By Kathryn Hecht
Starting 40 odd years ago, 300 like-minded members of the Adidam Spiritual Community moved to Lake County to be near the Mountain of Attention Sanctuary, one of the worldwide group's meditation centers. Varied as their backgrounds were, members of the community shared a common vision of caring for their sacred grounds.
That shared vision was never more evident than it has been in the days, weeks, months, and years since the Valley Fire raced through the region in September 2015, displacing more than a hundred of the spiritual community's households. But in an extraordinary act of commitment to their neighbors, both in the local Adidam community and more broadly throughout the region, a small group of residents spearheaded the long-term recovery efforts necessary to recover and rebuild around their chosen home.
Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz and her husband, Eliot Hurwitz, two members of this Sanctuary community, had both worked with national and regional governments and nonprofits for decades. When they lost their home in the 2015 fire, they joined hundreds of displaced survivors in finding temporary housing. In the meantime, aware that the economic disparities in the region would quickly become even more of a problem in the face of the catastrophe, they formed the Seigler Springs Community Redevelopment Association (SSCRA) to begin to address the short- and long- term needs of local residents.
“Within a day or two we were identifying and vetting resources for survivors and finding ways to direct people, especially to the Red Cross, who were on site immediately issuing Client Assistance Cards [CACs],” says Magdalena. “Within a week, we formalized our nonprofit.”
But when the region shifted from short-term relief into long-term recovery mode in January 2017, Magdalena found there were more than 50 nonprofits on the ground needing to pull together, including the local Community Action Agency. SSCRA helped produce a loose coalition to create structure and reduce duplicated efforts. Part of this effort was an appeal for and subsequent grant of $57,000 from the Red Cross to fund a disaster case manager for a full year.
Enter Indigo Perry, another one of the Sanctuary community members, who also had to be evacuated. Indigo had worked as a COTS (Committee on the Shelterless) Volunteer Coordinator and became trained as a disaster case manager to fire survivors. In March 2017, she returned to Lake County and began “chipping away” at the 213 registered households in Lake County who needed assistance. To date, she has less than 10 cases left to close. Indigo worked to deliver Red Cross CACs and helped families achieve their goals of staying in Lake County in spite of lessening economic opportunities.
Magdalena and Indigo fondly reminisce on some of their success stories. “About 18 months after the fire there was an interracial couple with a small child who were becoming desperate to maintain continuity for their young son,” reflects Indigo. “SSCRA had the bandwidth to listen, document their needs, and advocate for them to stay in Lake County and continue their son’s education at the award-winning local elementary school.”
Another highlight involved a man in his mid-70s who, feeling like a burden on his son’s young family in San Francisco, began living in his car. SSCRA realized the man was eligible for CAC and contacted the son, prompting him to redouble efforts to locate his father. The elderly man returned to Lake County. The CAC was the “little lift he needed” to continue on until he found a friend with whom he could share a home.
The Red Cross funding came to an end in February 2018. Indigo’s work through the SSCRA has helped to put a community back on its feet. Even though the road has been long, hindsight for Magdalena and Indigo is already full of wonder and gratitude. Says Magdalena, “We will continue to support community-based disaster activities to help bring life back to this area.”
The work of SSCRA serves as a shining example of the power of community. Indigo, Magdalena, and their team exemplify human resilience at its best.
About the photo: The CAC Team includes ARC staff and volunteers plus SSCRA staff members Calvin Lee, Indigo Perry, Rebecca Samad, Magdalena Valderrama Hurwitz, and Melanie Garrett.
About the author: Kathryn Hecht _is serving as an Interim Communications Manager for the American Red Cross' Northern California Coastal Region.