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Rebuilding Paradise: A story of resilience

In my role at SBP, I get to see how massive the need is in disaster impacted-communities when it comes to accessing resources and navigating recovery. To say it’s a difficult process would be an understatement. Wading through pages of requirements for insurance claims and FEMA applications all while struggling to cope with the enormity of it all, trying to find some sense of normalcy. It’s overwhelming, and I recently experienced this firsthand when I traveled to Paradise, California. I met with a room full of Camp Fire survivors to discuss how they can navigate these complexities. Despite all they were going through, I was amazed at their resilience, determination and hope.

SBP hosted the training in partnership with Paradise High School at a temporary facility located on the grounds of Chico Airport, as the school did not survive the fire. Our goal was to empower impacted-families to self-advocate and maximize resources for their own recovery. While stressing the importance of being your own advocate, one survivor shared that she had unsuccessfully applied to FEMA five times. Clearly distraught, she described how on her sixth attempt, her 89-year-old mother marched into the office with her – resulting in her successfully receiving the benefits for her recovery. This was just one of many testimonials shared that night as all of the attendees were at various stages in the application process. After the training, one attendee came up to me and explained that most of the residents of Paradise were displaced all over the state, so this training was the first time they had seen their neighbors since the fire. She was thankful for the brief moment of being able to feel that sense of community again.

The next day, I toured the town of Paradise with Charles Brooks. Charles is the executive director of Rebuild Paradise, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting long-term rebuilding in the area. Charles, also a resident of Paradise for 15 years, lost his home in the fire, displacing his family – a wife and two young sons. We drove around the city, all the while Charles pointed out all locations that held special significance to him. The remains of his home, his childrens’ elementary school, the hospital where his kids were born (which didn't burn but is now closed), his friends' houses and the neighborhood restaurant with the best patio. As we walked around the footprint of the elementary school, he paused and showed me the garden his sons helped plant. Surprisingly, there was a tiny patch of green coming up through the debris in the yard. Charles smiled and said, “If that garden can still grow, we can rebuild.”

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Charles is an incredible person and embodies the level of resilience and determination communities need to recover after disaster. Despite losing his home and the community around him, he has chosen to spearhead the recovery and be a source of hope for everyone struggling after the fire. He understands that the city has a long road ahead, but is committed to positioning Rebuild Paradise to address the long-term recovery needs for residents, businesses and the workforce.

I also spent time with the Camp Fire Long Term Recovery Group, Habitat for Humanity, Paradise Unified School District and the Boys and Girls Club of the North Valley. Their stories gave me greater insight into the current needs in Butte County after Camp Fire, and the significant steps the community has taken so far down a very long road to recovery. This journey will be measured in years. It is important that we, as the wider community, make the same long-term commitment that Rebuild Paradise has made – to help, hope and support bringing people home as long as it takes.