The California Fires and Community Engagement (Part 5 – The Final Installment)

This post wraps up our journey. To read from the beginning, start here.

Week 4:
It is the fourth Wednesday since we left home. Two weeks with California’s Fire Safe Councils during the California Fires. Week 3, meetings with community groups and keynoting AFP’s Philanthropy Day luncheon in Reno, Nevada.

Now, for Week 4, we’re in Fresno, California. First, we get to do a book-signing workshop. Then we get to spend time with the collaboration of collaboratives that has hosted our being there. Talk about understanding that everything is interconnected! *

What started as a question among workshop attendees from California’s Fire Safe Councils, and then grew to a roar against the backdrop of the fires, has become the lens through which we are now seeing everything – from individual people to individual organizations to whole communities – wherever we go.

By working together, we can create the future we want to see.

More compassion. More health. More vibrance. More resilience.

For our individual lives, for our communities, for our planet.

The beauty is that we are all already interconnected. We do not need to start from scratch. We just need to activate the connections and relationships that already exist.

And the time for that action is now.

Week 4 Becomes Personal:
From Fresno, we head to L.A., where we spend the day with colleagues and friends. After weeks with group after group, a whole day of intimate one-on-one conversation with people we enjoy, just sitting in various restaurants around town in jeans and sneakers – is deliciously refreshing, even if most of that conversation is about work.

Dinner is with a former intern – a 30 year old man who was 22 the last time we saw him. After years in the business world in L.A., Adam emailed for advice – he wants to be doing more community work. Being able to discuss his future, not via email or phone, but over dinner, is a treat.

From L.A., we head to Palm Springs to visit two dear friends, one of whom is beginning to fade from Lewy Body Dementia. Unlike Alzheimers, those with Lewy Body are conscious of what is happening to them, watching as their lives rapidly change.

In his real life, J. is playful and sweet, funny and brilliant. Now he watches himself fading, forgetting, losing capacity while gaining hallucinations. His wife shares that he has not been able to track more than the simplest conversation in months.

But the evening we spend together, filled with stories, has his rapt attention. For hours, he is right there, present and engaged. The gift of this evening is lost on none of us. For us, it is the reward as Trip 1 ends and Trip 2 begins.

The Journey Continues:
Danbury, Connecticut – The Perfect Wrap-Up
We are home just 2 days (enough to do laundry and pay bills), when we board a plane for Danbury, Connecticut. Danbury’s community leaders always surprise us by how much they accomplish between our visits. What happens in months in Danbury can take years (or not happen at all) elsewhere.

Our first stop is a large group of funders who are already deeply engaged in creating community change, having pooled their various resources to build Danbury’s Nonprofit Resource Center. Seeing what they have accomplished together that none of them could have done individually, their question is, “What’s next?”

From there, we meet with Danbury Hospital – a hospital whose leaders see Community Benefit as something more than an IRS term – and then with the ever-visionary United Way of Western Connecticut. Both want to focus on Community Engagement steps beyond simply engaging people in the issues. They want that engagement to become action. And they want to do this by Gardening in the Front Yard – integrally involving the community in doing the hands-on work of creating its own community change.

We know from our own work that there is an invisible, interconnected web in every community, just waiting to be activated to create real community change. Danbury’s leaders see that web. After a month of introducing these concepts to communities yearning for such connection, it is inspiring to be with folks who are ready to take the next step, turning that web into action.

Only Connect:
Flying home, we are exhilarated and exhausted.

We have spent five weeks in witness to the simple yet overpowering essence of Community Engagement laid bare – inspiring and activating the desire we all have to make our lives as joyful and positive as possible.

And as I consider that simple truth, I am overcome by the words of Zen Master Daisetz Suzuki, when asked about the meaning of Zen – words that have become the heart of my own daily meditation:

Infinite gratitude for all things past,
Infinite service to all things present,
Infinite responsibility to all things future.

Those three words – gratitude, service, responsibility – clearly define the work of those dedicated Californians who are fighting to make their communities Fire Safe. The fires have reminded us of that.

3,000 miles away, we watch as Danbury’s leaders build upon the past, provide service to the present, take aim at the future. The changing colors of autumn remind us that, like the trees themselves, we all carry the past, the present and the future inside us, all the time. Gratitude. Service. Responsibility.

The power to create the future is ours. We are already deeply embedded in each other’s lives, far more interconnected than we are independent. There is so much we can do together that we simply cannot do on our own.

It is time we linked arms and got to work.

*Our thanks to the following four groups who are learning and working together, and who hosted our ability to be in Fresno – the Fresno Coalition for Art, Science and History; United Way of Fresno; the Fresno Business Council; and the Fresno Nonprofit Advancement Council – all working together. We look forward to seeing where the journey brings us!

Photo credits: Dimitri Petropolis

3 Responses to The California Fires and Community Engagement (Part 5 – The Final Installment)

  1. Hi Hildy,
    Thanks for your continued inspiration! I look forward to continued Arizona networking in support of the work I see emerging. We are continuing to engage in some pretty exciting efforts to collaborate here in the “central mountains.” I remember one of our local non-profit leaders teaching me the phrase “enlightened self-interest” many years ago. For me it has captured the essense of the spirit of community you continue to promote. There is no “I” in team, and we are all in this together.

    With another holiday season upon us I am beginning my own process of reflection and planning for the new year. I see exciting things on the horizon. It is often challenging to focus on the positive potential when bombarded with negativity, yet that is where I see our community ever reaching for what we can achieve!

    I envision abundance and well-being in the year to come. And I’m looking forward to sharing in gratitude, service, and responsibility…

    Looking forward to seeing you soon!


  2. Oh Bob, your lovely note gives me one more thing to be thankful for! That and the fact that the temperature is finally falling here in the desert, and it’s a perfectly clouded-over day.

    Once we have caught up after being away for so long, I am looking forward to hearing about all that is going on in beautiful Prescott! HG

  3. Hildy, it was great reading about our fire experiences through your eyes. It has been a time filled with high highs (one example – a fuel break in Lake Arrowhead that used $40,000 in federal funds saved 200 homes – and the fire personnel said “we saved these homes six months ago”) to low lows (one of our most active coordinators and someone who has mentored numerous other local Fire Safe Councils lost his home in Modjeska Canyon). It has put into enormous perspective why we do what we do and made us all realize how much more there is to be done. Having new tools in our tool box will surely help the state organization and the local fire safe councils find ways of stretching our resources (of all kinds!) and finding new ones.