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Thursday, January 9, 2014
Right after Branon and Shea Mitchell's house went up in flames, the community of North Augusta took action.
The Mitchells, whose house on Georgia Avenue burned on Dec. 11 around 10 p.m., have seen donations and support come in from friends, relatives and complete strangers.
“The community has been absolutely unbelievable during this time,” Shea said. “Everyone saw it on the news, and by the next morning, donations started pouring in.”
Shea said friend Tanya Eubanks set up a Facebook page to get information out there and help spread the word about the fire. Another longtime friend, Chad Godwin, set up a fund through a local bank, and another friend, Britton Zier, started an online donation page and started accepting donations at her office, Zier Law Firm. They constantly updated the page and answered questions about donations and dropped off donations to the couple daily.
“We were suddenly inundated with care packages, monetary donations, clothes, shoes. Also, people were sharing our story on Facebook and radio. We've received donations from friends, family, strangers, neighbors, co-workers, old high school friends, associates we haven't spoken to in 20 years, friends of friends, friends of our parents, co-workers of co-workers, the list goes on,” said Shea.
Branon, a North Augusta native, was amazed at the support that came in immediately from the city.
“I was born and raised in North Augusta and have always called it home,” he said. “Now I understand the benefit of living in a town where everyone is connected in one way or another. Like my wife said, the love and support of everyone around us was immediate. The night of the fire, while we were watching our home burn, a neighbor, Georgette, who lives two houses down, walked up to us with two jackets to cover up with. She wrapped her arms around us and comforted us with a prayer and words of comfort. The next day, the people of North Augusta began their giving in 100 different ways.”
Along with the support of North Augusta, the Mitchells relied on friends and family to help them through their trying time.
“We've leaned on our family and friends,” Shea said. “They've given us a place to stay, ran errands, made phone calls, fed us, anything and everything we've needed. Everyone was asking what they could do, but we were so overwhelmed we didn't even know where to start. We finally just started with the little things, and when people asked, we had an answer – whether it was getting us belts or coffee to going to the bank. They've been there every step of the way.”
“The core group of people that were been born and raised in North Augusta is where the bulk of support has come from, but, of course, our parents, Angela Morris and Jerry Mitchell (Branon's) and Terri and Richard Conner (Shea's), have been there every step of the way,” Branon said. “The other person we have to say a million thanks to is Britton Zier. The days leading up to the holidays she turned over half of her beautiful home to us and made us feel comfortable and at home without feeling like we were intruding. She was our getaway and we'll never be able to thank her enough.”
Zier, a friend of both Branon and Shea, helped by using Zier Law Firm as a drop-off point for assistance for the “Help for Branon and Shea from house fire” Facebook page.
“I am good friends with Branon and Shea,” she said. “Branon and I graduated in the same class, and Shea and I used to cheer together. We have gotten closer over the years, and they are two of my closet friends.”
Zier said she heard about the fire the morning after it had happened, checked with her dad and brother, and offered the law firm as a drop-off point.
“The response was touching. I had three or four people coming by the office each day to drop off money, gift cards and clothing. Some were longtime friends; others never met the Mitchells, but wanted to help.”
After setting up the drop-off point, Zier opened up her home for the couple and told them about the community support that was coming their way.
“Branon and Shea called me to come over to the house that afternoon,” she said. “When I got there, the house was still smoking and everything was ruined. I hugged them both and cried. There were just no words at first. But then I told them of what the community was already doing to help and all the people who were reaching out and they seemed stunned. Branon and Shea stayed at my house the first week, and every day I would bring more donations home from the office with me. They were struggling with such a huge loss, but it was the generosity of the community that brought them to tears each day. I watched as their room at my house went from being completely empty, to filling more and more each day. The Friday after Christmas, Branon and Shea had a drop-in at my house to thank each and every one for their support.”
Zier said she helped the Mitchells because she “loves them” and wanted to help her friends.
“It is easy to be a friend to someone during the good times. If you aren't there for your friends when they need you, what is the point? We all have to look out for each other in this world and just clicking 'like' on Facebook is not enough. If you care about someone, you have to show them when it counts.”
Shea called the fire “the most humbling experience” she's had. The community outreach taught the couple what a community truly is, according to Branon.
“This experience has been the most humbling experience of my life,” Shea said. “We had no idea how many people cared. Material things have never been that important to us but now they aren't important at all. This community has shown us more love and support than we ever thought possible.”
“For me, this lesson has taught me humility on the grandest scale,” Branon said. “I'm ashamed to say before this happened I was self-centered and only worried about my own family. I thought the word 'community' simply meant a group of people living near each other. Now I know the word 'community' is a spiritual word that describes the network of love and support that is constantly around you whether you are aware of it or not.
“Even if you don't actively participate in your community, it is still there, ready to catch you if you fall. Before this, my world was as large as the people I interacted with on a daily basis, but now I know that there is a whole wealth of love and caring that surrounds each and every one of us, whether we see it or not. Thank you to all of the churches and community centers in the CSRA that continually teach and grow this level of involvement with your fellow neighbor.”
The support continues to come in, and, according to Branon, the family will be repaying the support of North Augusta for many years to come.
“Thank you again for all the love and support, North Augusta,” he said. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay the kindness you have shown my family.”
To donate to the Mitchell family, visit www.mitchellfirefund.com or the drop off location at Zier Law Firm at 602 West Ave.
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for the North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.