Karen and Dale received an interest-free loan from us in 2018 to turn the downstairs of their home in the Santa Cruz Mountains into a rental unit that helped them make ends meet. Last year Karen reached out to let us know their house had burned to the ground in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

But Karen wasn’t asking for assistance. She just wanted to check their balance and assure us they would continue making regular payments until the loan was paid off. Even though the house was gone, they were committed to making good on their obligation.

Karen and Dale had less than two hours to evacuate when the fires struck. Karen saved only what couldn’t be replaced: her grandmother’s paintings, the Hebrew prayer book her grandfather brought from Poland, and photo albums dating back to the 1800s. She also salvaged a pair of antique lusters that had been her grandmother’s most treasured possessions (pictured above).

Before leaving her home for the last time, Karen put on the Star of David that Dale gave her when they were first married. She used to wear the necklace only on special occasions, but hasn’t taken it off since the day they evacuated.

“I loved my home, it was everything to me. I bought it with money I inherited from my grandmother and rebuilt it into a beautiful structure with 42 windows, an incredible view, and a fabulous Japanese garden. I did the gardening and much of the construction work myself.”

“A fire took it all away. But I don’t want to spend my life thinking of what I lost. I’m grateful for the home I once had, and I intend to enjoy the many gifts in my life and use my skills to do good for others.”

Things weren’t easy for Karen and Dale even before the CZU Fire. Karen was laid off from her job as a computer programmer for Santa Clara County during the 2008 recession. Dale was also out of work, so they had to use their retirement savings to survive. Eventually Karen and Dale became sales representatives for a greeting card company, which is how they still make their living. Between the two of them, they drive well over a thousand miles a week.

A year later, Karen and Dale are still living in an RV at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville and still negotiating with their bank and insurance company. They’re nearly 70 and look forward to retiring once they’ve paid off the debts that have accumulated during these difficult times. They want to settle near one of their sons, find meaningful volunteer work, and appreciate life’s small pleasures.

Karen and Dale are grateful for our interest-free loan that gave them invaluable support at a time when they needed a hand. Even though they lost their home and everything in it, they don’t feel alone. They know that whatever they’re going through, their community is with them and has their backs. This knowledge is helping to provide a secure foundation for their next chapter of life.

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