October 24, 2017

Our hearts are still heavy about the devastating wildfires in the North Bay that have affected so many people.

Fires-SF-ChroniclePhoto courtesy of Peter DaSilva, SF Chronicle.

In difficult times like these, turning to community is more important than ever. At Summer Search, our Bay Area team has been all-hands-on-deck reaching out to our students — many of whom live in the affected areas of Santa Rosa, Napa, and St. Helena — to ensure they and their families are safe, connected to resources, and have space to process together.

As of today, our Summer Searchers are safe. However, many students, alumni, and their families were forced to evacuate, with several losing electricity, and one student’s home was destroyed. Those who were not directly impacted have been supporting family members and friends as best as they can, either by offering emotional support from afar or by welcoming evacuees into their homes. Others have stepped up to volunteer, from high school students whose classes were canceled due to the smoke in the air, to college students traveling back on the weekends. Some of our staff also had to evacuate, deal with losing electricity, and take in family members.

Interestingly, in the process of checking in with their mentors, some of our students reported that the lessons they learned from their summer experiences and wilderness trips helped them manage the stress of the evacuations. They noticed a greater capacity to deal with uncertainty and discomfort, a broadening of perspective, and a deeper appreciation for what they have.

Our staff has also stepped up.

Several members of our Bay Area and National teams collected and organized donations from fellow staff and alumni, and then spent a day volunteering at a donation center in Petaluma to support fire relief efforts.

Costco-Run-Seth-XavierSeth James Ellis (left), National Director of Alumni Relations and Development, and Xavier Soto, Bay Area Program Operations Assistant, purchasing supplies for fire victims with donated funds from fellow staff.

“I think that what stood out to me was how quickly our internal community came together,” explained Crystal Yang, Bay Area Donor Relations Manager. “We received so many emails of support and donations toward us buying supplies and many other staff members mentioning how much they wish they could have come [to volunteer that day].”

Summer Search, like many other employers, supports giving back and offers all of its employees paid time off to volunteer. This made it possible for Crystal and company to spend a day driving all over the North Bay, dropping off donations and offering to help at several shelters, warehouses, and fairgrounds, which due to the fast-changing needs of those affected and the overwhelming response from the rest of the Bay Area, were often already full and unable to accept more volunteers or donations.

“The outpouring of love and support from the community was palpable and heart-warming,” said Bay Area Foundation and Corporate Relations Officer Brenda Boyle. “It was an inspiration to work alongside volunteers from all across the Bay who were there to help. There were volunteers from the East Bay, San Francisco, and even San Jose!”

Fire-volunteer-collageVolunteers from all over the Bay Area turning an empty Clover diary warehouse turn into a bustling, organized distribution center in just a few hours.

That powerful and inspiring sense of community was shared by Bay Area alumnus Martin Hoang, who contributed a carload of donated supplies for our staff to bring to the North Bay.

“In this current chaotic world, and the lack of love for our own neighbors, it was a fairly fast and easy decision for me to help,” Martin shared. “You can’t change the world, but you can change your world. I really wanted to go up north to help the volunteer efforts, but my asthma was not letting me. I had to find other venues to help and donating was the quickest way to do so. It was my way of showing my community I would do anything to help.”

The Alumni Board in the Bay Area has also been exploring ways to support our student and alumni community as the relief process continues in the weeks ahead. And several members of our Bay Area Board of Directors have also reached out looking for ways to help.

Other alumni, like Stephanie Martinez and Eduardo Fernandez, have taken to social media to share valuable resources and information with their networks.

Even former staff were getting involved. Molly Curley O’Brien is a former North Bay mentor and alum of Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS), which has been a long-time partner school of Summer Search. She has been stationed at the SVHS shelter since the first day of evacuations — alongside some Summer Search students and their families — volunteering, donating her time, sharing daily updates on social media, and being a great resource to our staff team, who got in touch with her in the days leading up to their volunteer day.

“[Volunteering] was such an amazing experience,” remarked SiMone Andrade, College Access Coordinator. “We were able to witness the incredible amount of effort there was to support the North Bay the day that we visited. We could also feel that there will continue to be a huge effort needed as the North Bay prepares to rebuild.”

SiMone also shared an article with our volunteer team, which reflected the group’s learnings from the day, that explained how in a disaster situation like in the North Bay, the most important thing everyone can do is to donate money, not goods. One of the biggest concerns for families now is the loss of wages. Many of our students’ families live paycheck to paycheck, so a disruption in income for any period of time can be seriously destabilizing.

No matter how anyone prefers to give, this is going to be a long road to recovery for Sonoma County, and there will certainly be opportunities to donate and volunteer moving forward. It may seem daunting, but as Martin puts it, now is the time for action:

“I just want folks to know that, in this crucial moment in history, it’s not the best time to be jaded by the events happening around us. As a matter of fact, it’s the time that we stop being comfortable just living our own lives, and asking ourselves what we can do to make those lives around us better.”

Our Summer Search community extends far beyond our students, alumni, and families that we serve. It includes our staff, board members, former staff, volunteers, and all of our neighbors from Silicon Valley to Santa Rosa. We are so grateful to be a part of this generous, supportive, and resilient community. #SonomaStrong


From left to right: SiMone, Brenda, Mike (Brenda’s partner), Crystal, Seth, and Leide (Bay Area Donor Relations Manager and Boston alumna).

Ways to Support

General information:

Sonoma County Recovery


Napa Valley Community Foundation

Community Foundation of Sonoma County

Undocufund (supports undocumented individuals who do not qualify to receive FEMA funding)

Volunteer opportunities:

Volunteer Center of Sonoma County

Further reading:

Stop Donating Goods to Disaster Victims. What They Need is Money.

“Sonoma County Strong” image courtesy of local artist Jenny Paisley, FieldWorks in Petaluma, CA.

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