Edwina Scott, executive director of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, thanks the Woodies for all their work before Friday’s luncheon began. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

The Woodies are the rock stars of California fire safe councils.


As the volunteer arm of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, they abate homes and cut and split firewood for those in need. People driving past the HELP Center on a Friday morning have probably noticed a very busy group of people in orange shirts wielding chain saws and operating splitters as they prepare wood to be distributed by the HELP Center.

Each year we recognize special contributions to the Woodies efforts with a “Citizen of the Year” award, and this year it was my pleasure to hand it to Pascal Simon at a gathering on July 27. Pascal met the Woodies five years ago when they cut up dead trees on his Pine Cove property. He jumped in to help the Woodies that day, and he has been helping them, and the community, ever since.

The Woodies have been a focus for community involvement in fire safety for ten years, and they are still going strong. Aside from their obvious contributions, they indirectly teach some important lessons about success in later life.

One of the fascinating things about the Woodies is that they are essentially self-organizing. They have never elected officers or official leaders, and show no inclination to do so. Don Patterson, one of the MCFSC project managers, serves as a coordinator, but key decisions are made by the group.

In addition, when a Woodie shows up for work, they choose to do the job that fits them. Each person finds the tools and the activities that advance the mission but also feels right for them. Skills, knowledge, and physical abilities vary, but everyone finds a way to contribute, and everyone’s contribution is valuable.

I have no doubt that is one of the aspects of the group that elicits loyalty over time. I think Woodies who have worked in large organizations and felt constrained take particular pleasure in this arrangement. It seems to me that any organization that doesn’t respect the overall competence and judgment of seniors and their ability to self-manage will lose a great deal of energy and people.

Another interesting aspect of the group has to do with health and healing. Most of the Woodies are in their 60s and 70s. Like most in that age group, they have medical and physical challenges resulting in surgical and medical interventions.

Sometimes it is a knee or hip replacement, sometimes the repair of a torn shoulder. Some have had heart attacks.

This is not noteworthy and is typical for the age. What is noteworthy is how quickly people come back to the Woodies after these medical moments. They can’t wait to get back!

I have not done a study of this, but I am convinced that Woodies return from their procedures faster than any randomly chosen group of people of similar age and medical condition.

I will admit that one reason for this is that they are in better overall condition than others their age. But I can’t get over the motivation factor. It seems apparent that we all heal faster when we want to get back to a situation in which we believe we are making a difference.

This point has been made by others before, but the Woodies are a current demonstration of why a sense of meaning matters to one’s health and happiness.