Napa is beginning to look like its old self again, but looks can be deceiving.
“Contrary to the perception that everything is back to normal, it isn’t. Many places have not recovered from the quake,” said Mark Pope, a case manager for the South Napa Earthquake Recovery Group, which has been working to help some of the neediest victims.
The group, which goes by the acronym SyNERGy, is an umbrella community coalition of nonprofit, faith-based, governmental, business and other organizations and agencies that has been providing a coordinated recovery effort for survivors of the 2014 earthquake.
It has been meeting long-term needs of earthquake victims who were not able to qualify for disaster relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other organizations, or who received help that did not cover all of the quake damage.
Three case managers, hired through a $100,000 grant from United Methodist Committee on Relief, have sorted through nearly 4,000 requests for help filed after the earthquake.
SyNERGy volunteers have logged in over 1,250 hours helping people qualify for grants from the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund or obtain volunteer assistance, center officials said. Three months ago, the Napa Valley Community Foundation committed $1 million to help special need families.
Some 46 homeowners have filed for grants up to $10,000 to have contractors work on their repairs. Volunteers have spent an additional $12,500 on materials to help 39 families make smaller repairs, with an additional 75 homes on the waiting list.
The paid case managers will be phased out this week, which is also the deadline for people to make their needs known, said Pope. “The work on homes will continue and we are working hard to enroll as many people possible,” he said.
Though contractors and civil engineers have volunteered their time and expertise, there is a need for people with many types of skills, according to Pope.
Wearing bright orange vests, volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 80, have been working alongside Pope on Saturday mornings to help Napa homeowners who are still wrestling with quake damage.
Over the last few weekends they’ve been putting up tarps and caulking to prevent rain damage when El Nino moves in.
Peri and Craig Payne are among the cadre of volunteers who jump out of bed on cold Saturday mornings to help homeowners wrestling with quake damage.
“We figure if more people realized there is still work that needs to be done on local homes, more people would volunteer,” Peri Payne said. “It feels good afterward to know you’ve helped. After all, we’re Napans — that’s what we do.”
Earlier this month, the couple, along with six other volunteers, did small repairs and installed downspouts on a Third Street Victorian that had been yellow-tagged after the earthquake.
The home, owned by Oscar Arias for over 24 years, had shifted an inch and a half from its foundation, Arias explained. FEMA had already taken care of the cost of a new foundation and other major repairs, but there was still much to be done.
“All my family is very happy for this help,” Arias said. “These people that volunteered to help Saturday are showing us that our community cares for us.”
Arias, owner of Oscar’s Landscape Service, was so deeply touched by the way the volunteers showed up to work on his house that he has decided to become a volunteer himself, and work on the homes of others in the community who have been quake victims.
“There is a need for ‘grunts’ like my husband and me,” she said, laughing.
“We need people to carry things around, rip open packages, make sandbags, tarp chimneys and give encouragement,” Payne said. “We could even use office help. All you need is to just have a lot of heart to do this.”
Though most of the volunteering is neighbor helping neighbor, some people have come a long way to lend this community a hand.
A team of 12 volunteers from Reno, Nevada, were able to complete the work on 25 houses during a week in November when they donated their skills and time, according to volunteer Philip Bandy.
With the loss of SyNERGy case managers, the coordination of home repairs will be handled by the Center for Volunteers and Nonprofit Leadership, which coordinates volunteers for various agencies in Napa and Marin counties.
“One thing we’re discovering is that once the rains started, people are finding damage they didn’t notice before,” said Jim Test, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “We’re finding that folks left out are often seniors living alone and those who didn’t know how to access the system.”
“We’re also working with Habitat for Humanity, which will work with some of our bigger cases,” Test added.