How to Block Captain with Pamela Van Halsema

 "Navigating a disaster is never about one person." -Pamela Van Halsema


A disaster leaves its victim with questions and a lot of questions. Where do we go from here? When can we go back? How can we recover after a disaster? Hear these critical questions answered in today's episode. Jennifer interviews Pamela Van Halsema, Board Member of Coffey Strong, in her role as the Block Captain, and lessons from the way they worked together towards a happier, more resilient, and more beautiful town. Turn a devastated neighborhood into a paradise with your "fire family."  Tune in and find out how you and your community can recover and celebrate life again, rebuild as one, and reimagine endless possibilities for your community!


  • 02:39: Facing the Hardest Question: Where Do We Begin?
  • 09:08: When Can We Go Back? 
  • 13:53: The Block Captain
  • 21:54: Coming Together as a Fire Family 
  • 29:37: Working Together to Rebuild
  • 38:36: How to Recover



11:29: "Navigating a disaster is never about one person." -Pamela Van Halsema

15:21: "You're vulnerable when you are experiencing a disaster. Building trust is so important."  -Pamela Van Halsema

35:11: "Celebrating life- that's what we want to do." -Pamela Van Halsema

39:30: "It is important to take time to reflect and grieve what you've lost. Pushing it aside and pretending it didn't happen is not a healthy thing to do." -Pamela Van Halsema

40:11: "Big part of personal resilience is to have social connections that you can trust to share mutual encouragement and love." -Pamela Van Halsema

Meet Pamela: 

Pamela Van Halsema

Pamela Van Halsema has lived in Coffey Park with her husband since 2001 and raised three children in the neighborhood. Pamela is an educator and librarian who values getting involved with community work, including advocacy for children and families and issues around equity, human rights, and the environment. Pamela serves on the Community Services Advisory Board, is a participant in the Leadership Institute for Just and Resilient Communities, is on the Housing for All project for Santa Rosa Together, and serves on the Sonoma County Resilience Collaborative steering committee. For Coffey Strong, she is helping people navigate the landscape planning and permitting process in the rebuild.






Jennifer Gray Thompson: Hi, welcome to How To Disaster, a podcast to recover, rebuild and reimagine. My name is Jennifer Gray Thompson:, I'm the executive director of ReBuild North Bay Foundation. Today, we're going to talk about how to organize your community after a disaster. But this will also be used for communities who are concerned about a disaster that might come their way, or if they are in some way vulnerable. One thing COVID taught is that all of our communities are somewhat vulnerable to disaster, and to be prepared is actually build resiliency into your system. For a lot of communities, as soon as they have a disaster, it's really difficult to even figure out where to begin, how do we even start, and there isn't a lot of information out there about how to organize your community. Well, in 2017, where I live in Sonoma County, we experienced a terrible disaster. And today, I'm so pleased to actually bring to you one of the heroines and leaders of how we found her way out of that disaster by the very first step of organizing the community so we can even get things done. Today, I'm so pleased to introduce you to Pam Van Halsema. She is a blog captain and a member of Coffey Strong. It is a community based group that came out of the suburban area, it is peasy for called a Coffey Park. Pam, welcome to this podcast. I'm so happy to have you.

Pamela Van Halsema: Thank you so much for inviting me here, I'm glad to be here.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: So could you go ahead and just start at the beginning sort of tell us your story? Because I know that you lost your home in the fire and has been really on the forefront, and how we recovered over these past three years.

