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.
I would have bet a million dollars that I would never have a member of my family become homeless. Yet here I am, having had not just one, but three people in my immediate family homeless at one time or another.
After my retirement from a finance company, my husband, Pete and I moved to Nevada County; a member of my family was homeless in Modesto, so upon arriving here I started looking for a way to reach out to the homeless and I found Hospitality House. When my organizational skills were ‘found out’, I was asked to be events coordinator and also assistant volunteer coordinator. I served on the Hospitality House Board of Directors for two years.
My dream is that Sierra Roots will be able to assist in helping the homeless in our community that are not served at a ‘clean and sober’ shelter by collaborating with other service organizations as well as the community as a whole.
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.
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.
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!
My husband and I settled in Nevada County 10 years ago after both retiring from the US Navy and completing a trade school in Phoenix for certification as Harley mechanics. We opened a small motorcycle repair shop and I became involved in volunteering at St. Patrick Church. There I met Janice O'Brien and her family. She nudged me toward volunteering for Hospitality House, I have been with HH since. Seeing the number of men, women and children who needed a meal and a place to sleep from our community left an impression. So when Janice asked me to check out Sierra Roots, I did and I have been steadily becoming more involved with the group and the local homeless. Hospitality House and Sierra Roots has opened my eyes to the overwhelming need to bring homeless issues to the forefront of the local residents and local governments. It disturbs me that in our community "the homeless" are seen by many as a faceless group to be dealt with, controlled and hid away anywhere but "here" in my neighborhood. That a self-contained community for them is not supported. So I am doing what I can to get to know these homeless individuals and help Sierra Roots support and advocate for them.
I have been involved in a variety social activism over the years. My first efforts were in 1977-78 working against Proposition 6 in the campaign that was spearheaded by Harvey Milk. In the 1980s and 90s I was involved in the responding to the AIDS epidemic by doing fundraising, political actions and as a volunteer at a hospice. In 1999, my future husband Rick and I celebrated our relationship with a Commitment Ceremony officiated by a retired Presbyterian minister who is a family friend. We subsequently spent many years working toward marriage equality and were legally married in 2008. Most recently, we have both been working with the Citizenship Project in Napa County that guides documented immigrants through the citizenship application process.
Our first experience in working to serve those without housing was around 2006-07 when our church in San Luis Obispo offered its sanctuary as overnight lodging when the local shelter became unable to accommodate the growing demand. When we relocated to Nevada County 2-1/2 years ago, we looked for ways to become involved our new community and were fortunate to learn of Sierra Roots. As Unitarian Universalists, we covenant to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” I can think of no better way to live that principle than to work alongside these folks who are committed to that as well.