Rebuilding Oregon’s Santiam Canyon Community
Episode 7: March 18, 2021 | The Public Space
Deana Freres, resident of Oregon’s Santiam Canyon community, shares the devastating story of the impacts that the Lionshead and Beachie Creek wildfires had on their community last fall. Deana details how she and others quickly spurred into action to establish the Santiam County Wildfire Relief Fund that provides over $3 million in relief efforts to those affected by the fires.
In the fall of 2020, Oregon was faced with deadly wildfires that spanned across several parts of the state, one of which grew from 500 acres to 130,000 acres overnight! With the help of a longtime friend and the extraordinary community of Santiam Canyon, Deana Freres was able to establish the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund which helps fill the needs of those affected by the Lionshead and Beachie Creek wildfires. Deana also shares what drives her in taking such a leadership role in her community and offers guidance we can all take when faced with devastating events.
In this episode:
Deana Freres is one of the founders of the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund (SCWRF) which raised over $3 million of private funding in less than six months. The fund was established just days after the September 2020 Beachie Creek Fire burned almost 400,000 acres, destroyed 700 homes, and resulted in 5 fatalities in Oregon’s beloved Santiam Canyon. Deana believes the fundraising and programming success of SCWRF is a result of its partnership with the Service Integration Team of Santiam Hospital, which, by design, connects those in need with the leveraged assets of its network of service providers, community programs, and funding.
Hailing from a small, tightly knit rural community on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, Deana learned the value of being intentionally connected with one’s community through volunteer service. Her early professional experiences as a project engineer in logistics and distribution took her to small towns around the U.S. and Europe where she observed the impacts of economic investment in rural communities and the nuances of navigating the rural - urban divide. She is a passionate advocate for rural communities in the State of Oregon, particularly the Santiam Canyon, working to ensure availability of support systems for families and promoting economic development outside of urban centers.
Deana and her husband, Tyler, live, work, and play in the Santiam Canyon. They support of a wide range of local and statewide nonprofits serving families, children, educational programming, and small businesses. Deana stepped away from the professional world to focus on their own family and has been passionately committed to nonprofit work for over 16 years.
In addition to the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund Advisory Board, Deana currently serves on the Santiam Canyon Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) Executive Committee, the Board of Directors for Family Building Blocks, and is the Board President of Stayton Public Library Foundation.
Lilisa Hall: [00:00:00] Hi everyone and welcome to The Public Space, a podcast from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. The Public Space is where thought leaders share strategic ideas and solutions that spark positive change in civil society. I'm Lilisa Hall, your host today for The Public Space, and in our episodes, we connect with experts from across the nonprofit sector and beyond to talk about the changing ideas, opportunities, and issues that affect our communities.
Each conversation offers tangible steps that nonprofit organizations, supporters, and partners can take to better our communities. And I'm excited today to welcome our guest who is Deana Freres, and she is a great leader in her community and is helping to coordinate and bring resources to Oregon's Santiam Canyon communities that have been affected by the Lionshead and Beachie Creek wildfires and those fires, as you may know, destroyed those communities in Oregon in the fall of 2020. A big welcome, Deana, so glad to have you here with us today and thanks for making the time to be with us.
Deana Freres: [00:01:06] Thank you so much, Lilisa. We're really excited to share our story.
Lilisa Hall: [00:01:11] Awesome, thanks. And as many of our listeners know, there were several devastating wildfires that destroyed a significant number of Oregon communities last fall. Recovery and relief efforts have been challenging and the impacts of the destruction will be felt for years to come. While support and resources from the state and federal government have been achingly slow, people in the impacted communities have been quick to mobilize. They've been doing some fantastic work, and one example is the people in the Santiam Canyon area who have galvanized into action quickly and established the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund.
The organization is a 501c3 nonprofit and is focused on providing relief efforts, supporting recovery and cleanup, and also assisting in the rebuilding of those communities. So that's one of the major reasons why we wanted to bring on Deana as our guest today, so that she can share a little bit about what's going on in the Santiam Canyon community. And here to share more about the leadership, resilience, and extraordinary work that those folks have been doing, I want to welcome, Deana again, Deana Freres, thank you so much for joining us.
Deana Freres: [00:02:19] It really is my pleasure. I'm so glad to have this opportunity, and we have come so far in the nearly six-months since the fire, but we certainly have a long way to go; so, the more we can share our experience and ask questions of other leaders across the state and other nonprofits, we know that what we gleaned from all of these sharing opportunities is really going to continue to push us forward.
Lilisa Hall: [00:02:46] Thanks Deana, and before we go further on into questions, I want to maybe just share a little bit about Deana. Deana is a resident of the Santiam Canyon community, and she is a community leader, a philanthropist, and has been involved with several nonprofits in the area. So, without further ado, we're going to just go straight into questions that we have here for Deana.
