When disaster struck Sonoma County less than two months ago, Santa Rosa program specialist Jules Pelican — who’s lived in Petaluma for eight years — watched as thousands of people’s lives rapidly and frantically changed. Even then, Jules found some joy in doing what she loves most — helping others.
She now works directly with a majority of firestorm survivors to help them slowly get on their feet and bring a sense of normalcy back into their lives.
“It has been the most fulfilling work that I’ve had,” she says. “I utilize so many different parts of myself and I grow and learn every day.”
Jules mainly works with the department of the City of Santa Rosa that grants fire survivors and low income residents vouchers, helping them pay for new homes. As such, she is exposed to countless heartbreaking stories of loss and struggle. According to Jules, she truly feels connected with her clients, because she herself has traveled down a bumpy road that has brought her to where she is today.
“My gratitude has increased tenfold,” Jules says. “I have gratitude for having a home, yes. But I have gratitude to have a supportive community around me, to not be lonely. I think about these things every day, whereas I used to take that for granted.”
Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, Jules made a big change in her life when she was 24 years old, moving across country to attend massage therapy school in Berkeley.
Later, Jules earned her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology at California State University, East Bay, but took some time away from that field to work with independent bookstores, including Copperfield’s in Petaluma. However, she realized that there was something else missing, and felt it was time to return to her original calling.
In 2009, she and her husband, James, moved to Petaluma, where Jules began to work with nonprofit organizations like COTS (Committee on the Shelterless).
This past August, she was offered an opportunity to work with the City of Santa Rosa, where she provides not just financial aid for those in need, but a listening ear and an understanding heart.
Less than two months later, the firestorms happened.
“I was grateful to have a role,” Jules says. “It felt like it would have been harder for me to just be sitting and not knowing what to do. It felt, in a sort of backwards way, that it was a blessing.”
Jules not only helps with the aftermath of the fires, but she was on hand as the fires burned in Santa Rosa. As a city worker, FEMA required her and her colleagues to serve as emergency responders during the fires, which included duties like helping with assistance centers and call centers.
Even through stressful events, Jules has found satisfaction in helping out the Santa Rosa community.
“It’s been a wonderful journey,” she says, “getting to know a slice of a community that I wouldn’t normally know.”
What advice do you have for those facing other struggles in their lives?
“Let’s look at today instead of just looking back,” says Jules Pelican. “The earth keeps traveling. We’re just along for the ride.”