I moved to Tahoe in late 1995 for a ski season on my way to San Francisco for a career in social work. Winter was slow to start that year, and while I waited for the snow to fall I looked for volunteer opportunities to gain experience on my path to my “real” job. Two years later, I found my real job in Tahoe, and was running the safe house at what was then Tahoe Women’s Services (now Sierra Community House) for domestic violence survivors. I stood by women as they worked to overcome trauma from oppressive and violent histories. I was matched with a 12-year-old boy through a volunteer mentor program whose mom was homebound, riddled with severe mental and physical health issues and struggling to get care. I learned quickly that while most people associate Tahoe with world class-ski resorts and pristine lakes, the challenges of the local population are real and largely unseen.
I then began working at the North Tahoe Family Resource Center (now part of Sierra Community House). I listened to the stories of people trying to make ends meet, reliant on hourly, often low wage paying seasonal jobs that ebbed and flowed with the snowfall and shoulder seasons. My experience in direct service work next led me to the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, where I worked with nonprofits and the people that make these agencies hum — staff who work daily with community members, executive directors who hold it all together, and volunteer board of directors who fundraise for a better community. For 15 years, I facilitated countless meetings about issues impacting local residents and what agencies could do to best meet community needs.
Now, I’ve chosen to change direction. I step away from the nonprofit sector knowing this: Tahoe/Truckee is a vibrant place to live, surrounded by natural beauty and people who care, and we also have our fair share of suffering. Some of these challenges are more visible. Just to name a few, our cost of living is significantly higher than the national average, housing is expensive and unobtainable for many residents, and there is not enough childcare to support working parents. Yet some of these issues are not as obvious. Recent data reveals that over 30% of us are lonely and isolated and 60% of us are impacted negatively by substance abuse. And we know that some of us have a harder time living here than others — 40% of us have considered moving away.
We are fortunate to have strong nonprofit leaders and agencies addressing the multiple needs of members of our community. But for Tahoe/Truckee to be a community where all people are connected, we have to walk alongside the agencies that are fighting the good fight. They can only do so much. We all have something to contribute, whether it be our time, knowledge, care, and/or money. I leave you with this … it’s not fancy and esoteric. It’s actually simple. My experience has taught me that every human being has strengths and struggles. Not one of us gets by on our own. We need each other to find our way.
~ Alison Schwedner has worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector in the Tahoe/Truckee area for the past 25 years and currently serves on the Placer First 5 Commission. She and her husband are raising their three kids and two dogs in Truckee.