The worst of circumstances often brings out the best in people. Although Tamsen Schultz-Bhachech didn’t require the LNU Lightning Complex fire to spark her desire to give back, it was enough to beget the selfless effort that won her the 2020 Theodore Winters Award.
As if any reminder was required, everybody in Winters knows how close to home the LNU fire got. For many, it was a tragedy that would claim their home. Rather than remain content with giving condolences, Schultz-Bhachech gave time and effort to rectify the hardship of her community members with the Theodore Winters Award being a mere byproduct of her aforementioned efforts.
“It’s an incredible honor to be given this award, but bitter-sweet since the reason I was chosen was hard,” said Schultz-Bhachech. “I have mixed-feelings and wish the LNU fire never happened. I was happy to step up and help the community but sorry that anybody had to do that.”
A resident of Golden Bear Estates, the lawyer/published author/mother and her family are no strangers to evacuations. Schultz-Bhachech remembers her neighbor’s call at midnight beckoning her to look out the window. With the LNU fire on the horizon, her family packed their things and left their homes behind like so many others.
“We have horrible memories of that fire, and that night was not unlike our other evacuations,” Schultz-Bhachech recalled. “Cal Fire and the Winters Fire Department are truly amazing. The sheriffs got everybody out, communicated the best they could and for the most part was empathetic to what we lived through. You get a little guilt because so many of our friends lost their homes and I met so many people doing the fire relief process and the way it devastated their lives is something I’ll never forget.”
Luckily for Schultz-Bhachech, her family’s home was spared by the fire. Many others, however, would never see their home again. It’s this fact that spurred Schultz-Bhachech into action with the help of the Rotary Club of Winters she’s a part of.
“Rotary knew that night and morning we needed to do something. We also wanted to make sure we weren’t the only ones making the decisions, so we reached out to the city and other
organizations to join us in fundraising,” Schultz-Bhachech explained. “We set it up in two stages. First were the immediate needs. Anyone who lost their home got money and we checked to make sure they were who they said they were as part of our fiscal duty to the Rotary and those who donated money. Once that immediate fund period was over, we started an in-depth process with applications, evaluated them and assigned points with the criteria. We had about $130,000 and allocated the funds based on the number of points people got.”
Growing up with community service being commonplace, helping the town and its residents when they need it most was a natural reflex for Schultz-Bhachech. To her, giving back to the community cultivates connectivity between people — even in these wildly divisive times.
As the LNU fire has burned a collective memory of sadness within the town, it also beckons to the selflessness of its residents in times of crisis. With Schultz-Bhachech — and many others — embodying this selflessness, the town can take solace knowing come hell or hire water, Winters takes care of its own.