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From Tragedy to Triumph: A Social Media Win in Milwaukee, WI

Imagine with me for a moment…

After a series of storms, which made road travel nearly impossible, you choose to stay the night at a relative’s house to ensure your family’s safety. The next day you’re excited to return to your residence which was just made officially a home as you welcomed a new baby to the world just months earlier. Life is good for your young family, and the future is looking pretty bright. Morning now, the rain has passed and you start your journey home; only to realize as you drive through your neighborhood that something’s not right. Piles of wet carpet, garbage, and damaged furniture line the street leading up to your home.

Thoughts of happiness turn to quickly fear and uncertainty as it is clear the neighborhood was flooded during last nights storm. You pull into your drive way, sick, realizing you had no basement, and are reluctant to open the door to your family home for fear of facing reality. Eventually you muster the courage to enter your abode, yet what you find is surreal. The flood waters clearly breached the dwelling and reached depths of 2-3 ft throughout. Your home, now severely damaged and unlivable is completely destroyed.

The dream is gone.

Not knowing where to start, you make several calls to your insurance company, at least they can help.  Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse your agent delivers a below the belt punch and tells you the damage to your home is not covered. You don’t have flood insurance, says your agent, thanks for playing, we wish you well in your future endeavors.  Flood insurance?  Why would you ever consider flood coverage? As you live no where close to a lake or river.  Maybe there is hope? What about FEMA? Wrong! The damage was not substantial enough to qualify (at least for right now).  What would your young newly formed family do now? There is no way possible you could afford to rebuild your home without taking out significant loans, and becoming overrun by debt.  Luck, if there is such a thing has run out.


*Photo Credit: www.teecycle.org*

Unfortunately the above story was a sad reality for the Cigelske’s, a Milwaukee area family, during the #BrewCityFlood in July 2010. Not knowing what to do or which way to turn, Tim Cigelske shared his story in a touching blog post via Twitter, which prompted many on the tightly woven online community to ask how they could help.  Tim (@teecycletim) is no stranger to social media heading up online communications for Marquette University, and founder of Teecycle.org where his company sells reclaimed t-shirts and donates a portion of the proceeds to help save urban rivers and trails in Milwaukee.  Naturally he wanted to share his experience with his connections online. What was about to ensue over the next month went beyond his family’s wildest dreams, and brought an online community closer together in an effort to help rebuild the Cigelske family home and help #saveteecycle.

The link to Tim’s initial blog post quickly spread throughout Wisconsin and beyond via Twitter, where several people, strangers really, were quick to ask how they could help.  A group in Indiana even sent the Cigelske’s an ample supply of baby supplies to help alleviate at least once necessity at the top of the young family’s mind.  Soon after the story was circulated two members of the Milwaukee area Twitter community truly came to the forefront in an effort to help this family get back on their feet.  Enter complete strangers, Sue Spaight (@suespaight) and Katie Klein-Murphy (@bootyp) and the birth of www.saveteecycle.org.

*Photo Credit: Troy Freund – Midwest Photo*

Together these two women realized a need to step up, and took immediate action to make things right for this family.  At first Sue and Katie started a website explaining the Cigelske’s story along with a link to accept donations to aide in the rebuilding of their home.  The website generated significant traffic and received an outpouring of support, including donations both personal and corporate. What happened next took me by surprise, as it’s not to often you see complete strangers make it their mission to help each other. The website served as a catalyst for greatness, creating even more interest in helping to get the Cigelske family back home.

With more awareness came an increase in people “tweeting” about the cause. This in turn inspired several businesses and individuals to partner with Sue, Katie, and www.saveteecycle.org to rebuild the Cigelske’s home. In a generous donation the Cigelske family received all new windows for their home, from Renewal by Andersen.  Another one of the key players in rehabilitating the Cigelske home was William Ryan Homes represented by Craig Vermeulen (@WilliamRyanRE).  As an avid member of the local Twitter community Craig knew he needed to do what he could to help this family in need.

