Tragedy gives Tacoma Rescue Mission employee new perspective

Staff writerNovember 21, 2013 


Robin Stice moves her belongs out of the Shilo Inn & Suites to her new place on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Stice moved into the hotel with her two sons after a fire gutted their rental home.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Robin Stice was only a few minutes into her workday at Tacoma Rescue Mission when she got the call that her house was on fire. She rushed home to find seven firetrucks and a rubble pile where she and her two young sons had been living.

"We had a nice comfortable little life going," she said. "People often talk about how things can change in a minute, but they really can."

Stice said that the personal tragedy brought home the cold, hard reality she often sees in her job as administrative services director at the Rescue Mission.

She has worked at the mission for a little more than a year doing human resources duties, office work and anything else she can to help the homeless in Pierce County.

She never thought she would join their ranks. But on the morning of Oct. 30, she found herself and her family with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few items salvaged from the wreckage.

The cause of the fire was combustible materials left too near a baseboard heater, according to a Tacoma Fire Department spokesman.

At the time it happened, Stice and her sons Ethan, 6, and Andrew, 8, were still settling into the Tacoma rental home they had moved into in May.

She said she feels blessed that nobody was in the house at the time, and no one was hurt. She has renters’ insurance and was able to move her family into a Shilo Inn while searching for a stable place to live.

On Wednesday, the family moved out of the hotel and into a short-term furnished apartment.

"Robin’s situation makes it very visible how close anybody can be to needing help,” said Brian Sonntag, executive director for the Rescue Mission.

As the economy worsened in the last few years, the mission has increasingly seen families come through after layoffs, divorces or other events largely beyond their control. Stice said they are responsible people who had jobs and homes before circumstances left them to start over.

"They are just people who have had bad things happen to them,” she said. “It’s so unsettling and awful.”

Now several weeks into being displaced, Stice said she feels exhausted and just wants to go home.

"There’s no place where you can let your guard down,” she said.

Stice said she’s passionate about her work at the Rescue Mission because it tries to create such a place for people.

"We provide an environment for people where they can feel safe, because they can feel like they have the opportunity to regroup,” she said.

Families can stay for up to 90 days and participate in various programs designed to get them back on their feet.

Stice said that what allows people to do well at the Rescue Mission is a willingness to ask for help. She said she’s found this to be one of her biggest challenges.

"I want to do everything myself. I want it all fixed now and I can’t,” Stice said, “Being willing to ask for help and seek support is hard.”

Stice said she has an amazing group of family and friends who have stepped up.

She and her sons have received money, food and clothes. Andrew’s classmates at Life Christian Academy even pitched in to replace the boys’ Lego sets, knowing how much the toys meant to them.

"Robin works with a bunch of people who are ready and willing to jump in and help anyone in this situation,” Sonntag said.

He described Stice as a strong person who continues to do her job well, helping others even when she’s in so much need herself.

Stice said staff and volunteers at the Rescue Mission looks at their clients not as “homeless,” but as “in transition.” Now, as she feels the love and encouragement of her support system, it has given her hope during her own time of transition.

Eva Revear: 253-597-8670

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