On Feb. 11, Aiyana Mobley had about an hour left of work at Planet Fitness in South Philadelphia. Her father interrupted the shift with a phone call.
“Your house is on fire,” he said.
Mobley chuckled, assuming this was another one of her dad’s usual pranks. He repeated himself and told the 21-year-old to call her sister, Tasia.
“He sounded serious and it scared me a little bit, so I FaceTimed my sister,” said Mobley, a senior psychology major. “When she answered, all she did was flip her camera around to let me see the house.”
In the weeks since their home was lost on that Saturday afternoon, Mobley and her family have worked to rebuild their lives with help from the Temple community through donations to their GoFundMe page, which as of March 6 had nearly $9,300.
Although flames quickly consumed the row home on 18th Street near Huntingdon and most of its contents, Mobley’s younger sister Tasia and her brother Fajon managed to escape unharmed, along with two of his friends who were visiting at the time.
“After hours of going through all the ashes and all the dirt and the house that’s torn apart now, we were done, and my mom went back into the house,” Mobley said. “She didn’t really want to go just yet, because you’re looking around at all your memories.”
Of all the possessions destroyed that afternoon, Mobley said she misses family photos and their memories the most.
“There have been so many graduations in that house,” Mobley said. “So many proms have been sent off in that house, babies’ first Christmases, a lot of great things happened in that house, you know, so it’s hard to let go of.”
Mobley said she won’t allow this tragedy to interfere with her education. After she graduates this May, she will become the first member of her entire extended family to receive a college degree.
After a decade in their home, the family had to spend their first night in a homeless shelter.
“I think the most important part was having some place to sleep every night and not worrying about where everybody was gonna be,” Mobley said.
Mobley’s mother, Kimberly Mayo, tried to find a rental home in the days following the fire, but she discovered that her identity was stolen and someone had racked up thousands of dollars in debt, which ruined her credit score. Several realtors refused to show her homes until one finally agreed to help with her situation.
“Even though you’ve been through a tragedy, a lot of people don’t care or they don’t have the time,” Mayo said. “Nobody showed me what was on my credit and messing me up, so they just kept denying me and I didn’t know why.”
While recovering from the disaster, the single mother said she only missed two days of work between her jobs as the lead cook at TouchDown Club at Lincoln Financial Field and as a chef at the DoubleTree Hotel near the Philadelphia International Airport.
Exactly a week after the disaster, the family was able to move into a new house because of the $5,000 donated through the GoFundMe account up to that point. Mayo estimated that about 70 percent of the donations are from people who are affiliated with Temple.
Rachael Stark, the associate dean of students, also reached out to the family after their loss.
“I just want to ensure that students know that the Dean of Students office is somewhere where they can turn when they’re going through challenging times,” Stark said. “I think a lot of times, folks don’t think of Temple as being able to provide any support or resources, but we can.”
Since coming to Temple in 2011, Stark has served as chair of the university’s CARE Team, a group of therapists and administrators that works to identify and support students like Mobley who are experiencing hardships.
Mobley said she and her family members are grateful for the assistance they’ve received from Temple and the College of Liberal Arts. This includes $2,000 that the family received from the Student Emergency Aid Fund, which Mobley herself has previously fundraised for as a part of the Senior Class Gift Committee.
“It really does make me happy to see how much help we’ve been getting from our community,” Mobley said. “If you do good to the community, the community will do good to you and you both can thrive.”
Mobley said she greatly appreciates the support that Temple students, faculty and administrators have shown her family as they continue to rebuild their lives.
She added that she hopes the university’s generosity can also be extended to other struggling residents in their neighborhood as well.
“It’s important to me that if Temple is sitting here in North Philadelphia, a really beautiful community, then they should take more pride in it in it,” Mobley said. “Because you’re not just in Philadelphia, you’re in North Philadelphia, and great things grow here.”
Carr Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.