Tell us about the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund and your role: what it is, who does it serve, and what's it there for.
Deana Freres: [00:03:16] Sure. Well, I think the best way to start is to tell the story of how the fund started, and I think it really captures the spirit of the Santiam Canyon people because it was a neighbor and longtime friend, Cindy Chauran, who's a resident of Gates, Oregon who really was the instigator, for lack of better word, for the fund. And just a few days after the fire, she called me and said she had an idea, that she had some family in Texas that was wanting to raise money to support her and her family. They've lost their home entirely to the fire and she wanted to do more with that. So she felt like she was in a good enough space with her family to use those funds that were given to her and raised for her by her extended family in Texas, and she wanted to start a bigger fund that would support the entire Canyon. So, that's the snapshot of how it started - is one resident looking, you know, beyond their trauma experience and wanting to support everyone else.
And so she and I talked on a Wednesday, I believe it was, the two days after the fire, and by Friday, we were able to work with Santiam Hospital and actually get the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund set up at the local Columbia Bank in Stayton. And we started receiving funds that Saturday into it, so, that's the story of how the funds started, and I love to share that because it's a picture of the types of folks that reside in the Santiam Canyon are resilient, and considerate, and hardworking, and they're ready to move on. They're ready to rebuild and recover, and we're so, so glad to be positioned to be a part of that.
Lilisa Hall: [00:05:09] So thanks for giving us that perspective, Deana. The second question I want to ask is the Beachie Creek Fire started before Labor Day, but with a terrible windstorm on September 7th, it's spread rather rapidly. So tell us about the devastation and the impacts the fire had on the communities.
Deana Freres: [00:05:26] Yeah, this is the hard part of the story to tell at times, and when we realized that the Beachie Creek Fire was first reported on August 16th, but it was that windstorm that came through on Labor Day weekend that really ignited the entire Canyon unfortunately. So the reports that we have are that the fire grew from 500 acres on Labor Day to 130,000 acres overnight. There's estimates that the fire was traveling at just under three acres per second at its highest point and that initiated this level three evacuation for the Santiam Canyon. I think that's important to remember and to continue to discuss, because that intensity and sense of urgency and trauma is really something that is continuing to impact the residents who were there that night, who had to get out and so, we really want to continue to share and emphasize that traumatic experience as part of the process of relief and recovery efforts as we move forward.
Lilisa Hall: [00:06:32] So Deana, how many people would you say are in the Santiam Canyon area? You know, the, and the number of folks who have been impacted by this devastating wildfire.
Deana Freres: [00:06:43] So that's a great question, and the answer to that question really helps illustrate some of the challenges that we have had in the relief and recovery efforts. The Santiam Canyon is not a political place on a map, and by that I mean, it spreads across two counties. There's four incorporated municipalities in the Canyon and there's over five, depending on how you look at it, if you include Mehama or not, uh, there's over five unincorporated communities. So, all of that is encompassed though by one school district, which is the Santiam Canyon ISD. And so when we talk about the demographics for the Santiam Canyon, I have found it most easy to just rely upon the Census data as it relates to that school district.
So, we know that the 2010 Census data for the Santiam Canyon ISD indicates that there are 4,028 residents. Now we know that that's 10 years old, right? So without the new data, I would presume that we're still under 4,500 residents, but that equals about 1,700 households, and we know that in 2010, there were 573 students enrolled in the Santiam Canyon ISD. So I think that's probably the most accurate picture that we have, you know, the population there in the Canyon.
Lilisa Hall: [00:08:06] Thanks, Deana, for kind of giving us sort of the background and perspective on sort of the numbers and the communities in the Santiam Canyon area. Tell us a little about what is the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund doing specifically and I know there's so much work, great work that's being done. Tell us a little bit more and flesh out for us - what are you all doing to support the community and to coordinate recovery efforts, you know, both in the immediate term and certainly in the longer term as well. And then, you know, the second part of that question is, how can others assist and support the work that you're doing? There is so much need, and so want to make sure that you're able to, you know, have the opportunity to share what you all are doing and then also, to see how others can help support the communities.
Deana Freres: [00:08:52] So, the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund was established as a way to support residents who lived in the Canyon after the fire and to provide relief, recovery, and assist in the rebuild, and we wanted a unique fund that was local for anyone who was wanting to offer financial support for these efforts to have a secure, local, 501c3 vetted place to go. So, we knew that the wildfire relief fund was going to receive dollars, but we were really curious about how those funds would be distributed.
