By Julia Gavin
Crisis brings out the best or the worst in people, but the UMass Lowell community only showed their best in helping students displaced by a recent fire.
Just two weeks before finals, students living in the Wilder & Gage apartment building near South Campus were awoken by housemates shouting that the building was on fire.
“I only had time to grab my phone, because I knew I’d have to call a lot of people,” says Matt Soares, a sound recording technology major and percussionist.
The fire raged for several hours despite firefighters’ best efforts due to high winds and its location. The top floors were destroyed and lower floors heavily damaged by smoke and water. Fortunately, all of the residents — 10 undergraduates, one recent graduate, a couple unaffiliated with the University, a kitten and a dog — escaped without physical harm.
Even as the fire burned, the University community sprang into action. Staff and faculty in Durgin Hall and the Dean of Student’s Office provided immediate aid to the students. Workers secured warm clothing for the students, several of whom were still in night clothes. They ordered pizza, helped students contact relatives and kept them safe until the Red Cross arrived at 11 a.m.
As the extent of the damage became clear, others stepped forward to assist: Residence Life offered on-campus housing for the rest of the semester; facilities workers and firefighters helped the students remove belongings to storage once the structure was safe; the Inn & Conference Center laundered their clothes; and the transportation department took them shopping for necessities. The bookstore provided replacement books and vouchers, ARAMARK gave money for food, and staff and faculty from across the campus pitched in wherever possible. Emergency financial aid was made available as well as counselors and loaner computers.
“While today was a tragedy for the students, I was very proud to be part of a community that pulled together so successfully to take care of our priority: our students,” said assistant dean of student affairs, Mary Connelly, on the day of the fire. “With all the other steps that were put in place, to help with Financial Aid, replacement books, etc., the students were very thankful for the help. I met with several parents and they were all impressed with what the University was doing for their student."
Community Response Grows as Students and Alumni Pitch In
“The University response has been fantastic, as everyone gave what they could,” said Prof. Debra-Nicole Huber. “I couldn’t provide housing or food, but I could help the music students with instruments.”
While books were provided for all of the students, the four music majors have different needs. Huber, herself an alumnus, reached out to alumni contacts at local music stores. She secured a new bag of percussion instruments for Stoares and books for all of the students and is working on replacement guitars and a viola for the others affected.
All of the donated supplies came from local small businesses with strong ties to the University: University Music
, owned by alumni Marlene and Brian Buckley; Dracut Music Center
, owned by alumnus David Chandonnet; and National Music
, managed by alumnus Danny Lucas.
“Our alumni immediately asked what they could do when I explained the situation. David went into his store with a list and pulled donations from the shelves, and the Buckleys did the same,” says Huber of the overwhelming response. “Danny immediately arranged for Matthew to receive a new stick bag from National Music, which is not a small donation. All of the businesses really could not have been more generous.”
Huber says that the alumni were quick to help because they know how important the materials are to music students.
“These people walked the halls in Durgin that the students use now. They understand that music is everything to them,” says Huber. “The books and materials donated to the students in other departments were very generous, but the music students need these instruments and materials — they’re their livelihoods.”
Support has also come from current students, including care packages provided by the Alpha Omega sorority and a drive organized by student Shayna Carney. To donate items to the student-run drive, contact Shayna_Carney@student.uml.edu
The affected students, who have been busy balancing finals and recovering from the fire, say that they are thankful and impressed by the University’s response.
“The school is really taking care of us, so that’s making dealing with the fire easier. Everyone started helping right away and they haven’t stopped since,“ says Soares, who is finishing finals while living in Fox Hall. “Everyone’s just trying to get on their feet and make it through finals, but the University’s support is really reassuring.”
To make a donation to the fund established to assist all of the affected students, call Annual Giving at 978- 934-4871 or online
. Please make sure to mention “Fire Emergency Fund.”