For this recurring feature in eNews, Doug Hoagland, a longtime Fresno Bee reporter, interviews members of our congregation so we can get to know each other better. New profiles run about once a month. In this edition,
Janet Capella tells her story.
Tell us about yourself:
I grew up near Fresno High, and my family went to First Congregational. In 1964, when I was a sophomore at Fresno High, I was one of about 5,000 people who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Fresno.
The ministers at First Congregational had made me aware of political issues, but I didn’t yet totally understand the national and international impact of Dr. King. But we went to the march as a youth group, and we just kept getting involved in social issues. We did a lot of work with farmworker kids in the South Valley.
Your activism continued as you got older:
In the summer of 1968, I went to Europe – it was a time of great unrest. In Paris, the blood of protesting students was still on the streets of the Left Bank. I’ll always remember that – it was chilling.
At Fresno State, I was involved in the anti-war movement, and I recently wrote an article about that time for the Community Alliance newspaper (
fresnoalliance.com, June 2020
). In the early 1970s, I joined the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and I’m still active.
Tell us about your professional background:
I graduated from Fresno State with a degree in theater arts, and I’ve had a lot of jobs that centered around helping people. In the mid-1970s, I worked at Catholic Charities, helping resettle Vietnamese refugees who came here after the Vietnam War. I took big groups of men to factories trying to get them jobs.
At the California Department of Rehabilitation, I also worked on job placement. Then in the mid-1980s, I worked as the lone assistant for Karen Humphrey, who was then on the Fresno City Council. (She was later elected mayor.)
After that, I went to the Fresno County Public Library, where I ran the volunteer program and also worked in several branches. At the same time, I started substitute teaching, which led me to getting a credential. I taught for Fresno Unified for 20 years, mostly in middle schools.
Tell us about your family:
My daughter, Laurel Fawcett, lives in Oakland. She was baptized at CUCC when she was 12 along with my son, Josiah Maskaleris, who was a baby. Laurel lived in Fresno for a long time, working as a forest ranger. Josiah passed away in 2012, and his wife, Erica, died in 2013. I have a grandson, Shaylon Hovey, who’s 28, and a granddaughter, Citlalli Sanchez, who’s 20. I have two brothers, Bruce Morris in Sweden, and Randy Morris in Fresno.
What do you find special about Community UCC?
Our congregation is not only enthusiastic about worship but also about mission and outreach, welcoming new members, helping one another, and visiting one another. This church has always built bridges into the community. It goes back to Henry Hayden (founding minister) building bridges to Martin Luther King. We’ve always called very socially conscious ministers who were in tune with the times.
What brought you to Community UCC?
Over the years, I moved back and forth between Community and Big Red (First Congregational). For a time, we lived near CUCC, and we’d walk by, and Josiah would say, “Why don’t we go to this church?” I said, “I don’t know. That’s a good idea. Let’s go here.” At CUCC, I developed a stronger connection to Jesus when Helen Winkel and I, along with other women, would sit by the altar once a week to pray, drum, dance, and be together. We did it for years.
What’s your vision for the church?
That we would add younger families and we would become even more involved in community issues. I also would like our church to join other UCC congregations that are welcoming and supportive of people who have mental illness. It’s called the WISE movement. (WISE stands for Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged.) Our Missions and Social Justice Team is working to bring WISE to the congregation.
I also would like our church to help people learn more about the Bible and to continue our study of racism and white privilege.
Tell us about your love for the Syrian family, the Soukis
(Pastor Ara connected the family to church members)
First, let me explain that my work with the Vietnamese in the 1970s led me to helping Hmong refugees in the 1980s. My parents encouraged us to be aware of other people who didn’t have as many advantages as we did.
I met the Soukis when they moved to Fresno from New York in 2019. I have become family with them. I go to their house and drink tea, and I have conversations with mom and dad, Mayssa and Taiseer, and with their six kids. We learn from each other about war, peace, education and what it means to love your neighbors. It’s a sacred time – sitting and sharing tea with them.
You have a special relationship with the Soukis’ oldest child, 18-year-old Sidra:
She just graduated from Fresno High and will start at Fresno City College in August. We’ve spent many hours on school work and figuring out things about her education. I advocated for her at Fresno High with her counselor. I love her very much. She wants to be a doctor, partly because of her experience in the Jordanian refugee camp where her family lived for three years after fleeing Syria because of the civil war. Sidra was extremely sick in Jordan and almost died.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Soukis?
They’ve been searching for a home – a safe place to raise their children – since leaving Syria. When Taiseer and I talk about Sidra going to college, I ask him, “What about the other children?” He says, “One by one, they will go.” I find them very profound, and very much like my family of origin because of the love.
What’s one thing about you that might surprise people?
I once worked as a lifeguard. And, I keep my financial papers in a ledger that my grandfather, Frank Morris, used. It still has blank pages.
How would classmates in high school have described you?
Friendly, studious, active in theater, played the cello.
Tell us about other interests:
I’m an artist and have been since I was young. From 2010 to 2020, I was part of Chris Sorensen’s studio near downtown Fresno. I’m now working on a national poster project for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I also like to write and to garden.