Through the Fire

Imagine arriving in a new community, excited about the service year ahead of you, only to find this community and the people you hoped to help completely upended by disaster. Last year, CalSERVES AmeriCorps members experienced just this. However, instead of running from this disaster and what was left in its wake, the AmeriCorps members leaned in, determined to serve their new home through any means possible.

CalSERVES is a Napa County Office of Education AmeriCorps program focused on education-based activities that serves Napa and Sonoma counties. Its members work to improve the lives and well-being of students and their families by developing volunteer programs and providing mentoring and tutoring services. CalSERVES programs include 60 AmeriCorps members engaging students in five school districts through in-school and afterschool programming, and an additional 180 VIP and VIP Service Enterprise AmeriCorps members who are dedicated to building capacity for local nonprofits and education institutions.

In October 2017, Sonoma and Napa were devastated by wildfires that burned entire communities, claimed 44 lives, and displaced thousands of residents. When the fires broke out, CalSERVES AmeriCorps members had only just begun their service year. A majority of the AmeriCorps members were new to the region, having come from throughout the state and country to serve. Schools in Napa and Sonoma were forced to close, and CalSERVES staff had to evacuate their offices for more than two weeks.

Despite the enormity of the disaster, CalSERVES AmeriCorps members wanted to help in any way they could. CalSERVES shifted its efforts toward assisting with the relief effort; members volunteered at evacuation centers, local volunteer centers, and with the American Red Cross. They also volunteered for neighborhood watch groups and assisted with the distribution of donated goods. In the end, 89 members provided an astonishing 1,900 hours towards volunteer recovery efforts.

Today, nearly a year after the fires, there are still many recovery challenges, from structural issues and a housing crisis to economic barriers and psychological trauma, which continue to affect the community. CalSERVES AmeriCorps members continue to work in the Napa and Sonoma communities, helping residents rebuild their lives through dedicated, compassionate, and selfless service.