Most of us think of wineries when someone says Sonoma, CA, of expensive tours, chateaus, and fun day trips from San Francisco. But if you keep heading down River Road, past the tourists, you begin to see the real Sonoma County, and where River Road gets its name.
You discover Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Duncans Mills. Small, hardworking towns – far from the glitz and glamour of the well-known stops along the roads through this part of California. You also discover the constant companion for these towns, the Russian River. It was after days of rain that the river rose to levels that locals had never seen. Homes that were elevated 13 plus feet from the river banks flooded an additional 5 feet into their homes. Businesses were destroyed, communities uprooted, homes badly damaged. Someone said the river moved so fast and furious it sounded like the ocean in the middle of a storm.
Cell coverage doesn’t really exist in this part of the county. Most folks have to drive to the local grocery store in Guerneville to get a signal – turning it into an impromptu call center. People rely on visiting with each other – they checked on each other after the storm, making sure the most vulnerable were ok even if their own homes were damaged.
There are three or four gas stations, but weeks after the storms only one was operational. Roads were still washed out, mudslides common, nothing was easy.
But that is when communities come together, they lean on each other, rely on each other, grow faith from each other. In these towns, it’s a way a life allowing them to get by day by day. Helping their neighbors, coming together,
At the heart of it all, is what we call Tikkun Olam – manifested in the actions of those who stood up and answered the call to help their neighbors. As we began to work in these towns, we found kindred spirits – people focused on the good of the all, in being hope and compassion and comfort to those around them, despite having little to spare themselves.
We met Valerie. Deaf and working day and night to recover from the flooding. Despite all the hours she had put into her recovery, she needed assistance finishing with mucking and gutting her home before the county stopped taking debris from the side of the road. NECHAMA staff quickly developed a dialogue with her using a pad of paper, and her quick wit and sharp sense of humor shined through. Her son, just 13 years old, rolled up his sleeves to join the work. It was his birthday. In Judaism, we celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah on a young person’s 13th birthday – their coming of age ritual and celebration signifying their transition into adulthood. I can think of no better way to describe his work that day – capped off with a cupcake from our Operations Director, Dorothy Maples.
At another house, NECHAMA staff returned to our vehicle at the end of the day to find a $100 bill rolled up and tucked under the windshield wiper. We hadn’t advertised where we were working, someone simply saw our truck and wanted to make a difference, and by doing so inspired our team.
We all hear about the large storms, the devastating floods, and fires that destroy whole communities – and when they happen NECHAMA is there to help. But at our core, we believe that our place is to help these small communities – the ones you’ve never heard of like Seneca, MO or Waseca, MN. The places you didn’t know needed help, where the event was not large enough for the networks to cover it, but no less devastating to those affected.
Your support allows us to put boots on the ground in these places – far from the public eye, and well under the radar, engaging in Tikkun Olam at a person by person level. Our work is far from done in Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Duncans Mills, and may just be starting in the upper Midwest with floods on the horizon. Now is the time to choose to inspire hope and comfort, to choose community and respect.
Please consider a gift today to our Disaster Response Fund so we can continue to serve those places and families who we all could so easily forget.