Six-year-old Erika Juarez and her big brother Emilio, 9, stopped by the Northwest Regional Library branch of the Sonoma County Library to check out books, and left behind their personal expressions of gratitude.
It took some contemplation as they selected colorful paper leaves and thought about what makes them most grateful.
The siblings each came up with something special, then added their contributions to the Gratitude Tree in the children’s section of their local library near the Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa.
Erika is grateful for her family. Emilio, anxious for the possibility of a new video game with Santa’s arrival, is grateful it’s almost Christmas.
Their dad, Eddie Juarez, is thankful his children paused to consider their good fortune.
“I’ve tried to explain to them how lucky we are to have what we have,” he said.
Their home was safe from last month’s fires, but the family knows many people whose homes were destroyed, including five students at the Cesar Chavez Language Academy in Santa Rosa, where Erika and Emilio attend school.
“We were lucky,” Juarez said. “It made me really thankful for what we have, really thankful.”
The Northwest branch is the neighborhood library for the Coffey Park area, which lost about 1,300 homes to the historic Tubbs fire.
Although a team of children’s librarians planned the Gratitude Tree program back in July as a way to engage visitors around Thanksgiving, the program expanded as October’s fires ravaged the North Bay.
Originally scheduled for about half the library’s branches, the Gratitude Trees are now featured at all 12 branches and both rural stations, in Forestville and Occidental.
“The intent was to offer the community a way to share things they’re grateful for throughout the year,” said Kathy DeWeese, Sonoma County Library’s children’s services coordinator. “When the fires came, we knew we needed to make this a system-wide thing so all of us can have an avenue for people in the community to share.”
DeWeese said she’s heard from library personnel throughout the county that people of all ages appreciate an opportunity “to reflect on how the devastation impacted them.”
The magnitude of losses around the North Bay also have affected people who were not in the fire zones, but whose concerns for others were paramount, DeWeese said.
Expressions of gratitude are displayed on paper leaves dedicated to firefighters, law enforcement officers and other first responders whose skills and bravery touched so many.
An artificial tree with twinkling lights along its branches sits atop a table in the children’s area at the Northwest library, paper oak leaves of orange, red, yellow and green hanging from lengths of red yarn.
Spelling and punctuation aren’t a concern for children sharing their gratitude. “I’m greatful that my family is safe,” wrote one child, adding a drawing of a heart. “I am gratful for my house not brning,” penned another child.
Similar appreciation is expressed on a Gratitude Tree crafted from butcher paper at the Sonoma Valley Regional Library, in a community also hard-hit by the firestorms.
“I am thankful for firefighters that help fight fires,” noted one. “I am grateful for police that help keep us safe,” said another.