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Into the Breach

North Bay nonprofits rose to challenge during Valley Fire



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Operating since 1948, Mentis, formerly known as Family Service of Napa Valley, is the county's oldest nonprofit. Its focus has long been to provide accessible, affordable mental-health care to the young, the elderly and everyone in between. When the Valley Fire broke out, Mentis got the call from long-time partners Up Valley Family Center in Calistoga, requesting mental-health services.

"I wasn't surprised to get the call, given the news," says Mentis executive director Rob Weiss. "On Monday [Sept. 14], we had staff from different programs come up" to the evacuation center at the Calistoga fairgrounds. That staff included therapists, case managers and crisis-intervention workers

"We were the first organization to get up there; then it really became a collaborative effort," Weiss said.

Napa County Health and Human Services soon took the lead and coordinated ongoing shifts for workers from Mentis and other groups to have mental-health personnel at the fairgrounds around the clock.

CVNL's first task was the sort through the mounds of donations for fire victims. - LINDA DAVIS
  • Linda Davis
  • CVNL's first task was the sort through the mounds of donations for fire victims.

The staff provided screenings, assessments, referrals and counseling to help victims stabilize emotionally and get access to the resources they needed.

"It was all about giving people support when they wanted it," Weiss says.

Robert Francis, a mental-health worker with Mentis, was on-site for a week straight, working 12 to 14 hours daily with dozens of families. Francis remembers one story in particular. A family, who knew their house was lost from the beginning, went back to grab their safe, full of valuables and sentimental artifacts passed down from generations. When they brought it back and opened the safe, everything inside was ash.

"I was with the father and I could see in his eyes that he was devastated," says Francis. "I told him, 'It's OK to be upset. Your life has been turned upside down.' I had to let them know their emotions were valid, and that they were going to get through this. They got out of there alive, and that's what matters."

For more information, visit—Charlie Swanson

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