Pamela Van Halsema: Sure, I've been living in Coffey Park and raised my three children here for the past 20 years, we moved in 2001. At the time of the Tubbs Fire in 2017, I had been working as a teacher librarian in Petaluma, which is a town near here, in a big junior high. So I have a background in education, and I have a background in Information Science. And prior to that, I had worked at Sonoma State University for 15 years. I did a lot of community work and communications work. So these were some of the things that I already did in the local area at the time of that terrible night when the fire struck. And believe it or not, that weekend of the fire, I had just spent two days in Sacramento with my team of teachers from Petaluma, at a workshop on how to help kids who have been through trauma. So we had been helping trauma informed care of children all weekend, when literally I came home, went to bed, dropped my stuff from the workshop, went to the bed and woke up at 2:00 AM with our neighborhood burning down. And you know, my family was quick. We got up, my husband was the one who first woke up. We evacuated, we put on our emergency radio and heard that there was an evacuation center at one of our Finley Recreation Center near us and we went there. And immediately, all these people were evacuating and were scoring including some nursing home residents and I thought, whoa, I just went through this training in trauma and I thought that I have to go help some of these seniors . Immediately, I was kind of in that mindset of like, what can we do? How can I use what I have to offer in this emergency situation? And I appreciated being there because I felt like at the emergency center, I was getting updates on what was going on rather than being in a parking lot. I know a lot of people who evacuated to sit in their car in a parking lot or something else. It's like, I'm getting information here.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Having a background also in Information, Sciences and libraries, it's what we do. Maybe people don't realize what--

Pamela Van Halsema: Library people do vet information, and then we get it to people when they need it. And so I had that mindset already having learned that my house burned down. I went down to my sister's in the South Bay and started coming up with lists of questions. I had so many questions, and I knew that thousands of others had probably the exact same question. I started to reach out and crowdsource, what are the answers? Where do we even begin? I had never done anything like this before. And as it turns out, some others in my neighborhood were doing the same and really concerned that we all kind of figure out what our next steps are? What our first steps are, and how we get our footing? Because what a major disaster, I don't know if everybody listening to this realizes the scope of this disaster, but it was over 5000 homes burned in that one night. And in my own neighborhood itself, about 1,300 homes burned down.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: For those who aren't familiar, because I do have gone from other disasters, we are referring to the October 2017 wildfires disasters, Sonoma, Napa [inaudible] counties, and destroyed over 9,000 structures for 23 days. I think just the damage alone was over a billion dollar, .5 billion dollars in damage. It was really overwhelming scope. And until that moment, if nobody had ever even seen a wildfire like this, it was this destructive at all. So it was really a wake up call.

Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah. And I just lived in a regular working class neighborhood. I mean, it was, wildfire? Why would it ever hit there? It seems like a freakish thing.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Let's also talk about the fact that the neighborhood you live in was not in the movie, which is a wild night. The neighborhood you live in was in the middle of a city, a suburban city, and the fire actually took an overpass to get to you, and then circle around, and then find a vacant neighborhood. I mean, a vacant lot in order to take out Coffey Park, and it did really quickly. And nobody expected Coffey Park to be vulnerable. I think that's an important message here.

Pamela Van Halsema: Exactly. It was so fast. I went to bed at 11:00 o'clock. And I was sitting on the edge and my daughter said, making plans. It was Sunday night, which was actually a blessing I think because Saturday night, kids might have been out at sleepovers and all these different things. But we were getting ready for another school day on Monday, so I'm glad my family was all at home. But it was a hot night. In October, the windows were open, I could smell smoke. And I said to her, I remember saying, I think the neighbors are smoking in their backyard because I smell smoke. I thought that's a really strong smell. So obviously, that was not the source of the smell. But we were aware, it was kind of a weird night, like saying that. And that was 11, only three hours later is when we had to rush out of our house. I could barely close my front door because of the high winds. I remember having to take two hands pull like this to get my door to shut. My house was not yet on fire, which is another reason why I think I was able to recover more quickly. Then some who literally were fleeing a burning home. I got out more quickly. I wasn't dealing with that really horrific memory--

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Which is why I say, in all seriousness, and we do have [inaudible]. A lot of people had evacuated [inaudible] on them if they were lucky to have it themselves. That's it.

Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah. Bare feet, people with burned feet, truly a ridiculously crazy experience. But then what happens. A week later, and we were all, questions popped up kind of rolling in one after another like, when do we get to go back to our lot? That's the number one question. When do we get to go back? What do we do? What do we do with our insurance? Can I find a place to live temporarily? These are the burning questions at first. So reaching out through the insurance and really having trusted leadership in our local officials made a huge and enormous difference. We've developed over time really great relationships with both our city and our county officials, and the state officials as well, and we were able to ask for their help. We were also able to offer them information that we had about what it was like? What were the challenges we were facing? What were some of the stumbling blocks? What were some of the things that made things easier when we needed them?

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Let's talk about that. Just take people back, within like two weeks after the fires, that you all met with the supervisors board?

Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah, supervisor board, our county supervisor. He was very heavily hit his district, district for Sonoma County was the most heavily hit.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: It wasn't.

Pamela Van Halsema: Oh, it wasn't?

Jennifer Gray Thompson: No, District 1 was the most heavily hit. However, you all were so successful in your community organization, the perception remains, that District 4 was the most heavily ihit. But it actually wasn't, and this is a great testimony. Why having a strong public official on the front of you and who has your back, and organizing your community as soon as possible actually changes the entire trajectory of your recovery. So I appreciate that you got that. But also, it really is in the way this weird compliment to all the work he's done.


"Navigating a disaster is never about one person." -Pamela Van Halsema


Pamela Van Halsema: Well, we all helped each other. But one thing I just want to say is navigating disaster, it's never just about one person. So with Coffey Strong, we were just neighbors. And we continue to be just neighbors who were impacted by the fire. We all were from this area of CoffeY Park, and we wanted to get through this as quickly as possible with as few roadblocks along the way and problem solve together along the way. And our stakeholders of our organization, though at first, we're just neighbors getting together. Supervisor Gore recommended a meeting, and one of my neighbors, Jeff Okrepkie, organized the meeting where we got together as neighbors. They just put it out on social media, which by the way, I had a neighborhood social media account already which we just expanded at the time of the fire. It became a really good hub for communicating immediately because one of the biggest problems is where the people go. You know, there's one thing about organizing, and I've done advocacy and organizing before and it involves knocking on doors. But when all the doors are burned down, how do you do it? So with no doors left and not really understanding who my neighbors are, I know where they live, but I don't know what their email address is, I don't know what their phone number is. That was really a challenge. But we had that meeting and just raise your hand if you want to volunteer to help be a block captain, which is just a volunteer who will be a contact person, who will be informed on what's happening.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: But tell us about what is the cause of the block captain, you all mapped out together. How many houses or blocks can you take responsibility for? Talking about the actual nitty gritty. So listening to or watching this podcast, you just went through a disaster. I don't even know how to do this so we're gonna have a follow up, how do you like, where do you even begin the -- podcast.

Pamela Van Halsema: Great. Well, I started out with a map, like a street map. And there were certainly main drag arteries through our neighborhood. Mind you, we're not in a rural area, we had a lot, they're not square, but we had definitely a couple big dividing lines, things, trees. So we divided Coffey Park into five sections, we call them Area 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Then we just said, okay, everybody in Area 1, go into the lobby. Everybody in Area 2, go on the right side of the stage. Everybody Area 3, you know, like, just move your bodies over there. And then it was kind of a mess. We're just trying, right? So like, okay, like with notebook paper, who can just volunteer to be a volunteer leader for our area? Well, then my red flag was going off like, we're not going to be able to read their handwriting, well not gonna get their email address. We need to have some kind of electronic tool to get this like, we need to make sure our communications are really solid from the beginning, so I volunteered to help with that. Like, okay, give me what we've got. And then let's really try to pull folks through using surveys, and signups, and different ways to make sure that we're getting the people. And all along the way, ensuring that their privacy is paramount that we're taking, making a pledge, we came up with a privacy statement about we were not going to sell their information and share their information, not even with others unless it gave explicit permission. Because let's face it, you're vulnerable. 