And so right away, we knew that the Service Integration Team that was already operating out of the Santiam Hospital was the perfect partner in this endeavor. So, the wildfire relief fund receives dollars and then we really rely upon the Service Integration Team out of the Santiam Hospital to help us distribute those funds to the people who are in need.
Lilisa Hall: [00:09:53] So, thanks for that Deana. Have you all distributed funds? I know that looking at your website, you all have done such a tremendous job. It looks like there's something like close to $3 million that have been raised, which is phenomenal! And so tell us a little bit about how those funds are being distributed, are they being distributed already? Uh, so tell us a little about that.
Deana Freres: [00:10:12] Yes, thank you. We are really excited to say that just this week, the amount of funds raised just tipped over $3 million. So that feels like a huge milestone and we feel very celebratory over, uh, reaching that goal. But our goal is ultimately to raise $5 million in this fund and you know, so, so we're getting closer to that.
And to answer your question, yes. We have been distributing funds to residents in the Canyon that had been fire-impacted. We use the service integration model. We have a team of intake specialists that are coordinated by Melissa Bauer, who's our Service Integration Coordinator at Santiam Hospital. And, the team is up around six and sometimes eight intake specialists helping determine what needs our residents are struggling with and, the service integration model really relies upon partnerships that we have with other service providers and nonprofits throughout our area. And so Melissa and her team do a wonderful job of assessing that, the needs, and taking them to all of the partners to see what needs they can meet. And then any of the remaining unmet needs, the wildfire relief fund is used to support those families and fill those gaps.
And we're really excited that in January we opened a direct grant portal for residents to apply directly to the fund, to receive grants, to help them in their recovery efforts. We've been calling them "Phase One Recovery Grants." And we are excited too, as our funds receipts continue to grow, we're able to develop more grant funding opportunities for individuals to apply.
Lilisa Hall: [00:12:04] That's fantastic, Deana! Congratulations on the new portal that you guys launched in January. So, you know, how can others assist and support your work? Is there a website they can go to and donate? And you know, is it the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund?
Deana Freres: [00:12:22] Yes, that's a mouthful. And we certainly, if we could go back and change one thing, it might be figuring out a shorter name or at least a catchy acronym, but yes, anyone who's interested to learn more about the specifics of how the funds are used, but also for contributions, please visit www.santiamcanyonwildfirerelieffund.org. You can also get there by visiting www.scwrf.org. And there's lots more information about our service integration model and program, which has just been integral to the success of the relief and recovery efforts thus far in our community. We're so, so privileged to have had this network already set up prior to the fires. I would just encourage anyone who's interested to learn more to please visit our website, and obviously if you're interested in helping, funds are integral.
I think, Lilisa, you might actually know this better than I do, what the estimate is on the economic impact of these fires across the state is in the billions of dollars. And so, while $3 million in our fund sounds like a lot, and it is, and we're really proud of getting there, we know it's just barely a drop in the bucket to what's needed to help our families and neighbors rebuild.
Lilisa Hall: [00:13:46] Yeah, I, I would totally agree with that Deana and, you know, again, the economic impacts are going to be far reaching. Not only have they not been far reaching in the short-term, but mid-term and long-term, it is going to take several years for the communities who were impacted by the wildfires to recover. So, hopefully you all can raise even more additional dollars to help with the relief efforts and sort of the rebuilding of those communities.
I want to turn our attention, maybe just a little bit to talk a little about you, Deana, as a leader. I would love to kind of have our listeners understand a little bit about what inspires you? What motivates you and drives you in taking on this sort of leadership coordination role in your community?
It is challenging, it can be extremely tiring and stressful, and mentally and emotionally as well, given that you personally, and your family and others around your communities were impacted. So, tell us a little bit about what inspires and motivates you to do this work?
Deana Freres: [00:14:44] My first response to that is the people around us. It's our community. It's that phone call from Cindy, you know, in the days after the fire, it's knowing the deep connections that we have to our neighbors and friends, and business owners. It's just, there's not really an option to do anything else. It's just time to step up and figure out how we can help. And, I've jokingly said that I, I am still wondering if I was in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time. I'm not really sure how this happened because it just happened so organically. I think a big piece of it is I don't really consider myself in a leadership role. What I have been able to do is just glean from so many really well-equipped players in our community that are in the trenches, trying to figure this out for families and households that are struggling. So, the Santiam Hospital leadership under Maggie Hudson and recently retired Terry Fletchall, there's no way we would be this far without their leadership and their acceptance early on - just a swift yes, after one phone call, well, of course that's what we're going to do, yes, we can set up this fund and yes, we can use the Santiam Service Integration Team to help facilitate this relief effort. And, so in some ways I don't see myself in a leadership position as much as I was caught up in the whirlwind of a really highly motivated mobilized group of people in the community that were just ready to roll up their sleeves and figure out the best way to help.
