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Donna Brantly survived the crash that took her husband James in 2007. Today the family gives back through the James P. Brantly Memorial Fund
“I’m only here because of Trinity County Search and Rescue,” says Donna Brantly. On December 29, 2007, Brantly and her husband James were traveling east on California State Route 299 when they hit a patch of black ice and left the road. James was killed. Donna remembers nothing of the accident. It was a series of chances that led to her rescue – two fishermen spotted the tracks in the ice, the passenger seat brackets broke so Donna was thrown backward and cocooned in the crushed metal. The search and rescue team worked for four hours to remove her from the vehicle, which was trapped precariously near the Trinity River.
After the accident, and after Donna’s long recovery, which included a full year of rehabilitation, she and her family began to learn more about the rescue team and the vital role they play in rural communities.
“They have to replace about a 1,000 feet of rope every year,” says Donna. She also learned that volunteer first responders often pay for their own training and emergency gear. In 2008 the James P. Brantly Memorial Fund was created to support the work of rural search and rescue organizations.
Donna and her daughter, Cheryl Kingham, believe that James would have approved of the work his legacy supports. James Brantly was a steadfast man who stuck with the things he cared about. He was a member of the United Methodist Church for 50 years, a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. He worked in federal law enforcement for 30 years, earning the Commissioner's Meritorious Achievement Award for rescuing a woman on Palomar Mountain. He received citations from President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy for his assistance during the Oxford riots when the University of Mississippi enrolled the first black student, James Meredith. His marriage to Donna spanned five decades.
“He was so handsome that the girls at my college accused me of keeping the photo that came in the frame,” says Donna, referring to the photo of the “tall, handsome sailor” she met on the Long Beach boardwalk at the dawn of the Korean War. It was only when James took leave and showed up at her dormitory with a flat of strawberries that the teasing stopped.
Cheryl describes her father as “very loyal, very loving.” He respected his wife, who had studied business and went on to be a business manager at the local school district.
“Big Jim,” as some people dubbed James, liked to give back. He often volunteered at his church and helped neighbors in their homes, doing plumbing and electrical work.
“He could fix anything,” says Donna, who also called James her “Handy Andy.”
The James P. Brantly Memorial Fund has supported small fire departments and search and rescue organizations by providing emergency equipment, training funds and supplies such as water purification equipment, intubation dummies and rope.
Donna, now 86, helps administer the fund along with Cheryl; the family lives in McKinleyville and regularly host Cheryl’s Girl Scout troop. Cheryl says that one takeaway from the tragic experience was that if you’re traveling you should make sure to have emergency contact information in the glove compartment of the car and other locations so first responders will know who to call if there’s an accident. The family adds to the fund every year on James’ birthday, January 16. To learn more about the James P. Brantly Memorial Fund, click here.
Two weeks after the 6.4-magnitude quake and serious aftershocks struck Humboldt County — and with a series of winter storms now battering the region — Humboldt Area Foundation and Wild Rivers Community Foundation has seen an outpouring of support for people most impacted as donors and funders in the region and beyond step up to help their neighbors in the hardest-hit communities.
Contributions to HAF+WRCF’s Disaster Response & Resilience Fund resulted in 30 grants totaling more than $300,000 as of Jan. 5. This includes support for local Tribes and organizations providing emergency shelter, food and supplies to those whose homes suffered serious damage. Grants were also given to community resource centers and organizations specifically helping members of the queer community, non-English speakers, seniors, and others facing barriers to accessing resources.
“The needs of our most vulnerable residents impacted by the quake, aftershocks and now the storms, continue to change. We are grateful for the generous contributions from donors from Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte counties, as well as those in Silicon Valley and throughout the state,” said Bryna Lipper, CEO of HAF+WRCF.
The quake struck one of the area’s most economically-distressed and low-income residents, with early reports of severe gaps in insurance and/or individual resources for reconstruction. The state of California has declared it a disaster, however formulas that typically trigger a FEMA declaration emergency for federal support are unlikely to be met because of property values in this context.
As word spread about the challenges that quake-rattled residents are facing, HAF+WRCF mobilized its network of philanthropic supporters, and new and existing donors responded by contributing to the organization’s Disaster Response & Resilience Fund, originally created to assist communities affected by recent wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. HAF+WRCF does not grant funds to individuals, but rather community organizations, government entities, tribal communities and businesses supporting individuals’ needs.
“We are taking funds into our Disaster Response and Resilience Fund with as few restrictions as possible, using our grantmaking priorities, values, and definitions of vulnerability and equity to make decisions,” said Laurel Dalsted, Donor Relations and Development Director at HAF+WRCF.
HAF+WRCF’s disaster grantmaking team, dubbed the Community Response Team, is meeting two to three times per week to determine how best to serve small, rural towns including Rio Dell, Fortuna, Ferndale, Loleta, Bear River Rancheria, and the Wiyot Tribe, where many residents and responders are still without housing, power, water, and internet and cell service.
“HAF+WRCF is grateful to all its individual donors and funding partners who acted quickly to help those in need,” Dalsted said.
Those partners include Sierra Health Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, National Philanthropic Trust, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, Sacramento Region Community Foundation, Humboldt Health Foundation. Organization that helped elevate the need for support include Northern California Grantmakers, The Mendocino Community Foundation, and the League of California Community Foundations.
To donate to the Disaster Response & Resilience Fund or for information on eligibility and how organizations can submit a grant request visit: hafoundation.org/disasterfund.
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