Up on Cobb Mountain, in Lake County, there’s a small property. A cute little pond with plant beds all along the shore, and several fruit trees freshly planted, with algae from the pond used as fertilizer. Rogel and Maria Guzman lost their home in the 2015 Valley Fire, but today they have a new home and are quickly finding new ways to be joyful.

Hope City homeowners and Kevin Cox at their new home.

“I was so depressed for so long, but now I’m happy again,” Maria said of her new home. The emotional toll of losing your home, combined with the uncertainty of when and how you will rebuild weighed on her and her husband. Hope City was able to work to get them back into a new house. It wouldn’t have been possible without the labor of volunteers with the desire to help.

The Guzman’s invited the Hope City staff to dinner, to celebrate their occupancy permit. Maria treated everyone to home made enchiladas and a fantastic kind of fried dumpling. Fresh guacamole and pico de gallo. There was so much laughter through out the night as Rogel told stories about working on a military base, and the clean up he’d been doing in their pond.

Rogel took us out to a small shaded area right along the pond that the fire never touched. “We come here every Friday and fish. I come out and feed the fish. They’re always happy to see me.” Back a little farther in the shaded cove are a pair of hammocks. “There was a plastic underneath these before the fire. We came back and the plastic was melted, one of the trees was burned but the hammocks were fine. I took them down. I just put them back up this week.”

They talked to us about all their neighbors before the fire, and all those who weren’t rebuilding. They showed us the pool where one man managed to save himself but was trapped by the flames and watched as houses burned all around him. So many memories of the fire remain all around them. And yet, Rogel is quick to joke and make Maria smile. The two of them are adorable together, and lighten up everyone who has come to their aid.

Up every day at 6am, “Let’s do some work,” Maria has found joy in being home and working on their property, turning it into a joyful place for her family again. They’re looking forward to having family over for BBQ cookouts and fishing on the pond. In short, they’re looking to make new memories in their new home.