"You're vulnerable when you are experiencing a disaster. Building trust is so important."  -Pamela Van Halsema


When you are experiencing a disaster, everybody is out to get your insurance dollars, or sell you something. And we were high, we were already, then can we trust our insurance company? Building trust is so important. And so we pledged as a group Coffey Strong to keep people's privacy really protected. And at the same time, really vet information and never promote commercial interests. Whenever we were talking about companies for surveying land, or grading, or architects, or landscape, any of that, we will provide a list of what resources are available in the community and make it more open, making it more like a directory of services. We're not going to promote one over the other. And that was a really important thing as well. Especially since we learned that even the ones that we personally trusted, some of them went bankrupt, some of them really had a lot of problems that they didn't anticipate either. So just be better to let the consumer do some of their due diligence as well. Just have a really good, high integrity of vetting the information that we share. The other thing is having a regular way of communicating. I always like that people know that every month, they're going to get a newsletter. People know that once a week, you're going to hear from your Block Captain, whatever it is just so people have a trust like, oh, I'll be hearing from them.,I'll be hearing from them. Or we're going to ask questions from our block, what are the questions you have right now because I'm going to send the block captains that would meet with the city officials. And we would meet with each other and we'd say, oh, well, they're having this issue with drainage over here. Oh, who's got wattles, that source for wattles over there. You become an information exchange and the resource exchange with those meetings.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I just want to pause there for a second and really focus on that because I remember, I worked for the county with the fires happening. One of the issues they had was having all these town meetings, which seems like town halls, which seems like a good idea in theory. But in practice, because of the trauma, and because of the scale when it happened here, it ended up being a very, it was like an emotional dumping ground for people's fear, upset, anger, reasonably so very traumatized. So the public officials would be over here saying, hopefully say, I understand, I hear you. But it became like this thing where it was hard for the public officials to hear what they needed to hear to help the community, and it was hard for the community to develop any kind of coherent message so they could actually get what they needed. And the genius of what you all did was that you developed this information flow for the public sector could actually hear what the needs and issues were. And then the people, the fire survivors would actually not only have their concern really attended to, they can gather information and really make unity. It was very, really super effective and remains effective.

Pamela Van Halsema: A really strong recovery, I think comes down to people. When you try to do things big in those big town halls, they are really good. I mean, I listen to them, I get information from them. But there is no way that one official or two officials standing up there can really look every one of those people in the eye and help them. So having a system for sharing that load, and having a volunteer who's like, I'm going to take these 20 houses and I'm going to really help those 20. And when they have issues or questions, I'm going to funnel that concern to our group, and then we're going to also talk to the city, or the county, or whoever it is that really should be also aware of that problem or concern becomes a way that you're heard and you're listening. So it's just not realistic that we can all be, I mean, some whoever shouting the loudest in one of those large meetings. There's a place for those larger meetings, they're really, really important.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Absolutely. Yeah.

Pamela Van Halsema: But when it comes down to it, everyone's situation is so different. Their needs and their capacity to recover are different. And when you can break it down and share the load, it's more likely that people will make it through. They know like, I can call John, John is going to help me. But john, the other thing is like, I sometimes would get the feeling that folks were like, oh, those fire survivors. They must all be crying all the time or whatever. And I thought like, I am working, I am volunteering, I'm rebuilding my house, like, sure. Actually, I wasn't crying all the time. There are people, of course, we're set, but never been more busy than ever. Because we have to come up, keep our lives going, but also work on this whole rebuild thing. It's a lot of work. So in order to just have this trusted group as well, my block that I can talk to, and they can help me and I can help them, they become what we call our fire family. I have a couple of groups that I consider my fire family, people and neighbors that we help each other out. We continue to, and it doesn't only help with knowing resources and answers to physical questions, but also your spirit stays alive. And you need that to get through this.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I totally believe that one of the ways is always help someone and try to pay forward, so much really gratified by ecosystem of caring amazing human beings that I've met has three years who contributed not only to their own communities and such really incredible ways getting forward. I just think, what I love the best job in the world, I'm always so proud. But I would like to say that as part of the HOW TO is it really gave your public officials, from city managers, to mayor's, to give Osborne's an amazing public service. He really did a lot for your community he was in. He was in the public works department. Building that trust, like a trust portal between the public sector and the people who've been affected, also enables the public sector to be effective. It really just keeps building trust. I think that means parts of your rebuild are so much more effective. How rebuilt in Coffey Park today?

