing Director Valerie Martinez went beyond her role to organize assistance to locate and move Swain into a new apartment.

“She has no car so I went to her with the paperwork,” she said. “I would go home at night worrying about it. I felt like we needed to do it. She was alone and calling crying and feeling hopeless. I felt like we had to coordinate something to help her.”

Swain said she was on a timeframe to find a new place and move and with medical issues, she couldn’t do the heavy lifting.

“God sent me some guardian angels. I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “I cannot thank them enough … with Val’s perseverance, she was a vessel in God’s plan also.”

Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp. Section 8 Supervisor Wanda Lewis joined the effort to help find a new place for Swain, which is beyond the services normally offered to Section 8 clients.

“We would do it for anyone in our program. She was put in a position because of the fire at no fault of her own. To be displaced in a hotel and out of her comfort zone, she needed a place to stay,” Lewis said. “We have a good rapport with quite a few of our landlords and one was willing to help.”

Lewis spoke to A-One Apartments owner George Saroukos about providing a place for Swain.

“He offered to let her live there for one month rent-free,” Martinez added.

Swain also received additional financial assistance through the Salvation Army and the United Way’s Emergency Assistance Program.

PCACS AmeriCorps program member Tracy Childers volunteered her time to help Swain move into her new place in Portage along with nephews Jesse Yates and Jagger Spann.

“I told Valerie if you need anything, let me know. I was glad to help,” Childers said. “I lived through an apartment fire so when we met, we bonded as I went through the same thing.” Swain said she loves her new place and that her helpers are family.

“When it’s in God’s plan, it’s not about color, it’s about putting it in people’s hearts,” she said. “I will never forget this. With so much negative, we forget about the good things people do.

“At the end of the day, with a tragedy like this in nature, something good came out of it.”

PCACS’ mission is to extend a helping hand to seniors, those with disabilities and low-income residents by providing services to improve their quality of life, including transportation, nutrition programs, energy assistance and activity centers.

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