Reach Out! Rise Up! Receive! Heart Rising Update October 2021

A year after the Almeda Fire, many families have decided to stay, despite daunting challenges and hardships—because this is where they find support and community. Because this is their home. And this point was never so clearly driven home than in the descriptive, documentary-style article the New York Times published on September 8, 2021. Some of our families and others, are featured in this article, with a link that can be found here.
Finally—something to celebrate! A few months ago, Aidan Gardiner, a reporter from the New York Times, contacted me at Heart Rising. He wanted to know if I could put him in touch with families who had lost homes in our community, and he was especially hoping to speak to some from the Latino community.
I was pleased to be able to connect him to Patie Millen our founder and our volunteer teams, who in turn contacted the families they were working with. And it all came together like a “fiesta familiar.” In fact, the Rocha family was the first to be interviewed. In true form, it wasn’t just an interview. The family arrived at the home of Renee Riley-Adams, as always, with homemade tortillas, frijoles and pozole. I told my friend about this wonderful family, gleeful and proactive, and the lovely meals they always provide, and she said, “Well of course. Traditional dishes and family gatherings raise the expectation in our community, (especially during difficult times) that family will always be there.”
Two of the families, the Rochas and the Gomez’ are featured in the article. The photographs by Rachel Bujalski, are incredible. Aidan and Rachel let the family members’ words and pictures tell their stories. We are drawn into their cramped living conditions, the lack of space. There would hardly be any room for us, but we would be welcomed, nevertheless. Martin Rochas, who is living in a converted garage across from his work, talks about how he was able to save a few photographs from his daughter’s Quinceañera, and one of his brother, who has died. He’s still hoping to acquire more permanent housing. I have known the Rochas family for almost a year now and I have never heard them complain.
Jairo Gomez, another of our family members, talked about the fear he felt seeing the fire and losing his home. He and his wife Elva and their three children have been making it on a shoestring and living in an RV. He does it for the children, he says. He wants them to have a future. “I don’t want to run away like a coward and not face my problems,” he says in the article. “I want to rebuild.”
We want you to rebuild too, Jairo. For all who can and/or want to help, please go to and make a donation, big or small. And if you want to volunteer there is a link for that too. You can also send a donation to Heart Rising, c/o the Thalden Foundation, 550 Ashland Loop Rd., Ashland 97520.

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