Melissa and I began our conversation talking about my home town of Paradise. In fact, some of the questions I prepared were concerning the future state of services for the ridge community. I asked who truly went the extra mile to help when my home town of Paradise came under fire (literally) during the recent Camp Fire. “Everybody in the Chico office went up and beyond.” Melissa continued, “people reached out to help each other and every single person was valuable in that service they could provide.” No sacrifice of time or energy was too great. “That’s what we do, we are here for the people,” Melissa said. As horrible and destructive it was to have your home town go down in the history books as California’s most destructive fire, it was equally inspiring and comforting to see so many reach out and open their hearts and in many cases their homes who had none.
If there was a common theme that connected all we discussed, it was Melissa’s excitement and love for the people she serves. She especially loves to hear success stories. Melissa at her very core cares deeply about people. She started her career at Far Northern Regional Center 25 years ago as a service coordinator. To this day, she gets excited for times when she gets to reconnect with those she was has served. Having risen through the ranks, she has had the privilege to understand Far Northern on every level. Her last position was associate director of client services. Before that, she was case manager supervisor. It is clear from the joy that shone in Melissa eyes during the interview that she truly loves what she does. “When you love what you do it’s not just a job it’s an opportunity to develop relationships,” Melissa said.
When I asked what her vision was for Far Northern it all centers on helping each individual find meaning and purpose in their life. “The Regional Center can support us individually. It will be different for each individual.” Melissa continued, “Each person has the ability to create this (purpose/meaning) for themselves.”
Her vision is to see the success of the self-determination program. She hopes for a continued partnership with current providers and help prepare programs for the big switch that is happening as we transition to more community-based services. Finally a focus on success on both the big and small scale.
When I asked about the future of supported living, she is “hopeful for more supported living opportunities.” She continued, “The challenge will be finding affordable housing and the right staffing.” She concluded, “Success is found as we make relationships with the people we work with and it becomes a partnership.”
As we look to the future for employment opportunities the key is going to be finding out what brings out people’s gifts. Melissa explained, “You have to discover what motivates someone to actually work.”
Changes in services are on the displacement of population who left the ridge area and are now in other areas that we serve (most especially Tehama County.)
When I asked Melissa to share her thoughts on People First she responded, “It’s a program where I have seen great joy.” She continued, “When people share their experiences they light up. It’s a place where you get to be you.” Melissa added, “People First is a great place for advocacy, and supporting each other. People First provides an opportunity for a group to have strength.”
As I have seen from the countless people who have reached out to my family, friends and others who are Camp Fire survivors, “strength can come in numbers,” Melissa wisely put. The future holds many unknowns but one thing is for certain, we are going to make it together. Just as we are working to rebuild the Ridge, all of us who are part of Far Northern from the very top down to every member are working to build a better and brighter tomorrow.