Tyra Benoit never expected to become an expert in homeowners insurance.
But last October, after the Tubbs Fire reduced her Wikiup home to ashes, the lifelong educator was forced to learn the ins and outs of the insurance industry in order to get going on her claim. She read up on coverages. She asked a lawyer friend to help her understand jargon. She taught herself how to decipher the fine print of riders.
Now, in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Butte County, Benoit – a former resident of Paradise – is sharing her newfound knowledge with those who need it most: survivors.
Starting this week, Benoit, 69, will offer free lectures and workshops for Camp Fire survivors about navigating their “insurance journey.” The classes will take place at Butte College, where Benoit taught for more than 20 years before moving to Santa Rosa in 2007 to become a dean and adjunct instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College.
“Like everybody else, I saw images and read stories about what the people of Paradise have been going through and just felt so terrible,” said Benoit, who also taught for 10 years at Paradise Intermediate School, which was badly damaged in the fire. “We got so much help from so many people after the [Tubbs] fire, so I thought to myself, ‘How can I pay it forward?’”
After discussing the question with friends, Benoit decided to focus on helping with insurance, since she and her husband Bob are still ironing out formalities on their claim for the house they lost.
“Even if you’ve got advanced degrees, the insurance process is all so confusing and complicated,” she said. “At the same time you’re trying to sort out this complicated legal document. You’re in total grief, devastated, and waking up in the middle of the night, sobbing. It can be very overwhelming.”
Benoit’s special classes began this morning with a large-group presentation about her personal experiences in the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire.
She will follow this talk with one-on-one appointments in the campus academic senate office, during which she will review individual policies and discuss any questions survivors might have. Benoit expected to repeat the program tomorrow, Friday, and again next week.
She added she likely will offer a version of the workshop online, too.
Going into Thursday morning, Benoit wasn’t sure how many survivors would attend her first talk. The room she had reserved seats 60, and she added that she “wouldn’t be surprised if it was packed.”
Independent of the lectures, Benoit expected her return to Butte County would be emotional. She and her husband got married in Paradise, bought their first house there, and lived there for years before moving to Chico. The two still have dozens of friends in the area, many of whom were displaced or directly impacted by the fire, and she said she hopes to be able to help them in whatever way she can.
“Our experiences [with the Tubbs fire] taught us how important community is,” she said. “It’s important to keep on giving. That’s what makes life worth living. When you look back on your time here, you want to be able to make sure you’ve done everything you can to help others. Really, nothing else matters.”