CLARK, NJ - Michelle Iakouchevitch of Clark thought she and her son had lost everything in a devastating apartment fire last month. But now she considers herself “blessed.”

The single mother and her teenage son, Sebastian, along with their 13-year-old blind Chihuahua, Hercules, escaped the April 9 blaze with nothing but the clothes they’d worn to bed the night before.

In the days that followed the early morning fire, Iakouchevitch, who has lived in Clark for the past 14 years, was touched again and again by the outpouring of support from the community. Her friend Angela DeMarzo Santangelo set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $10,000 to help the Iakouchevitches make a fresh start in a new home. In less than three weeks, the campaign exceeded its goal.

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“We’re blessed,” said Iakouchevitch. “We got out alive. My first priority was that my son was OK.”

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the Veltre family of Clark took Sebastian in, while Iakouchevitch and the dog stayed with another friend in Plainfield. Within ten days, though, the trio was reunited in a new apartment in Clark, thanks to the generosity of area donors.

It didn’t stop there, though. The Red Cross provided $500 to help the Iakouchevitches get back on their feet, and the GoFundMe campaign paid their security deposit and first three months’ rent at the new apartment.

The community rallied around the family, donating a new wardrobe for Sebastian, new furniture and beds, gift cards, clothing and even a laptop so the high school sophomore could keep up with his homework. Iakouchevitch is grateful to the Kiwanis Club, which provided a new printer and paper, and to the landlord who agreed to allow her elderly dog to live with the family in the new apartment.

“I feel bad that I can’t thank everyone personally,” Iakouchevitch lamented. “So many people helped, and it all happened so fast. I wish I could tell my story nationally!”

Sebastian, a varsity wrestler at Arthur L. Johnson High School who aspires to be an aeronautical engineer, also plays football and runs track. His teammates from the Rahway Wrestling team came together to raise funds and donate clothing, gift cards and money to the family, while the Yale Street Wrestling Club in Summit allowed him to take a free class.

“I want everyone to know I’m very, very thankful,” stressed Iakouchevitch, a surgical technician at a West Orange surgical facility. “This could have been worse.”

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