After more than a decade with the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, Executive Director Edwina Scott is resigning this month.
During her tenure, which began in 2004, was interrupted in 2005 and resumed in 2009, she brought millions of dollars in federal and state grants to the community, and oversaw the preparation and development of the first Community Wildfire Protection Plan and its subsequent revisions.
MCFSC was formed in 2001 and a year later received its official nonprofit status as an IRS 501(c)(3) organization. Since then, there have been several executive directors guiding its day-to-day activity, but Scott has overseen the organization for most of its 18 years.
Kay Ceniceros, who with her husband Blair, was one of MCFSC’s founders, recruited Scott in 2003. Ceniceros, a former county supervisor, had known Scott from mutual work at another nonprofit organization.
Scott was the executive director for an agency dealing with child abuse in Riverside County. Eventually, she yielded to Ceniceros’ urgings, submitted an application for the MCFSC position and was quickly selected.
After all, Scott said she had great credentials. “I lived on the mountain and had grant writing experience.”
Scott has worked with many board members and four board presidents. Blair was wonderful, she said. Often she would knock on his door at night, holding a stack of papers. Blair and Kay always welcomed her and offered advice.
However, in 2005, she decided to resign from MCFSC. At that time, Blair, MCFSC president then, said, “We did all we could to convince her to stay. We are all saddened by her decision to leave. We were hoping until the last minute that she would change her mind.”
And Kay, MCFSC secretary then, shared, “Edwina has successfully secured at least seven grants, acted as liaison with the public and agencies, and has become widely respected by members of many agencies.”
Within a week, MCFSC announced it was the recipient of three new grants totaling $600,000, thanks to Scott.
Mike Esnard, the scholarly academic followed Blair as president, was so supportive of her efforts. “He’d see my reactions at some meetings, come up afterwards, and suggest we go to lunch and get away for awhile.”
Chris Kramer, a former Palm Springs firefighter, and current President Norm Walker, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter and manager of the San Jacinto District’s fire crews, brought tremendous experience and a beneficial perspective, she said.
One of her favorite memories are the fire safe conferences she and board members would attend throughout California. “I loved the conferences. The whole board would enter and everybody would recognize us wearing our MCFSC shirts.”
While the Woodies are frequently the public face of MCFSC, they are volunteers who love their cutting and splitting work. These efforts benefit many individuals.
But Scott had the full responsibility for ensuring that the MCFSC staff was paid. “Just keeping the office open was a challenge sometimes,” she said.
Also, she had to secure monies to help fund the dozens of abatement and rehabilitation projects MCFSC carried out. While most were cost sharing with the property owner, MCFSC usually paid a quarter to a third of the total project cost.
“Edwina has been the backbone of MCFSC for a long time. She is an excellent grant writer, as well as a gracious spokesperson for our organization,” wrote Walker. “Most people don’t know how much work goes into grant reporting after an organization begins to spend the money it has been awarded.”
One of the most important projects for the whole community and specifically, to a hundred property owners, was the federal funding to replace cedar-shake shingles with fire-resistant roofing.
Obtaining the grant funds is a first step, using them wisely is critical, but reporting the results and accounting for the use of the money is crucial if future grants are needed.
“Edwina is highly respected for her detailed accounting of every dollar granted to our FSC,” Walker noted.
In 2015, the Hill’s Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz recognized the achievements of MCFSC in a statement to Congress. He noted its tireless work to keep the community fire safe and its judicious use of federal grant money.
She and her husband, Jim, of 53 years have always enjoyed traveling and will continue. Scott has a charm bracelet to prove where they have visited. In her plans after retiring is a trip to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.
Fortunately, she already has this charm, although not sure why and when, but the caverns are their first stop.
While she will have her big smile wherever they go, Scott “will miss the Fire Safe Council. It’s been my purpose for years now.” But after nearly 20 years, the road closures after the Valentine’s Day rainstorm have made her commute from Twin Pines barely bearable. While the recent opening of Highway 74 has reduced the actual driving time, the total commute time, with the waits, still results a day longer than 12 hours.
Retirement will be a literal rest for Scott. Besides her travel plans, she added that she intends to create a model fire safe property at her own property.
Pine Cove resident Amie Foye will become the next MCFSC executive director later this month.