Petaluma Profile: ‘Rebellious kindness’: compassion as a life goal

Zoe Rosales loves chickens.

It’s one of the things that she appreciates about her hometown of Petaluma and her adopted town of Yuba City. She loves that the two communities, which can seem so different – with Petaluma becoming more urbanized by the day and Yuba leaning even harder into its agricultural past – both still have chickens.

“I love Butter and Egg Day in Petaluma and that there are flocks of chickens outside the Winco in Yuba City,” Rosales said, her face glowing with happiness as she confides, “Sometimes I buy a bag of oatmeal to feed the chickens on my way out of the store.”

This act of rebellious kindness mirrors much of Rosales’ life.

Primarily influenced by her grandmother, with whom she currently resides in Petaluma, Rosales has already devoted much of her young life to helping those whom others might think of as a nuisance. In high school, up in Yuba City, she noticed the resentment many of her peers had for the homeless population. As the president of the school’s chapter of the Key Club, she reached out to her teachers about ways the service-based club could help those vulnerable populations.

Through a group effort, Rosales helped establish a program that continues even now, though she has graduated. The program distributes food and recycles plastic bags into woven sleeping mats so people have a safer way to sleep.

When asked about her love of serving others she cites her grandmother’s influence. Even though she is now immunocompromised, Rosales’ grandmother remains a registered nurse. When Rosales asked why she kept renewing her nurses license, her grandmother replied, “Just in case. You never know when someone will need help.”

Along with teaching her granddaughter how to knit and garden, Rosales’ grandmother has instilled a desire to go into the medical field.

As a sophomore in high school, Rosales had already researched options and found that Georgetown University has an early assurance program. Being accepted into the program as a sophomore allowed Rosales to spend less time agonizing about her GPA, and more time helping others. Attending Georgetown is also important for family reasons. Her sister is pursuing a career in politics, and so being in D.C. was a natural choice for Rosales.

Another natural choice, she explained, was applying for the Bank of America Student Leaders Program. The program is part of Bank of America’s stated mission to “build thriving communities.” Every year, 300 students, chosen nationwide, are connected with a local non-profit for an eight-week paid internship. On top of the internship (this year with San Rafael-based 10,000 Degrees nonprofit), they are also given the opportunity to network with each other and to access life and career-building classes such as budgeting and building a brand.

Zoe has already taken the “Better Money Habits” seminar offered through the program, and cites it as a useful eye-opener, especially as she heads out on her own for the first time. Rosales is also looking forward to the week-long virtual “Young Democracy at Home” leadership summit offered through the program in partnership with the Close Up Foundation. The summit encourages conversation about current issues facing young people today, while giving them a more in-depth understanding of how those issues are acted upon at the national level.

Rosales says she already has plans for those government lessons, and the lessons she is learning as an intern with 10,000 Degrees. She has been inspired by all that 10,000 Degrees does in its mission to match educational and career resources with low income students.

“They work with students all the way from eighth grade to seniors in college,” she explained. “I have no idea how my amazing co-workers get so much done.”

Ultimately, Rosales hopes to return to Petaluma and continue her grandmother’s vision for community health by providing “culturally competent care.” She wants to help bring basic preventative health directly to the populations who need it most and who historically have the least amount of access to it.

“I want to help immigrants,” she said. “I want to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps by meeting field workers in the fields with basic medical supplies.”

For right now though, Rosales’ plate is not just full. It’s overflowing. She is committed to finishing out her eight-week internship at 10,000 Degrees, then attend the virtual Young Democracy at Home summit, all while in the middle of moving across the country to start Georgetown’s Community Scholars program. The program is designed to help multicultural, first-generation college students adjust – both academically and socially – to the collegiate setting, in order to ensure more equitable access to higher education.

Though Rosales defines herself as a person with big dreams and big ideals, and as someone who is planning to make big changes in the world, when asked to name the most important takeaway from her life story, she is quick to point out the importance of small steps,

“It’s not any of the big things that people should focus on, but the small changes that lead to bigger ones,” she said.

She also mentions her grandmother’s most important lesson: that every decision, large and small, should lead us back to being compassionate to others, that we should never underestimate the power of one small act done with kindness and compassion. That kind of “rebellious kindness,” of course, includes caring for the shelterless and feeding the local chickens.

“No matter what change or how incremental,” Rosales said, “it truly does make a difference.”

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