Pamela Van Halsema: I would say 95% or 96 I think. So really, really far. We continue to meet with the city. It's been three years. I had a meeting Monday night. The mayor comes often. Mayor actually lives in our neighborhood, he didn't lose his house, but he's a neighbor.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And they had to drive, he and his wife. Mayor Tom and his wife, Jackie, I worked with Jackie for years, especially, they had to drive through your neighborhood every day to get home. And so it was a constant reminder as well, it should be. So you did feel like part of your recovery. Can we go back for a minute? Because I do want to say that one of the things I think that Coffey Strong is the name of your formal nonprofits, you all did apply for formal nonprofits early, which is super smart. But I do recommend that for sure because it enables other groups and foundations like ours in order to support you even more, and one of the things that came up was the Coffey Park Walls. Can you talk about that?

Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah, definitely. And that's how we really got, we built our thing and really blessed us with help with that. We had an unusual roadway, a major thoroughfare, two lanes on each side, signal lights, really the entryway to our neighborhood had these unusual mason locks, they were like cement block walls along them. They were mainly for sound, but also for protection of the houses built in the 1970's. So on either side of this thoroughfare, and the back, they were basically the back fence of these houses on either side, because a total of 42 houses. So like 21 on each side. None of us, even the homeowners, didn't realize that this wall was not city property. This wall was their personal property, and it was all burned, but it wasn't all removed. 

So it was not structurally sound, it was awful looking. And it was going to be up to each and every homeowner to rebuild their section of that wall. And of course, as we know, the insurance coverage, and the financial situation, and the ability to rebuild for each of those is going to be different. And yet, it seems like a public work, that corridor and that wall. But according to the planning department, it was a fence. Well, a normal wooden fence would actually not really be safe and practical there it seems because people do drive rather fast, it's a major Street. It just seemed like it really needed to be rebuilt as a wall, but the cost was astronomical. It was difficult to organize all those homeowners together. But that was a project that Coffey Strong took on. I can't take credit for it because that wasn't one that I was involved in. But my neighbors Jeff Okrepkie, and Steve Rahmn, and Sasha Butler, and Anne Barbour work hard to just really work with those homeowners, and to get them to agree to be part of this project. Thanks to Ripple North Bay and Aspirin, and some of these other organizations who, and companies that donate the materials, or funds, or time, or resources to rebuild it. And not only rebuild it, but rebuild it in this really innovative new kind of construction like fireproof. So this new wall that was rebuilt and constructed is resistant to fires of the future, and it's a symbol. When that went up, that's a symbol of strength. Helps people feel like we could go on, we continue to work on that. Yeah.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: One thing that I love from a funder point of view is that you all were so good to organize early on, it is easier actually for their paper, their regional newspaper. So the regional newspaper is probably going to reach close to the five counties, maybe like about 8 or 9,000 people. I'm reading, and I see one of your neighbors talking about this fence and this wall essentially is like, oh, gosh, that sounds terrible. But then I get a call from your public works person, and he wants to sit down and find out what we're doing. And when I went in there, he really sat down. And he understood because not only had he been working directly with your neighborhood block captains, and you also organize, he also because they knew that it was a not a public works respond, not the city's responsibility and we're place in an undue financial burden on this 42 homeowners, so could we help to solve it. I was excited because it gave me a place and it was, sometimes, the universe conspires for you. 

