ROTC students in Stark County raising money to rebuild a family home destroyed by fire

PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Army Junior ROTC cadets from Perry High School are mobilizing with local businesses, churches and residents to help rebuild a couple's home destroyed by fire last January.

On January 24, the home of Jim and Barbara Bell on Surmay Avenue in Perry Township burned to the ground. Jim was trying to thaw a frozen water line with a propane torch when the house caught on fire.

Barbara was trapped inside the kitchen, but neighbors knocked down a door and pulled her to safety. "I can't put words to how I feel because I'm just so grateful to be here and still alive," she said.

However, the couple did not have any homeowner's insurance and all of their belongings were lost. In addition, their two dogs, a bird and some fish were killed.

Standing outside the home on Wednesday afternoon, Jim couldn't help but feel emotional as he flashed back to that dreadful day.

"I really don't like seeing it because it reminds me of my animals and stuff. I might start crying," he said.

Josh Wheeler, a 17-year-old Army Junior ROTC cadet, said his uncle was one of the neighbors who saved Barbara.

Wheeler, who used to live on Surmay Avenue, decided something should be done to help the Bell family rebuild their lives and their home.

"I brought it to the battalion's attention to see if we could do anything to help them out," Wheeler said.

The cadets organized a massive fundraising drive and they've raised $1,800 so far. In addition, they've secured donations from local companies for a roof, heating and cooling and carpeting and flooring.

Construction on the new home is expected to start over the summer.

"It means a lot of responsibility and I feel if I'm going to live in Perry Township, than I should help the people that have lived here longer than me," said Army Junior ROTC cadet Thomas Koontz.

"Getting the word out was hard, getting donations, but we've been pretty successful in donations throughout the past two months," added Army Junior ROTC cadet Kevin Korchnak.

Jim and Barbara are truly touched by the kindness of the cadets.

"I didn't think that people cared like this," Jim said.

"I can't wait to get back here because there's no place like home," Barbara added.

The cadets continue to seek donations. Those interested can give at any First Merit Bank. Checks should be written to: The Bell Family Benevolence Fund.

For more information on the project, go to the Operation Rebuild Bell Family Facebook page.

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