But motivation for sure is just love of the area. You know, the Santiam Canyon is a beautiful, beautiful place. I've traveled, like many of us have from our, you know, our desktops, you can see the world, right? You can see all these beautiful places and you think, wow, that's, that would be a gorgeous place to visit, and then we'd get in the car and we drive to the river to go fishing and there would be this amazing rainbow and we'd stop and take pictures and they would rival any Instagram traveler's photo, you know, there's just not a more beautiful place. And, the folks that we know and love in the community are worth every ounce of angst and sweat and effort and tired night and high emotion that we've had thus far.
We love this place and we really want to see it rebuilt for the better.
Lilisa Hall: [00:17:04] Yes, for sure, uh, we definitely would want to see the same thing, Deana, and it's a, it's a beautiful, lovely area. And, I'm looking forward to the community rebuilding, you know, the work that all of you are doing is going to go a long ways to hopefully restoring the communities to where they were prior to the wildfires.
My last question is, what guidance and advice would you have for, for our listeners, you know, who might be faced with similar disasters, like you all face in the Santiam Canyon, and I would hate for disasters like that to strike other places, but you know, that's life, we all are faced with challenges, disasters. What advice or guidance do you have for people when they are faced with such devastating, you know, ravages, what thoughts do you have?
Deana Freres: [00:17:50] Well, if part of your question is to ask what, what I suggest for any community in preparation of a disaster, uh, we all think we're prepared and you're never prepared enough, but I would say I would highly, highly encourage any community to really consider a service integration program, to connect all the nonprofits and faith community and local governments and to a regular dialogue that has absolutely propelled our relief efforts well beyond. I think what some of our neighboring wildfire impacted regions are encountering is, we have this network, this service integration model on the ground already that was already mobilized to respond to the COVID, you know, the other catastrophe of 2020. And so I would just really strongly encourage anyone listening that doesn't already have a service integration team in their community to really consider starting that and really reaching out across all of the nonprofits and services in your area to just get that started. Even if they're casual conversations, you know, virtual Zoom with coffee, where you just start talking and understanding what everybody is working on and what they're equipped to do, what their expertise is, how you can support their efforts and vice versa. I just can't say enough about our Service Integration Team and the Santiam Canyon.
The other really simple thing as far as residents, is just, know your neighbors, know your community, take time to be involved, be pragmatic about what it would look like if you were asked to leave your home quickly, uh, as individuals, you know, have a plan. We all hear that, we all say that, but you know, there was, uh, 3:00 a.m. morning phone call, where we are in our home, trying to get our children out, and, you know, we were able to flee to safety and didn't lose our primary home, but those moments of intensity are really, you really can't function unless you've thought through what your plan would be.
I don't know if that's helpful, but you know, we're determined to purpose this disaster and what we don't want, what we've gone through to go to waste. So whatever, you know, we can learn from our experience and share with others, we feel like we really want to remain, you know, an open book, we want to be authentic about the stories that we're telling and the struggles that we've had and we also want to celebrate our successes. We've had a great relationship with Marion County and Linn County - our commissioners have been absolutely phenomenal in this relief and recovery effort and you know, we're grateful that we had those relationships built. So we celebrate those and would encourage, you know, our communities out there that are thinking about preparation to just really know your neighbors, know your leaders, and know your nonprofits out there and just keep the conversation open and going.
Lilisa Hall: [00:20:47] So, thanks so much Deana for giving us a window into what you and others are doing to support the relief recovery and the rebuilding of your communities and the Santiam Canyon area. That is phenomenal work that you guys are doing, and I hope that you all do end up hitting your $5 million mark and beyond! So, I would encourage our listeners to support the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund. And the way you could do that is check out santiamcanyonwildfirerelieffund.org, or, the shortened version is scwrf.org. So Deana, thanks again so much for being here today, we sure appreciate it!
Deana Freres: [00:21:27] Thank you for the opportunity, and we really want to close with saying thank you to the Nonprofit Association of Oregon. You guys have been integral to our success, and we're so fortunate to have you in our state to lean on and support these efforts behind the scenes. Your work is vital and we appreciate you.
Lilisa Hall: [00:21:46] Thanks, Deana for that, and people, I did not ask her, I did not pay her to say that.
Deana Freres: [00:21:51] (laughs) She didn't.
[00:21:53] So... (laughs)
Deana Freres: [00:21:54] Unsolicited.
Lilisa Hall: [00:21:55] Thank you, Deana. So with that, thank you.
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This episode of The Public Space is produced by NAO's Brad Ramos.
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