The story of Paradise, California and its neighbors was thoroughly disrupted by the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018. As the wind-driven blaze devoured nine out of ten structures in the area, our people fled their homes, neighborhoods and community, toward uncertainty.
Over 50,000 of us were suddenly unhoused, disconnected, living in diaspora. 85 of us had perished in the fire, and its after effects would quietly kill many more in the months to come. With our place and way of life and many loved ones suddenly gone, the instant challenge was to reconnect, share needs and resources, comfort each other, and figure out next steps.
Paradise Community Guilds, the volunteer nonprofit organization I serve as president, did just that. We began a pattern of meeting once or twice each week over the following year-plus, inviting members and the wider community to gather around themes of connection to people, resources and institutions that would help us rebuild our lives.
That’s how we met Bob Stilger and NewStories. Bob came with his eyes and ears open to our circumstance, and shared with us stories from his experience of other post-disaster communities that went from complete disruption to realizing new opportunities. In the course of working with him he helped us see ourselves, individually and collectively, as meaningful contributors to a new, emerging story.
In one of our first workshops we discovered the idea of “imaginal cells,” which create the incredible process of metamorphosis that occurs when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. In our broken down state, Bob brought forward stories of post-disaster emergent leaders, common individuals that simply answered the call of the moment and put themselves into service for the community. There was no career plan; only new possibilities nested in a dream of what could be if we were willing to put in the effort. Bob helped us see ourselves in that pattern.