The scent of drying putty is fresh in the air as a 10-year-old fire survivor walks me through her future bedroom. “My dad said I can have the master bedroom and he is taking the smaller room across the hall,” she says with a smile. Just weeks from moving home after a year and a half living in FEMA housing she shares with excitement, “We went to the furniture store and I got to pick out my new bed and dresser.” A sense of ownership and restoration to the childhood interrupted is heavy in her voice, and I tuck away the lump in my throat and smile. The work the Foundation has been able to do as leaders of Mendocino-ROC has been detailed in the data, but the true impact is found in this bare bedroom overlooking scorched trees where a ten-year-old girl is getting excited about picking up where her family left off.
Getting families home remains our top priority. Through our Large Housing Grant program, we have distributed over a million dollars in gap funding to help families rebuild. A multi-generational family without insurance who lost everything is now breaking ground on a new home. A retired social worker was able to purchase a small mobile home. A young family was able to put a down-payment on their first home after the fires razed the land they grew up on. We are constantly evaluating the landscape of survivors’ remaining needs to identify the best pathway to get them back into long-term housing. To date we have allocated $1,390,454 to 77 households.
Through our recovery efforts, we have also discovered the multifaceted impact of the fires on our friends and neighbors. We have sought opportunities to help recover the small things that form a life. Our newest grant program, Home Stretch, does just that. Families who are nearing moving home or recently returned have very little discretionary money. These grants allow survivors to buy a few of the necessities that make it feel like home again, a new bed, a new sofa, perhaps a washer or a dining table to gather the family around. To date we have awarded 76 of these grants for a total of $98,906.
The Home Stretch Grant program began as a way to support children and seniors through the Redwood Valley and Santa Rosa Community Recovery Fund started by Mendocino Forest Products and administered by the Community Foundation. This partnership allowed Mendocino Forest Products to make a very personal impact on local families recovering from the fires. With the success of these grants, we have since extended the program to all survivors who lost homes in the Redwood Complex Fire. As a result, a retired local artist was able to purchase a new bed for her home; another elderly couple received a much needed washer and dryer. Children’s bedrooms are being filled again with furniture of their own, and growing families are purchasing dining tables and sofas to welcome the next generation.
Each of our grant programs has allowed us to offer fire survivors a sense of return to normalcy from a scattered life. The two biggest challenges that lay ahead are rebuilding and wellness, both emotional and spiritual. Alongside the many smaller grants, we are applying special focus this year to these issues. We have grants available for fire survivors to receive one-on-one therapy, and hope to expand on this program with other wellness activities throughout the year.
When I took up the charge of leading our long-term recovery group, I never knew it would include walking through the bare bedroom of a young survivor and hearing her story. I did not know it would require grants for dining tables as well as building materials. However, I knew it would require a village to come together, to see what was needed, and to work together to make sure our friends and neighbors returned home. This is exactly what I have had a front seat for over the past year, and I am so proud to be part of the Community Foundation in a position of leadership through this disaster recovery process. We are a strong community, we are a resilient community, and we are going to get back home together.