The Journey of Regeneration
Our mission is to reweave the social fabric that regenerates Paradise I was born and raised in Paradise, California, a town of 27,000 in Butte County on The Ridge, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just above Chico. On November 8th, 2018 a spark from a PG&E transmission line blew into unseasonably dry and overgrown brush just a few miles from my hometown. In a matter of a few hours the residents of Paradise would be trapped in what could only likened to hell. Ninety percent of the town would be destroyed by the fire and ultimately 85 people would not make it out alive. The impact of the fire was felt across Butte County and throughout Northern California and made headlines around the world for its scale of destruction; it would be the most costly disaster in the world for 2018.
I love Paradise. It is my home. My parents have an orchard there which, miraculously, is still alive and well. Even with the house and everything else burned to the ground, it serves as a testament to the relationship my dad had with the land and is a beacon of hope for a community devastated by fire. I was shaped by nature, learning about the seasons from the ripening of fruit around us, how to flyfish and pan for gold; I knew all that we see in this world first comes from nature, a truth I carry to this day. I returned to Butte County on November 9th and, being unable to be complacent in the face of tragedy, I have thrown my whole heart into helping this community I love–after all, it has shaped me into the person I am today. This has led me on nearly a year-long journey of community work. In early 2019 I reached out to NewStories to help us in finding our way. They’ve worked closely with the Living Guild and others to support us. Mostly, they have shown up as listeners and strategic partners: listening, themselves, to our stories; helping us listen and speak the truth to each other; recognizing patterns and starting points as I and other leaders in the community have shared our grief and looked for how we might create our next steps forward. In 2019, NewStories helped us find our way to a community-based initiative, soon to be a nonprofit corporation, called Regenerating Paradise. Bob Stilger, NewStories President, has become a close friend and mentor and he asked me to write this blog to share what we are seeing, together. Paradise is a freedom-loving community that treasures nature and independence. In early 2019, in a process funded by the Butte Strong Fund, our community worked with Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh to lead us through a planning process which made our values as a community visible so that they may serve as a guiding force in our rebuild process; this was the beginning of visualizing what the future might hold. A plan was shared that was ultimately adopted officially by the town. You can see more here. A great deal of what needs to be done falls on the shoulders of local government AND the people who step forward with their dreams and ideas and creativity that create true community. Regenerating Paradise is a framework to connect that creativity and nourish it.
One of the things that always happens after a disaster of this magnitude is people show up to help. As this occurred, a collage of new ideas and ones held dear before the disasters start to become visible. Our work is to help each of these possibilities become reality. A lot of our work at Regenerating Paradise is to listen, really listen, even to the whispers. And to help people listen to each other. They share ideas and concerns, grief and joy, problems and possibilities as they begin to explore next steps. It’s actually hard to really listen, not interrupting with our own individual plans and ideas, but listening to someone in ways which bring forth the essence of what’s really important to them. We encourage folks to try stuff. Find others who care about the same thing. Create a prototype of their idea. See what happens. Try again. We’ll work with people and organizations as strategic partners. We’ll offer individual coaching as well as training and workshops on how to provide leadership and build regenerative community. Three or more times a year, we’ll bring people together who are working on different initiatives to talk with each other. Share ideas and cross pollinate them. We’ll talk and most likely listen to great music and share some wonderful food. Sometimes people will discover new synergies and collaborations. Other times they’ll go away more clear about their work — and knowing how much they are part of a larger whole. On a regular basis — and in a celebratory way — we’ll bring all of what’s going on back to the community as a whole. We just had our first Paradise Revival Festival, as an example. When people know what’s actually happening, when they understand the ways in which their neighbors are stepping forward to regenerate paradise, they get inspired and informed. It is regeneration in action. Maybe they’ll join an existing project, or maybe they will start something new. The regenerative spirit grows.
Finally, we know that what’s happened to us in Paradise — and what we’re doing now — is not unique. Everywhere people are finding new ways to live. They want to be kinder to themselves and each other. They want to help in regenerating our lovely planet rather than just exploiting it. They want to be in community again. In short, they want the same things we do. We’ll reach out to them, and they to us and together we’ll create lives and communities that are more healthy and resilient. We’re making our plans and raising money for 2020 now. Most of us have donated our time and other resources for more than a year now to deal with the destruction, trauma and grief. With each other, and with the Town of Paradise and Butte County, we’ve had a lot of issues to face and initial decisions to make.