BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Two years after moving to Nevada City to welcome retirement, Jim and Janice O’Brien found themselves taking in their three young grandchildren whose parents were dealing with serious addiction problems. The dire situation of the homeless became a personal struggle for their son and daughter-in-law, who could not sustain a safe environment to raise the children, and subsequently they fell into homelessness.
In 2004, Janice joined Utah Phillips, Joanna Robinson, and Cindy Maple and others to found Hospitality House which has become a place of dignity, safety and hope for hundreds of those who are in need of mental, emotional and physical help. In 2010, when Billy Kelly, a homeless and addicted man, froze to death, Janice felt moved to become an advocate for those in Nevada City who cannot or will not use the services of Hospitality House.
Janice’s focus and intention is to reach out to the homeless and marginalized who cannot stay at Hospitality House, but who still need help and connection to get well and become participating and accepted members of the community.
Keith moved to Nevada County in the winter of 1996 to raise his family in the foothills outside Grass Valley. While Keith has earned his living as an engineering technician, the reward of developing a raw piece of property into a beautiful homestead was a dream come true for the Cantrell family. Growing fresh fruits and vegetables and harvesting poultry eggs was part of an endearing lifestyle of self-sufficiency. Like many properties here, the Cantrells’ bordered a creek, with signs of homeless camps everywhere. The threat of campfires going wild was always a concern during the dry seasons.
In 2009, after a drastic downturn in the high-tech industry, Keith and his sons found themselves at the edge of homelessness themselves. The reality that a working professional could go from prosperous to destitute in just a few years was a wake-up call. Keith’s personal faith and hard work have restored him financially, but the experience left an impression: homelessness could happen to anybody at anytime. A calling to serve the community’s neediest led to his decision to work with the chronically homeless. Keith’s personal experience with Celebrate Recovery (12-Step program) here in Grass Valley has given him a good understanding of the path to a sober and substance-free lifestyle for those with addictions. Keith and his youngest son still live in Grass Valley. Serving and growing with Sierra Roots is an opportunity to enhance the lives of those in the community who find themselves homeless for any reason.
My desire to become part of the Sierra Roots team came about when I heard the statistics of how many folks in our relatively small community are suffering homelessness: at least double the number that Hospitality House serves are living out in the woods, living “free”? No, living with hardly a modicum of basic human needs satisfied: food, shelter from extreme heat or cold, sanitation or hygiene, living with ever present danger of fires, violence, failing health.
Having an option of self-sustaining, self-sufficiency which fosters dignity while caring for the land and growing some food on that land is a vision I hold for our community, and the world.
I have raised three children, had a 38 year career in special education, been a life long gardener, for the past four years I’ve been developing an Aquaponics garden, which I believe will be the future method of food security for local organic produce and protein in America. Since retiring from Grass Valley School District in 2006 I have been an avid portrait photographer.
In 2015 I started a photography project called "Faces of Change", as a way to see into the eyes of folks who are homeless; each has a story to tell, a gift to bring, and a heart that yearns for community. In 2017 my photography was exhibited at the Center for the Arts in a project called "A Place to Call Home". Please visit the websites below for more information.
All living entities require Roots in order to grow and thrive. Mine were planted and nourished on Belvedere Street, one block from Haight Street, central to the later famed Height-Ashbury District of San Francisco. It was a great place to grow up in a family where taking care of each other was a way of life. I left and returned there a number of times.
In the ’60’s The Haight exploded onto a Cosmic and caring Community of free concerts, street theater and beautiful people. No one was homeless, hungry or un-cared for, thanks to the likes of the Diggers and Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic and an attitude of Mi Casa /Tu Casa. By then I had found a life partner who eventually came to run the “Space Station” part of the Rock Medicine services provided by Bill Graham at the rock concerts that he promoted, both of us also participating at the free medical clinic, each of us growing professionally and personally.
But things change and not always for the better. Eventually we came to realize that The City we both loved had morphed from a wonderful place to live to a great place to visit and that it was time for transplanting! The “where” had been determined by numerous motorcycle trips through the Sierras, with Nevada City always beckoning. We came, we settled, we encountered the likes of Utah Phillips and began our Sierra Roots. The rest is evolving history!
As a resident of beautiful Nevada County for the past 40 years, I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in this community filled with natural and community wonders. As an RN, over the years, I enjoyed working in the fields of home care, hospice, and behavioralhealth. Working in the field of behavioral health, I was attuned to the gaps in services for the homeless in our community. I became involved in volunteering with HOSPITALITY HOUSE in 2006. Through my working with HOSPITALITY HOUSE, I became acquainted with Janice O'Brien and learned of her vision for SIERRA ROOTS. Several years ago, I started volunteering with Sierra Roots and assisting with the cold weather shelter.
Appreciating SIERRA ROOTS dedication and service to the chronically homeless in our community, I am excited to work with SIERRA ROOTS and partner with the community in developing safe, sustainable housing for the chronically homeless. Here's to building a community that works for everyone!
Jim brings to SR his experience and perspective having served for over thirty years in planning, community development and affordable housing managing innovative plans, programs and projects with public agencies, including San Jose, Sacramento and Nevada County. As a consultant, Jim has helped public agencies throughout California and other states to administer funds for affordable housing, in particular efforts to address the foreclosure crises that resulted in the financial collapse period. In recent years, Jim formed his own firm and worked with many non-profit housing development and other organizations, nationwide, with technical assistanceresearching funding opportunities, grant management and organizational development.
Jim earned a Master of Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University and Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and Economics from Temple University, in Philadelphia. He has been a frequent speaker at planning, affordable housing and green building forums and conferences. In 2012 Jim was interviewed for an NPR program regarding the impact of foreclosures and sustainable solutions to the housing crises. Jim was interviewed for the local A Place to Call Home, a multi-media project in 2017 about his personal and professional experiences with helping people who were homeless to secure safe and affordable homes.
In early 2017, Jim started volunteering with Sierra Roots (SR). He was inspired by the work of the organization’s efforts to improve the lives of local people who are experiencing homeless. He is especially inspired by SR’s vision for building a village of permanent small homes to provide local folks in need of a safe place to rest, address their needs and build skills for self-empowerment and earning a living. Jim has been involved with SR’s committees securing grants and project development. He has also recently joined the SR Board of Directors.