Don Patterson, project manager, Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council. Photosby J.P. Crumrine
Don Patterson, project manager, Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council.
Photosby J.P. Crumrine
Karen Patterson, executive director, Idyllwild HELP Center.
Karen Patterson, executive director, Idyllwild HELP Center.

While they have been Idyllwild residents for only 12 years, the approaching departure of Karen and Don Patterson will leave a mark as visible as the burn scars from a fire or the trenches from a quake.

Karen has been executive director of the HELP Center since 2007. Just as she was getting adjusted, the recession hit the country and not even the Hill was spared. HELP Center clients more than tripled to over 600.

But she and Colleen Meyer, her client services administrator, persevered. They sought help from the community and beyond, and consoled and offered all the help they might to the residents caught in deepening recession.

One way they expanded their resources was through grants, similar to the Community Development Block Grant for $15,000 recently awarded to the HELP Center.

Karen, a former San Diego girl, and Don will be moving to near Flagstaff. And her plans include raising chickens, perhaps a small herd of goats and snow.

“Our first winters here were cold and plenty of snow, but not so much now,” Don said. Karen said he had a choice of Alaska or Montana, and Flagstaff, Arizona, was the compromise. Its expected annual snowfall is about 100 inches, more than 8 feet.

“It’s on the edge of everything — Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Native American reservations — everything we love, plus snow,” Karen said, smiling brightly.

Don, a former infectious disease and primary internal physician, has been a project manager with the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council since 2005. He inspects work done on private property, helps draft contract specifications and more.

Since so many trees are dying from bark beetle or Golden-spotted oak borer, this former infectious disease physician made an easy transfer of careers.

“The mountain communities are safer because of his dedicated work for fire safety,” said Edwina Scott, executive director of the MCFSC. “He has worked with hundreds of local property owners to develop plans to create defensible space on their property, helped more than 60 homeowners replace their hazardous shake or wood shingle roofs and inspected dozens of Gold-spotted oak borer suspect trees.”

Of course, Karen had already become involved with the Woodies and MCFSC to which Don eventually gave his time.

After volunteering with MCFSC, Karen began assisting at the HELP Center and soon was asked to assume the role of executive director.

When asked about the highlights of her time at the HELP Center, she replied, “Just being here and watching the town.” She described how amazed she becomes that the community can continue to exceed its generosity every year.

“Even after the Mountain Fire, the way the community and so many off the Hill pulled together. Donations came from everywhere, including a carful of towels and food from a desert cleaning service,” she said with tears. “There’s so many highlights, we could sit here for hours.”

Nanci Killingsworth, a HELP Center board member, said Patterson’s retirement would be a huge loss. “But Colleen and Karen have done a magnificent job. Idyllwild should be very proud of the work of these two women.”

Although she has only a month left at the center, Patterson has ideas on where it can grow in the future. She would like to see the HELP Center offer clients more services. While still thinking about what they would be, she suggested job skills would be useful.

“[The HELP Center] will only move forward,” she forecast.