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Lessons I Learned from Disaster

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Two years ago I was
completely wiped out by a disaster like Katrina. The San Diego Cedar Fires
destroyed both my business and my home. Now I know firsthand that recovery is
not a short-term mission. My business is still extremely wobbly. In fact,
having assigned someone to run it so that I could get my life back, I’ve been
managing it again for only a few months. Rebuilding takes a long time. I lost
more than 900 pieces of original art, the masters for my videos, books, and TV
shows, and virtually all my possessions.

 

Because of my own experiences, I
have pointers to share with PMA members both about how to help disaster victims
over the long haul and about how to prepare for disaster.

 

How to Help

 

Ask
people what they need.
I often
received things I didn’t need, which became a new problem—what to do with all
this stuff when I didn’t even have a home.

 

Even
if you can’t do a lot, do a little.

Just as with Humpty Dumpty, it takes all the king’s horses and all the king’s
men and women to put things back together. Many people gave me just a little
but exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. My faith leads me to
believe those were kisses on the cheek from God.

 

Donate
to relief organizations that are faith based.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> They are often less encumbered by bureaucracy, and
the people who run them often get directly involved in the victims’ lives,
staying with them throughout the process instead of just giving a donation and
walking away.

 

Consider
waiting till the hype is over
and
then stepping in to help the forgotten victims, maybe even months from now. The
media and the public love the cause de jour, but people need ongoing help even
after it’s fashionable. The Red Cross called me a month ago and asked how I was
doing and made a new donation for business equipment.

 

Look
around you
to see if someone
within your own circle of influence needs help. My cousin, who has nine
children, lost her home and ranch in the same fire, and their insurance didn’t
give them enough money to hire a builder . . . so the kids are building the
house brick by brick. In honor of Katrina, I made a donation to them, to signal
I haven’t forgotten what the aftermath is like.

 

Pray.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Some people said to me, “I feel so helpless, all I
can do is pray.” Yet prayer is what releases the resources and pushes past the
impossible. Miracles happen when you pray.

 

How to Prepare

 

Make
sure your insurance policy says “GUARANTEED replacement value.”
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> If it just says “Replacement value,” the insurance
will depreciate items and then settle on what those items are worth now.

 

Negotiate
persistently with your insurance company.
Generally, they will give you at least 30 percent more than the face
value of the policy, and if you have guaranteed replacement value, you can get
much more. I fought for 10 months and finally got a decent settlement on my
home. Because of my business loss, I couldn’t afford to rebuild, so the
insurance company paid for my new condo instead. Things are negotiable if you
keep going higher in the company until you find someone who sees it your way.

 

Get
business insurance.
I had a
$750,000 loss because I had tried a few times to get business insurance but
then gave up.

 

Take
digital photos of everything in your house
and put them in a safety deposit box. Consider spending two or three
hours this very weekend doing just that. Scan your family photos and put them
in a safety deposit box too.

 

Back
up your files at least monthly
and
put them in the safety deposit box. Consider having electronic copies of your
books elsewhere. I was lucky; three of my books had been published by major
publishers, so the electronic files still existed. Also, my submasters for
videos/DVDs were in another county at the duplicator. Even though we had to
remaster and edit out dropouts, we were able to recapture the material.

 

Have
faith.
There are no atheists in
foxholes. The day after the fire, my best friend put his arm around me and
prayed, “Father, please give Sandi kisses on the cheek each day so that she
will know you still love her.”

 

The next day, as we surveyed the
twisted steel, charred remains, and utter devastation—the rubble that
represented 17 years’ work—my friend dug and dug trying to find something to
save. After an hour he pried open a huge fireproof cabinet and pulled out a
framed photo of my daddy, completely unharmed.

 

With tears streaming down my
cheeks, I looked at my father, and I knew I could make it. This was the man who
taught me to be a woman of faith and substance. I had seen his strong faith as
we survived our house being burned down during the Belgian Congo war, when they
raped and murdered and pillaged our village and torched everything we owned.
Looking at Daddy, the scenes replayed in my mind, and I knew my faith would get
me through.

 

Then my friend lifted out my mom’s
wedding Bible from 1926. As we sat in the restaurant waiting for our food, he
opened the Bible to read and comfort me. Out fell some papers that my mom had
written 40 years ago, the week after she lost her home to fire.

 

God had seen to it that I had both
my mother and my father on the day I needed them the most. Since then, I have
made it a practice to write down at least 10 of God’s kisses on the cheek each
day. Some days were so hard I had to count my toes, but other days I couldn’t
stop writing. Today I wrote down the 9,743rd kiss on the cheek from God.

 

Opening up your eyes to the good
in the midst of the bad gives you a new perspective. Faith got me through. When
God gave me nothing, I found that God is everything. With God, all things are
possible.

 

I have learned that we suffer
adversity so that we can become stronger and then turn and teach others how to
get through it. It’s all about helping. I’m delighted that I can share this
with an organization that has been of such immense help to me as I built my
fledgling business and now seek to rebuild it. I have gained so much from PMA;
now it’s my turn to give back. How cool is that?

 

Through her books, videos,
magazine columns and TV appearances, Sandra Angelo specializes in teaching art
to people who think they can’t even draw a straight line. She reports that she
has garnered many awards, rave reviews in <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>The Washington Post
and elsewhere, and
an Emmy nomination. For further information visit SandraAngelo.com; call
888/327-9278, or email sangelo1@cox.net.

 

 

 

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