Helping California’s Last Chance Community After a Season of Devastating Storms

Northwest  |  June 20, 2023
Volunteers visit the home of Priscilla Dawn Stevens, a long-time friend who suffers from a severe lung infection. Photo/Judy Liao

Written by Xiaoying Chen, Xiufang Shen, Qizhen Huang, Pingyao Lee
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane

Four months of persistent storms have once again eroded the winding mountain roads that residents of Last Chance, California, had worked so hard to repair, leaving potholes everywhere.

In the summer of 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex fires sparked in Northern California, severely impacting the community of Last Chance in Placer County. Following Tzu Chi USA’s emergency relief and cash card distributions, volunteers began to offer long-term, in-depth care to assist community residents. And, thanks to support from Lowe’s Reconstruction Grant Program, Tzu Chi was able to help wildfire survivors in Last Chance rebuild their homes. 

Since the onset of the blaze and the relief that followed, Last Chance has been an area of particular interest for Tzu Chi USA‘s Northern California volunteers. The volunteers were concerned after seeing photos sent by residents. However, they could only communicate with the members of the community by phone at the time. To help with road repair, the volunteers purchased and delivered weatherproof rain gear online for the residents.

On April 2, when the weather calmed enough for safe travel, the volunteers drove to visit their friends in the mountains with a full load of supplies.

Seeing Old Friends Again

The visit coincided with the neighborhood reconstruction meeting, which had been postponed for several months, and the volunteers participated in the proceedings. The residents listed the damage caused by the successive storms and the work that needed to be done together. The volunteers present were impressed by the strength of their unity and cooperation.

Toni MacAuliffe, one of the members of the reconstruction committee, returned a second bamboo bank. Sharing Toni’s kindness, volunteer Qizhen Huang recounted the bamboo bank’s origin during the meeting. She also delivered blessings from Master Cheng Yen in the form of small care packets and distributed more supplies, like blankets and beds that had been prepared for the residents last December.

We want to create a cycle of love so that all those who have been taken care of can also take care of others, even if their contribution is small. This is the way Tzu Chi started 57 years ago, and this is the spirit that Tzu Chi has always maintained.

Priscilla shows the volunteers how she uses the foldable bed donated by Tzu Chi, saying, “I love this place; it’s a great place for me to sunbathe.” Photo/Judy Liao
Volunteers extend Master Cheng Yen's blessings to Priscilla. Photo/Judy Liao


Two weeks prior, the volunteers received a message from Terra Barsanti, a resident of Last Chance, that long-time friend Priscilla Dawn Stevens, with whom Terra had recently been out of contact, was sick with a lung infection. Upon arriving in the area, volunteers went to Priscilla’s home to check on her. When they saw Priscilla, she was mowing the lawn, and when she saw the Tzu Chi volunteers, she stopped her work and happily chatted with them. A smile spread across her face, and she laughingly introduced her new friend, Wally, the turkey, who was hanging out in the mountains.

There was a Tzu Chi foldable bed on her balcony covered with blankets, and pigeons cooed while searching for food on the branches of a tree next to it. “I love it here; it’s a great place for me to sunbathe,” Priscilla said, pointing excitedly to the trees at the back of the hill. “My neighbor and I cut down a lot of trees and cleaned up some of the trees in the back of the hill so that they won’t block the way, and we won’t have to be afraid of storms for months.”

The damp and cold rainy season had caused mold and mildew to grow in Pracilla’s home. Living in such an environment for a long time has caused lung issues. A recent bout of bad weather also caused her solar panels to produce less power than usual. Her refrigerator lost power, and much of her food spoiled. Her health suffered after she accidentally ate some of the spoiled food. Priscilla has been doing as much as she can on her own all along, but her home needed repairs beyond what she could handle alone. Over the summer, Priscilla will receive a yurt as a new temporary shelter. But as she does not have extra money to buy the tools and materials to set up the yurt, Priscilla asked the Tzu Chi volunteers for assistance. The volunteers took note of her needs and rushed to deliver their care before setting out once more. Priscilla plucked the forget-me-not grass in front of the home and gave it to the volunteers, urging, “Don’t forget about me.”

Down to Earth

The road to Jacob Guth’s house at the top of the mountain was narrow and steep, and the volunteers opted to travel on foot because they were concerned about driving conditions. Halfway up, they saw a statue of Buddha, a gift from Jacob’s father, placed on the hillside as a symbolic guardian of the land.

The winter storm damaged the canopy outside Jacob’s home, affixed to a cabin he built last year. Tzu Chi provided him with emergency relief funds online. The materials for his yurt were actually ready in January, but the successive storms delayed the construction. Now that the weather has improved, building the yurt is on schedule.

Another local, Bob, happily shared that in a few weeks, his wife would be retiring after 20 years of working as a hairdresser. He also proudly showed the volunteers the hundreds of logs he and his son had put together, the kitchen and storage building they were building, and said with great emotion, “I’m thankful for the growth of my son after the fire.” Before the fire, his son had an anxiety attack and was confused about the future because he thought, at 30 years old, he had not achieved as much as he felt he should have. After the fire, his son regained his spirit and worked with his father every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. to help clean up the surrounding woodland. After a month of doing this, his son’s anxiety had gradually eased. 

Although there are still many challenges in life, Bob feels content, sharing that the only way to make a living is to be down to earth, and do it with one’s own hands.

I’m grateful for Tzu Chi’s companionship, which inspired me not to just look out for myself. I am also grateful for the occasional greetings and care from people in the community, which gives me more confidence and the opportunity to help each other.

Hearing Bob’s words, the volunteers became more aware of their own mission, and hope to keep the cycle of goodness in motion so that acts of compassion in action can continue to illuminate the path forward and give hope to more people.

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