Feb 28, 2018
by Sarah Glade Gurney
The Barlow Event Center was aglow with trendy, small-town charm on February 8, when the City of Sebastopol hosted the first 2018 meeting of the Sonoma County Mayors and Council Members Association.
The evening held special significance for our City in that Mayor Patrick Slayter was installed as the Chair of the Association. It was the first time in history that two electeds from the same city to hold the office of Chair were present at the same meeting; I have also served in this capacity earlier when I was Mayor. Sebastopol was congratulated for our longevity in leadership.
“Sarah, before I say anything else, I want to tell you how much I like The Barlow,” Carol Russell from Cloverdale enthused when I greeted her at the entrance to the donate venue. “I was a little lost in the buildings but I found parking and I found this great spot!”
First Lady Theresa Russo added her warm welcome to our countywide guests, including Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. Theresa staffed the registration table throughout the early evening.
Vice Mayor Neysa Hinton created a stunning setting with her three-foot high centerpieces, using tall cylindrical vases, provided by Assistant City Manager Mary Gourley. The vases were filled with green apples then topped with seasonal flowers, such as calla lilies, purchased from the Sequoia Flower Mart. Poster boards from our Community Gratitude event, recognizing our local firestorm heroes, decorated the front of the room.
“This is the best food we’ve ever had at one of these meetings,” David Glass of Petaluma praised our chef, Susan of Trends Catering, also known for the lunches she prepares for the Friday-noon Rotary Club. Beer donated by Crooked Goat and wine from Friedeman, McPhail, and Wind Gap no doubt added to everyone’s enjoyment.
The Association provides a public forum for the exchange of city updates and discussion of regional issues. Through written reports, each city summarizes its recent actions and successes and promotes upcoming community events. The evening’s informational program focuses on wider concerns.
For this meeting, the program covered some of the emergency services during the firestorm, as officials are still trying to understand “what really happened” during those long two weeks so our communities can be better prepared. It was the first time all of us had gathered since the disaster, our meeting last October having been canceled.
Mayor Slayter approached the topic in an unexpected way. He brought First Dog Hawke and Hawke’s friends, Rudy, Star and Nadia who are PALS, “Paws as Loving Support” Assistance Dogs. These four dogs worked the crowd during the appetizer course.
“I was able to go to the firefighter base camp at the Fairgrounds with Hawke a few times and visit all the remarkable and selfless firefighters who came to our assistance when it was needed,” Patrick explained the dogs’ presence.
PALS is a local non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers dedicated to enhancing the human/animal bond by providing specially trained dogs for several purposes: Service PALS to help children with disabilities, including Autism and Down’s syndrome.
Facility PALS to assist professionals working with children with special needs.
Social PALS, Therapy PALS, Reading PALS, and Comfort PALS Teams to serve the special needs of the community.
Courthouse PALS to provide emotional support and comfort to victims and witnesses of violent crimes before, during and at the conclusion of a trial.
Of the almost 70 Social Therapy Teams and Comfort Teams, most made daily visits to the shelters during the fires and to schools as they reopened afterwards. During non-emergency times, the teams regularly visit libraries, schools, elder care facilities, Juvenile Hall, and the airport. They offer de-stressing help during finals week at SRJC and SSU.
The first level of training takes three days and is offered several times a year. Owners and dogs interested in becoming certified Comfort Teams take several more days of training to learn how to be effective in more sensitive situations.
“It is fun to be able to share my dog with others and Hawke is the star of the show. I am really just his valet and driver,” Patrick made light of the important community service he offers. pawsaslovingsupport.org.
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