Wooden stars bring message of hope to fire-ravaged Sonoma County neighborhoods
The night the Tubbs fire tore through Fountaingrove, Jennafer Carlin Rosset couldn’t sleep. The smoke and wind was making her anxious, and as the power flickered on and off at their Bristlecone Court home, she and her husband talked about what they would bring if they decided to evacuate. Together, the two gathered family photos, baby books, family treasures they couldn’t live without.
About 2 a.m., looking outside at a scene of cars lining Fountaingrove Parkway, they made the decision to leave behind their home.
The experience was particularly traumatizing for their youngest son, Asher Rosset — then 6, but now 7. Carlin Rosset was worried about letting him return home to see the burned-out lot where their two-story house once stood.
That is, until a group of kind strangers peppered their street with stars — wooden stars, handpainted with messages like “Hope,” “You’re not alone” and “Faith” hung from tree branches. It was a project of Stars of HOPE, which has since decorated other fire-ravaged Sonoma County neighborhoods with the uplifting ornaments.
“(When) I came up here and saw the stars, I was like, ‘Now I can bring them up,’ ” Carlin Rosset said of her two sons. “There’s this positive message and this feeling of hopefulness, and that was all because of Jeff.”
“Jeff” being Jeff Parness, a New Yorker whose business partner was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, and who started Stars of HOPE as a way to pay forward the outpouring of kindness his community received in those days, weeks and months after the World Trade Center attack.
Since starting the project in 2007, his organization has delivered more than 80,000 of the hand-painted stars bearing messages of kindness and light to communities affected by disasters.
On Wednesday, Carlin Rosset, now officially an “ambassador of hope,” she said, joined Parness along with her sister, Suzanne Carlin, to decorate their Fountaingrove community and nearby schools with 350 stars painted just last weekend by people who were affected by the mass shooting in San Bernardino in 2015.
“If they see these (stars) as daily reminders, they remember that they’re not alone,” Parness said of the project.
The trio was joined by Josh Garcia, who survived the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando in 2016 that left 50 dead. He joined up with Stars of HOPE after being on the receiving end of the effort, and for the past year has been traveling with Parness to hand out the pay-it-forward stars.
“You feel really alone when you go through something (like this) because you don’t want people to worry about what you’re going through. You want to stay strong for everyone else,” he said. “This is just a total stranger doing something kind for you. It just makes you feel like, ‘hey, there’s not all bad, terrible hate in this world,’ you know?”
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.