BY LEANN DILBECK –
Resiliency looks different to everyone. It looks as different as the pain and adversity that drives a person to their inner depths to uncover what inspires their soul.
Watching your home, everything you’ve worked for, every sentimental material item you treasure… along with the homes of your beloved friends and neighbors… all be engulfed by ravenous fire in a mere matter of minutes and reduced to rubble and ashes, is not only a life altering tragedy, but one that would challenge even the most faithful and resounding of spirits.
The Stars of HOPE team has traveled the globe, transforming 180 communities in 26 countries impacted by tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, but it was a simple every day bird feeder that emerged as a resounding symbol of resiliency and strength of spirit.
In the neighborhood of Coffey Park, an idyllic suburb of Santa Rosa, Calif., 1,300 homes were reduced to ashes by the raging wildfires that consumed much of the picturesque Sonoma wine
country. Clean-up crews had been through and removed all of the burnt debris that were once homes, cars, jungle gyms, and bicycles and all that remained were bare dirt lots, either to be sold or to be rebuilt upon. Except for one lot. One lot where a bird feeder stood proud overseeing its empty vacant lot. In stark contrast to the empty and burnt landscape surrounding it, the feeder was alive and bustling with brightly colored, chirping birds circling all around it, all partaking of the seeds that had been ever so lovingly poured in by Coffey Park resident Teri O’Donnell, who wanted her feathered friends to remember where ‘home’ was. Teri’s thoughtful act of kindness… demonstrating the resiliency and strength of spirit of California’s Santa Rosa.
Teri explained, “After the fire, the air was so toxic that there were really no birds around. We only went back to sort and sift through the rubble. It was an overwhelming amount of destruction and it felt like a place you would see in a post-apocalyptic movie.”
Teri and her family had moved into their home in Coffey Park over decades ago, when it was brand new… and very quiet, “When we moved into our house 30 years ago, the neighborhood was brand new, and there were no mature trees and no birds. It was way too quiet! It took a couple of years before we had any song birds at all. I can’t imagine moving back home and having to wait for the birds to find us all over again.”
It was following a Christmas block party in the decimated neighborhood, where food trucks and a carnival type atmosphere were organized so the close-knit residents could celebrate the joy of the season, that Teri was inspired by her feathered friends, “To decorate our Christmas tree on our lot, I made edible ornaments out of pretzels, peanut butter, and bird seed, and I was thrilled to see that birds came back to eat them. When we took the Christmas tree down, I knew I had to buy bird feeders to keep taking care of my birds.”
And, that she does. Teri checks the feeders at least two mornings a week and once on the weekend. “I noticed the doves eat the seed that the songbirds drop on the ground, so I’ve started pouring a little extra for them. Today when I went, there were seven doves who flew up into the giant burned redwood tree in my neighbor’s yard to wait patiently for me to take care of them. The smaller birds wait in the trees across the street. Taking care of the birds gives me the opportunity to see life return to our “home”.
Inspired by the bird feeder, the Stars of HOPE team proudly hung a brightly hand painted star on it and weeks after returning, posted it on social media page designated for Santa Rosa Firestorm Updates, where Teri’s bird feeder and spirit of resiliency inspired thousands more. Teri’s intrinsic optimism continued when she commented, “And, the beauty I see here is the star of hope that adorns it… and, the birds that haven’t given up on us. We will be back. I just want them to remember where Home is.” Little did Teri know as she nourished the birds, she nourished the profound resiliency that is now known as #SonomaStrong.
“The Stars of Hope also give me reasons to be grateful. The one on my bird feeder was made by Jotaro, age 7. And another nearby simply says ‘be brave’. There are other little
gifts from the community, too. One of my former students and her mom showered our lot with hearts for Valentine’s day. Someone put a painted rock in my mailbox that says “Home is where love grows”. I’m not sure why I opened the mailbox, but when I did, it was s delightful surprise. Being at “home” grounds me. Makes me feel less lost and more able to take the incremental steps needed on this long journey back home. We intend to rebuild — that’s been our goal since last October. We have to see how the insurance money holds up against the cost to rebuild, though. There have been times when it seems pretty hopeless. But we are choosing to hope for the best and feeding my birds is just one little act of hope.”