On Monday February 25th, 2019, a slow moving storm made its way into the West Coast bringing heavy rainfall that spread across Northern and Central California.  The counties of Sonoma, Amador, Glenn, Lake and Mendocino were inundated with flood water by the Russian River. The river had exceeded 45 feet at its peak, over 14 feet above flood stage. Sonoma County was hit the hardest with an estimated 2,000 damaged homes. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department issued an evacuation of 3,500 residents. Towns including Guerneville and Monte Rio were turned into inaccessible islands as the flood waters rose from the Russian River and many residents saw over 8 feet of water in their communities.

When we sent our Operations Director, Dorothy Maples, and our Logistics Coordinator, Hayley Kaup, to do an initial scope of need, we had no idea our connection to Sonoma County would be so strong. During our time in Sonoma County, we partnered with both the Sonoma County Office and the Russian River Keepers– a local environmental group that takes care of the Russian River. Both of these local agencies functioned as the county’s liaison between affected families and us, and also assisted in securing our lodging so we could get more settled in the community and helped negotiate costs to maximize how much of our budget could go towards helping the community. In reflection of this work, our staff reported that, “we also assisted families to haul debris to the dump after curbside pick up was not available. For me being able to provide this was a key piece to some of our homeowners as they wouldn’t have had many other options.” In less than a month with an AmeriCorps NCCC team and our awesome staff, we were able to help 10 families get through phase 1 of getting their homes and their lives back.

During her time on the ground, Hayley said that Sonoma County, especially the towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio, were some of the “most welcoming communities that we have ever responded to, and many of the NECHAMA staff continue to speak with friends made in the area.” With a strong sense of unity, the local proud self-acclaimed “riverfolk” were inspiring and welcoming. The local community continues to amaze us, as they are constantly working to give back in any way they can find to one another regardless of the turmoil caused by the intense flooding. One of the local business has a weekly fundraiser for a local non-profit. Dorothy even said that, “This response will go down as one of my favorites!” NECHAMA’s mission is to serve others in their time of need for support and assistance, but we are always amazed when the communities we serve go out of their way to not only support each other but open their hearts to our staff and volunteers. Our Operations Coordinator, Kim Clark, described the community as tight knit and said “most people just dug in and got things done.”

NECHAMA is proud to have been the community to share the stories of Sonoma County, and to be able to see how much our presence spoke to the locals. “Many homeowners were stunned that we showed up even though there were other disasters going on in the midwest,” recalled Hayley.

We could not provide any aid or make any of the remarkable connections our staff and volunteers do without the help of our NECHAMA community. On behalf of ourselves and Sonoma County, we want to extend an immense amount of thanks for contributing your #manywaysofgiving.