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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.

Heidi Ilustre-Boatright of Sonoma was visiting the library with her children — 22-month-old Bodhi; Brooklyn, 6; and Luke, almost 8.

Brooklyn’s leaf shared her gratitude for dogs and cats. Luke wrote that he is grateful for “trees, air and water,” because, he said, “We couldn’t live without them.”

“We need a lot of gratitude in the world,” said their mother. “It starts from a young age to teach appreciation and gratitude.”

Clare O’Brien, children’s librarian at the Sonoma Valley branch, said the concept of gratitude should be ongoing, particularly after a catastrophe such as the October firestorms.

“The sense of what is important has been heightened,” she said.

She’s overhead families talking about gratitude with their children as they add leaves to the trees, sharing what they value and appreciate.

The effort, O’Brien said, “is so simple.”

Kim Popenuck, children’s librarian at the Northwest branch, said the Gratitude Trees reflect not only youngsters’ appreciation for tangible things such as books, puzzles, games and other toys, but also a sense of community.

Leaves share gratitude for family members, firefighters, police officers, teachers and also libraries.

“Many of the things are not what we expected to see,” Popenuck said. “It’s definitely not structured. Nobody’s telling them what to say.”

People of all ages are welcome to add a leaf expressing their gratitude. Even before the Gratitude Trees made their debut in early November, the Northwest branch offered a Gratitude Table when it reopened Oct. 19, after the fires and related power outages prompted library closures across the county.

“We didn’t know how people would respond,” Popenuck said. “The striking thing about it is that all comments are positive.”

The Gratitude Table featured bouquets of flowers, chocolates and a “Welcome Back! — We Missed You!” banner, plus markers and pink index cards for library patrons to jot down something they appreciate. Those expressions were posted on a wooden trellis with the growing display of gratitude.

And despite enduring so much tragedy, residents shared their gratitude for family, friends, first responders, good health, love and a deep sense of community.

One index card, placed in the middle of the trellis, has arrows pointing all around. In the center it reads, “This is my community. I love you!”

DeWeese said an increased sense of appreciation seems evident from children and adults. The original intent of the Gratitude Tree has become even more meaningful in the wake of the fires, she said, with an opportunity for reflection of what’s really important.

Popenuck, who has greeted so many fire victims at their neighborhood library, said the gratitude program is really “an opportunity to express things that have always been there.”

Gratitude Trees are on display throughout November at all Sonoma County Library branches and rural stations, with everyone welcome to participate.

Additionally, Sonoma County Library is hosting Food for Fines, a food drive benefiting local food banks. Those with fines can return overdue library materials, donate non-perishable food and, in return, erase their fines.

The goal is to enable patrons to use library resources again, while assisting fire victims and helping fight local hunger.

Food for Fines continues through the end of the year. It benefits Redwood Empire Food Bank, Friends in Sonoma Helping, the Sebastopol Inter-Church Food Pantry and the Healdsburg Food Pantry. For more information, call Teen/Adult Services Librarian Jennifer Duran at 546-2265 or visit sonomalibrary.org/blogs/news/food-for-fines-returns-in-2017

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com

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