And then I got a call from [inaudible] saying: "We gave you half a million dollars, what should we do with it?" And I was like, here it is. I would rebuild the Coffey Park Walls, and we won't take an ad. It was important to us because we had money that we definitely did not, we didn't want [inaudible]. But I also had to be sure that you guys respect integrity all the way through is really so critically important. So I called Jeff Okrepkie and asked him: "Was it okay?" Because a debris removal company, and I just want to make sure that if you guys were ready to get this that you agree with it all the way through. And credit to ask for it, a lot of companies will not fund construction. It's too risky. There's a lot of issues with it. But we're in an incredibly unusual circumstance. And they pretty much said, yes, right away, It took about six months to work out all the legal details, but I have so much respect for the fact that David was a great advocate for you guys. And then the city worked really hard on making sure that all the permits work. And then Steve Rahmn, who is one of the, he's now the current president of Coffey Strong, he actually did project management while he rebuilt his house, like it was a work full time building other things. I mean, there were just so many elements to how you all were working together within the first year, maybe even the first two years. Jeff Okrepkie was the board president. And one of the really big challenges that came was right of entry. So for those of you who don't know, you have a disaster, and if you need to write an entry forms for like EPA, in counties where they can actually enter your property, well, you guys had to find 42 homeowners who were not living there, and some of them never intend to live there again in order to get there right of entry form signs.

Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah. Yeah. Yep. We had a summer barbecue, or we had a pop up tent, come sign your right of entry form. Sasha and Anne pounded and searched for these people and found them, and that all came through so it's an amazing blessing.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: It was very much due to like, how you ran your social media page? There was just a lot of elements to that. So we did get it done. And notably, we broke ground today that the wildfire happened. I have not forgotten that we all looked up and said, oh, that's a problem. But the other thing that's really important is because you were so organized, you all showed the time, you chose the contractor, like nobody did that for you. So by organizing, you can also be the creator of your destiny, how your neighborhood will look after, and you've had some other successes. Since then, I was really pleased to see that your heart is open again. Can you talk about that?


"Celebrating life- that's what we want to do." -Pamela Van Halsema


Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah. In fact, when you said that we made those choices, our Park which is a five and a half acre neighborhood park with two playgrounds and a track and a field, it was destroyed and had to be fenced off, basically almost three years fenced off. But the city parks department worked very collaboratively with the residents of our neighborhood in this amazing civic engagement endeavor, and the public art department as well. And some organizations like Kaiser Permanente and the Rotary Club who were contributing to it and really developed a park that we collaboratively designed, that was fulfilling the vision that we wanted in our park. We didn't want images of firefighters in our park, we wanted gardens and we wanted places to meet. We have now a ping pong tables, and chest --, and exercise equipment, and really beautiful children's playground, and the new dog parks that we never had before, because celebrating life, that's what we want to do. At the school, the kids, the fourth graders at the local elementary school spent a whole unit figuring out what the park should be. The whole unit figuring out what they wanted in their park, and they made presentations, formal presentations to city officials and the neighbors, and they wanted a pollinator garden. That was the fourth graders plan, so we have that. There were things that they designed as well. So it's really been a joy.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think one of the, there's an inspirational moment in a disaster that is so traumatized. And it kind of goes backwards, we will get new viewers crying all the time. But you can also build strength into your life. And this is why reenacted is part of our tagline, this is a testament, yet again, you can take this terrible thing that happened and you can say, okay, this awful thing happened. How might we reimagine our neighborhood in a way that will work. Can you also talk about the opening to Coffey Park? Because I think that's really beautiful.

Pamela Van Halsema: We call it the entryway. There's these two corner, small landscaped parcels that we had to figure out who actually owns these, and it's still a big question mark. It's not really anybody, but they really are, they used to be a sign there that said Coffey Park, and some plantings, and Coffey Strong took that upon our plate to really make them beautiful. It took a lot of sun, took a lot of bingo nights to raise money, it took a lot of collaboration to put in landscaping, irrigation, and these beautiful semi circular benches where you can sit and rest, meet a friend if you're going to go for a walk and become a welcoming and happy place. And right now, it is decked out in Christmas lights because we love to celebrate the holidays together. So our Christmas and Coffey Park Elms, as they call them, have been working late at night. Every day you go out and there's something new lit up in either the park or the entryway, and it's been really fun.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: So if you were talking to a new community, those newly fire affected and they were just needing to know that they can get through this, one thing I would like you to address too is how to take care of yourself through this process because a lot of people don't. And it's a true danger to mental health, any issue you had before can be made larger by a disaster. I like to tell people, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, Coffey Park is wonderful to watch as you are really like a bedroom community. And maybe you knew some people, but not everybody, some pretty large and urban development. But I like to say now that we're all spooning together, like every Christmas, you've done some things together. So if you could address the issue of maintaining your balance internally, what it's done for your community emotionally, externally, that would be great.


