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'Fairy godmothers' looking out for evacuees

Four kids, three adults, two dogs, two cats, two mice, a hamster, a rat and a couple of fish. That's who was invited into the lives of one volunteer family who opened up their home to evacuees almost two weeks ago.
Left to right Jackson, 4, Vince Knoxkey, Violet, 10, Caitlyn, 8, Logan 11, Renee Knoxley, (back) Natalie Knoxkey and Wendy Young. The family evacuated from Williams Lake are staying with Wendy Young and Tess Healey.

Four kids, three adults, two dogs, two cats, two mice, a hamster, a rat and a couple of fish.

That's who was invited into the lives of one volunteer family who opened up their home to evacuees almost two weeks ago.

Wendy Young, a speech therapist and local artistan, and Tess Healy, a UNBC professor and facilitator, got the call early on that there was a reception centre to be set up at the College of New Caledonia on July 16, for those who were being evacuated from towns south of Prince George because of the wildfires.

Young went down to help organize the volunteers and posted a notice on the community bulletin board that they would open their home to evacuees and they could accommodate up to nine people.

That night, she got a call at about 8:30 inquiring if they still had room for evacuees.

The family sent to the Healy/Young household includes Vince and Natalie, who are father and mother to Violet, 10, Caitlyn, 8, and Jackson, 4, and Renee who is Vince's sister and mother to Logan, 11.

It might seem like a happy coincidence how the family found their way to their temporary home but it turns out they got a little help from a friendly woman they met at the reception centre at CNC.

"When we went to see if there were cots available and where we could put our animals there was this lady and she said 'you didn't hear it from me, but there's this person who might have room for some people and they might even be pet friendly and I'm not going to call her right now because we're not allowed to do things like that' so it was like Wendy and Tess got picked for us," Natalie said.

Things came together very well as soon as the two families met.

"So they arrived and it's been amazingly easy," said Young.

"Everybody has jumped in helping and everybody's been amazingly considerate of everybody and the only tussles we've had have been between the two female dogs. It's been easy and fun."

The Noskeys left Williams Lake because of the air quality and last they checked their house was still standing and is secure from looters, which is quite a relief, Natalie said.

Despite the upheaval the extended family has experienced, there have been some positives come from the experience.

"The night we got here we drove up to the house and I saw all the trees and the little old house and I said 'oh my gosh, it's like it's enchanted' and then we came in and we met Tess and Wendy and I thought they were like our little fairy godmothers and that hasn't changed. This feels like home."

When the family is out and about the children will ask the grown ups when they're going home.

They don't mean Williams Lake, Natalie said. They mean their Prince George home.

"It feels totally natural to be here," she said. "This feels like home and I'm so grateful."

"I've never been called a fairy godmother before, that's kinda cool," Young laughed.

Vince works as a saw filer at the West Fraser Mill and is used to being quite active so it's different not having enough to do so he's been mowing the lawn and taking the garbage out and trying to keep busy.

"I'm dying of boredom," he laughed. "I need to get back to work."

Natalie does deliveries and is a labourer for Cleanway Supply and discovered the whole staff is now here, something she feels good about knowing that her co-workers, who are like family, are all safe.

Renee is a server back in Williams Lake and just graduated from a medical assistant program.

"It's been good here but I'm ready to go home," she said.

"But for now I can't picture us anywhere else but here. I'm glad we're not at the centre because that would just be too overwhelming."

The family has been taking advantage of activities offered to evacuees throughout the city. They've been to the pool twice, took in the action at the Forget the Fire event held at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park July 15 and have done several art projects with Young and Healey as well as within the community. Ospika Pet provided a $150 gift card to cover the cost of food for the family's menagerie.

"We're very thankful for Tess and Wendy and how amazing the City of Prince George has been to all the evacuees," Vince said.

To the Noskey family, Prince George used to be just a town to pass through to visit family in Alberta.

"Now we're going to have to turn in," Natalie said.

"There's somewhere we have to go in Prince George because we're always going to have to stop to say hello to Tess and Wendy."

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