The morning of August 17, the Jones fire swept across the campus of Woolman at Sierra Friends Center, driven by 40-mile-an-hour wind gusts. Sixteen of the center’s 44 properties were destroyed by one of this summer’s many California wildfires. Three other buildings were damaged and about 150 acres of forest land were lost. The staff were evacuated and no injuries occurred.
Even before the fire, Woolman at Sierra Friends Center, an environmental education and retreat center in Nevada City, Calif., was in a tenuous financial situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have had to shut down all programming: retreats, camps, youth programs, our primary sources of income,” reported Marty Coleman-Hunt, the Woolman director. “To avoid bankruptcy we decided to sell our land in hopes to get a 99-year lease with a buyback option.”
But the insurance settlement from the fire will help short-term viability. “The fire changes everything,” according to Coleman-Hunt. “We had good insurance and will be able to rebuild, which we intend to do. The insurance settlement may help buy some time for us to get back on our feet, and with new campus buildings launch programs that are well suited for the current moment and can be financially sustainable.”
Coleman-Hunt noted that there will likely be a 24-month gap of lost income, and the center needs help from donors. She expressed gratefulness at the recent support from the local community, from California Friends, and from three generations of Woolman alumni.
Woolman at Sierra Friends Center began as the John Woolman School in 1963. The residential school closed in 2016, but since then the site hosts outdoor educational programs, summer camps, retreats, and community events.