FORT KENT– Almost three months after the fire that destroyed a block of historic buildings in downtown Fort Kent and left 15 people without homes, local dance instructor, small business owner, and fire victim Sonya Charette-Bodo and her family are picking up the pieces and moving forward.
“We’re doing the best that we can, considering,” she said. “If I were living anywhere else, we wouldn’t be as far [along] as we are today. We are really appreciative of everybody’s help.”
From in-town apartment living to living on the farm where Charette-Bodo grew up surrounded by family, the most striking change for the family has been a new home.
The change appeals most strongly to her two children, Rylee and Raya. In a more rural location now, both 11-year-old Rylee and six-year-old Raya enjoy the opportunity to spend lots of relatively unsupervised time outdoors, said Charette-Bodo.
“They have the lifestyle I had when I grew up,” she said.
The family could have fared worse, said Charette-Bodo. Sonya, Rylee, and her husband, Jules Bodo, were in New Hampshire at the Star Quest International Regional Competition during the weekend of the fire. Raya was staying with her father. All members of family had at least a weekend’s worth of clothes and sundries with them; most of Jules’ daily items were at school at Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine in Ohio.
Charette-Bodo said, of the supplies that the family is slowly re-accumulating after the fire, it’s not having the myriad of little things we take for granted that trip her up most - things like a stapler or tweezers when she needs them. They are conveniences and an expense about which most of us don’t think, because we’ve had many years in which to acquire them.
For Charette-Bodo and her family, they’ve had to try to acquire all of those things over a short period of time. One of the most unexpected things she’s experienced in the wake of the fire and the endless search for replacements is growing to dislike shopping.
There is one loss the family sustained during the fire that will never be replaced. Jules lost the only picture that exists of his mother, who passed away a while ago, said Charette-Bodo.
“It was like he lost her all over again,” she said.
Being a role model for her students is one of the driving forces in Charette-Bodo’s life.
When she found out in the middle of the night in New Hampshire about the fire in Fort Kent, she felt it was important to carry on and to disturb her student’s performances at the dance competition with her personal loss as little as possible.
“I didn’t want to ruin their efforts and hard work,” she said.
Watching the fire via Facebook take almost everything she owned hundreds of miles away, she asked parents in the group who might have heard about the fire not to say anything to the students. Unknown to Charette-Bodo, her students found out anyway.
JIU Performing Arts students took fourth place overall, achieved a top score for the competition, won gold awards, and a host of additional awards out of a field of hundreds and thousands of competitors in the three-day event. Many of the JIU students competed against other dancers with more experience and training, said Charette-Bodo. As result, the judges invited JIU Performing Arts to compete in the World Finals event in Virginia Beach.
It was only after Sonya realized her students had known all along about the loss the family had suffered that she realized what had occurred at the competition.
“They were holding it together for me and I was holding it together for them,” Charette-Bodo said.
She titled her most recent dance recital “Stronger” in reference to the most important lesson she wanted to pass on to her students.
“You learn from the experience, the difficulties, and you grow stronger,” she said.
With this in mind, Charette-Bodo has accepted a new job, American Association of Dance Instructors Maine Area Director, which will allow her to maintain her studio in Fort Kent but also to expand her field of influence all over the state of Maine.
The friendships that she’s found in the wake of the fire and an increased ability to empathize with those who’ve experienced a similar tragedy are also part of that lesson about getting stronger in the face of adversity.
“The people who came out and supported me and touched my heart, I’ll take that away with me,” she said.
The debt that Charette-Bodo and her family owe everyone in the town of Fort Kent will never be repaid, she said, but she is working to “pay it forward.”
Nothing can stop those who persevere.
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