Craig leveraged his connection to William Ryan Homes, and was able to donate all of the labor, and purchase supplies at contractor prices, in an effort to rebuild the Cigelske’s home. Craig and his team of contractors worked on this project before and after hours for several weeks, rehabilitating the destroyed home to it’s original glory. When I asked Craig why he worked so hard to help the Cigelske’s his answer spoke to his remarkable character. “I helped because I could…it was the right thing to do.  If my family was in a similar position, I know someone would do the same for us.”

Additional steps were taken by Sue and Katie in an effort to make things whole again for the Cigelske’s.  They planned a benefit on September 18, 2010 for the family to raise additional funds to ensure the costs to rebuild the home were covered.  With hard work these amazing women secured some solid partnerships ensuring the benefit would be a success.  Sprecher Brewery graciously offered to donate the venue, creating a perfect atmosphere for the benefit. Delicious food was donated for the event by COA (@GetCOA) in Milwaukee, who also donated a portion of their restaurant sales to the #saveteecycle fund. COA specializes in authentic Mexican cuisine, so needless to say this stuff was tasty, and was a big hit among guests at the event.  Sue and Katie also secured an extensive array of silent auction, and raffle items from various individuals and businesses throughout the community.  A final tally of supporters for the #Saveteecycle event puts attendance north of 200 people.  I truly feel passionately that because of Sue Spaight’s and Katie Klein-Murphy’s unselfishness and stewardship, a deserving family was saved from tragedy. Their courage to stand up, take charge, and make things happen for the Cigelske’s (at the time total strangers), is an inspiration and a triumph for Milwaukee’s social media scene.

The #SaveTeecycle benefit accomplished several things looking back now. First and foremost, the Cigelske’s can now move home!  Craig Vermeulen and his team at William Ryan Homes, finished the rehabilitation and were able to turn the keys over to a family that hasn’t been home in months. The big reveal was viewed at the benefit live, via video from Dan Wilde (@dwilde), to the surprise of all in attendance (watch the reveal here) (Fantastic work with the video Dan).  With the generosity of the community through various ways of donating, all of the costs of the rehab were covered. Additional funds collected will go to help neighboring families that also suffered loss due to the <a hr

6 Responses to “From Tragedy to Triumph: A Social Media Win in Milwaukee, WI”

  1. Tim says:

    Thank you so much, Sharif. This makes me incredibly proud and humbled to be part of this community. I don’t know how it’s possible to have such a concentration of good people in one area, but somehow it happened. Thank you for sharing our story. I’ll see you at the next tweet-up!

    • Sharif Renno says:

      Tim

      It was my pleasure to share your story and the story of a city that rallies when called upon. I share your feeling of pride – and am glad to see that the move in is going smooth. Your family’s well being was always in my thoughts, I am glad so many others had similar visions. Talk to, and see you soon.

      Sharif

  2. Sue Spaight says:

    Sharif, your take on the story is touching and so appreciated. So many people are responsible for making #saveteecycle a success that it is impossible to thank them all; this type of story really honors what everyone did by pulling together. Katie and
    I are in awe of it, really. There was a time early on in planning when we wondered if we could sustain the momentum for 8 weeks. And you guys just RAN with it. So beautiful. Thank you for the shout out.
    Sue

    • Sharif Renno says:

      Sue

      Thank you for the kind words. I am also still in awe of the entire event, as well as the dedication and passion for helping others you and Katie portrayed. You are also right that it is difficult to thank everyone, as so many people were a part of #saveteecycle. Thank you for taking a stand and bringing a community closer together.

      Sharif

  3. Dan says:

    I wish I could have been at the event; it looks like it was a ton of fun, in addition to all of the great emotions from the community.
    I have a couple of T-shirts I need to get to Tim sometime.

    • Sharif Renno says:

      Dan

      It was an amazing event! Great to see the community come together to help @ this level. I am sure Tim would be appreciate the t-shirts! He seemed to sell quite a few at the event and might need some new inventory :)

      Sharif

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  1. #FollowFriday: Sept. 24 « Dan Polley - [...] success of the event. (If you don’t know what #saveteecycle is, stop and read this, this, this and [...]

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