A room filled to capacity with friends and neighbors has gathered at the Redwood Valley Grange for an evening of
First Person Plural monologues, written and performed by Redwood Valley residents who lost homes in the 2017 Redwood Complex Fire. The crowd sits on the edge of their seats captivated by the breathtaking moments each of the seven survivors describes: the days before the fire, the initial red glow to the east, the frightening escapes, and the collective arms of the community that catch them. Interspersed with music, mostly original pieces written for the event, the evening builds to an emotional release as the cast sings: "Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow, but if we are wise we know that there's always tomorrow." The project's initiator and director Ellen Weed appears overwhelmed as the entire room joins in with what feels like a release: "Lean on me when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on."
Recovery has many faces and the humble voices rising in unison with the survivors on stage is a beautiful portrait of community resiliency. We are so proud that the Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County welcomed the opportunity to support the creation of these monologues because it has demonstrated the value of grassroots recovery and resiliency efforts to build a stronger community in the aftermath of disaster.
The Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund is a corporate-advised matching fund established by the Mendocino Family of Companies, including Mendocino Forest Products, Mendocino Redwood Company, Humboldt Redwood Company, and Allweather Wood as part of the North Bay fire relief program Forward Together. The fund brought $800,000 into the recovery efforts in Mendocino and Sonoma counties following the 2017 fires. One aspect of their focus has been on emotional well-being to help rebuild the community from the inside out. In addition to grants for senior respite, children's activities, a children's summer camp to build personal preparedness, and restoration of animal habitats, the fund has supported two local arts-based recovery and resiliency projects: The
First Person Plural monologues and a phenomenal art therapy project
Art from the Ashes created by Elizabeth Raybee and Nori Dolan.
Art from the Ashes
invited fire survivors to bring the burned, twisted, melted treasures of their homes to reshape into artwork. As part of this project, Raybee with the help of survivors and friends crafted an immense mosaic to memorialize the firestorm and remember the lives lost. "It truly was a fulfilling experience to be involved in absorbing all the stories, providing a safe place for those who lost so much to tell their stories to each other and share a healing process through art. Making mosaics that brought beauty from the broken, burned and melted was just what so many of the participants needed," shares Raybee. "The Community Foundation's support and the funding from the Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund has been so very important and appreciated in our efforts to heal through art those who suffered horrific losses last fall."
The central heart bears the names of those lost in the fire.
At the unveiling on October 12 at the Redwood Valley Grange, Raybee stood to the side as a community of county residents witnessed a blessing and song from a local tribal elder to honor the hallowed ground upon which these fires burned. While the scent of sage from the ceremonial blessing floated on the breeze, a structure fire called away the valley's firefighters in attendance to protect a family's home in peril. The intersection of these memories and the nearby flames wove itself into a moment of heartache and hope, tightening the bonds of this close-knit community to become stronger and more resilient.
To date, the Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund has granted out more than half of its $800,000 goal and we are in the process of their final round of grant-making from the fund. Working with Mendocino Forest Products has enabled the Community Foundation to offer support to projects and programs beyond the scope of our Disaster Fund. There are many critical ways that individuals and communities recover and restore a sense of well-being and safety, and art projects such as these are one way in which we can all begin to heal.