"It is important to take time to reflect and grieve what you've lost. Pushing it aside and pretending it didn't happen is not a healthy thing to do." -Pamela Van Halsema


Pamela Van Halsema: One of the things that each of us brought our own talents and interests as we volunteered. I still get an email sometimes who says: "Can you share this with your Coffey Strong staff?" I'm like: "We're all volunteers. There is no staff." We all volunteer. And we all bring different things to offer and are interested. So I worked really hard on things related to landscaping and redoing your landscaping. Another thing that I worked hard on was mental health. I got involved with a Steering Committee member of the Sonoma Community Resilience Collaborative, which is a local mental health initiative that sprung up after the Tubbs fire. Because realizing that folks have PTSD, or dealing with the grief, loss and trauma. So we've been going out and meeting in small groups with folks and helping people cope. It is important to take time to reflect and grieve what you've lost. And really touching and see how you're feeling both physically and mentally about what happened to you. And just pushing it aside and pretending it didn't happen is not a healthy thing to do. So to be able to look at it, name it, say I lost a lot there, I went through a very difficult thing. But then also to be able to say, now, here I am. Now, that's really important to be able to acknowledge. Like, look at me, I'm strong and healthy. Today, I have some resources, and not feel alone. Big part of personal resilience is to have social connections that you can trust, you can talk to, and you can rely on, and you can share your feelings with. Definitely connecting with others to share problem solving, just to share mutual encouragement and love, basically, is really important. I know through my church, I remember this just maybe several months after the Tubbs fire, those folks who suffered the most who are maybe the last ones left in the shelter, those are the ones who didn't have a social network.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Interesting.


"Big part of personal resilience is to have social connections that you can trust to share mutual encouragement and love." -Pamela Van Halsema


Pamela Van Halsema: People who were really not making it didn't have people connected to them. And why wait till another disaster to form connections with people? When people say, hey, I want to have a cup of coffee. Say, yes. Get to know your neighbors. Do you know all the neighbors around you? Get to know them, bring them to, you know, points set up. And just say, Hey, I really want to know you. You don't have to be intrusive, but like, it's important to know one another. Because then, you can look out for each other no matter what comes. If it's a pandemic, or if it's a fire, or a flood, know who lives around you. And that's an important part of your resilience, your mental health and caring for each other.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: That can be extrapolated to how you as a community all care for each other. I would like to say, Hey, where are you talking to us from right now?

Pamela Van Halsema: This is my beautiful home, which I've been home for a year. It's hard to believe, but this will be my second Christmas at home. We love our house, we use a local builder to help us get back here. My kids are here. We're all Zooming school and work through the day.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And it will be okay at the end. It's nothing that anybody would choose. Like [inaudible] another word for hoop club, you wouldn't choose to join it. But if you're going to join it, we're really lucky that there are people like you who can help new members actually navigate this time. I really want to thank you for spending this time with me and all the work that you've done. I really have a lot of admiration and respect for you.

Pamela Van Halsema: It felt like I was doing the work I was meant to do. So it always came from a place of like, of course, and I reflected on that. It's important to have grace with one another. Grace was a word that I use a lot, because there were times I had to take a break. It just became exhausting. And then through the recovery, there may be new people who come up and say, you know what? I'm better now. I feel like I can help. So don't forget that too. Somebody who may not have stepped up the first month or two, but later, they'll be ready. And understand that it's a long process. We're all ready in different capacities.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: That we are in this together.

Pamela Van Halsema: Yeah. Yeah.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: All right. Well, thank you again for joining us on How To Disaster, recover, rebuild and reimagine. Thanks so much.

Pamela Van Halsema: Oh, it's a pleasure to be here.