SLINGER — A fire destroyed a Washington County couple's newly remodeled home, but they turned their loss into another's gain.
"I will tell you the thought of redesigning an entire house is extremely overwhelming, along with all the other things you have going on in a situation like this, so I thought, 'Well, what about an intern?' " said Jen Ray.
The couple moved into their Slinger home in 2012. They put the finishing touches on the house in December 2018.
"Took my time, but I did every single room in the house over," said Ray.
In February, Ray was on the other side of the world when she learned her home was on fire.
"I saw our address on Facebook that our house was on fire," said Ray.
The home likely caught fire from a light fixture that sparked. It was a slow burn that lasted about seven to 10 hours. Ray said every room in their home reached about 1,000 degrees.
Nothing was salvageable.
"It was like it was someone else's home. They were still my things, but they didn't look like my things," said Ray.
Ray knew right away she wanted to rebuild, but she also wanted help. That's when she reached out to local colleges.
"I was really looking for assistance in helping me get those decisions done and not dragging it out," said Ray.
Elena Runge, a Concordia University interior architecture and design student, jumped at the opportunity.
"I was really nervous at first, but I was like, 'OK, let's do it.' I'm going to make this the best learning experience I can," said Runge.
She used more than her design skills.
"It was such a tragic thing that happened, and so reaching out and being like, 'Hey, I'm here for you,' I think that took a little bit of a burden off of them," said Runge. "Just making it easy for them 'cause they already had everything that they wanted in their house, and so I'm trying to bring that back but also bring a new flair onto it."
Runge is trying to make the experience as easy as possible for Ray.
"I think it's pretty valuable to have someone else come in and help you make those decisions 'cause you do.' I mean, it's trauma and you don't always know what the best decision is," said Ray.
The partnership is allowing both to grow in their own way.
"I just have to keep reminding myself to move forward," said Ray.
The Rays hope to be in their home by summer.
"I get so much gratitude and just like a sense of excitement that this is something that's going to be a part of my life forever," said Runge.
Runge is getting school credit for her internship.
To learn more about Concordia's program, visit its website.