Mid-November of 2008, with its unprecedented heat and dryness that aided in the spread of our Southern California wild fires, seems now like a horribly, bad nightmare. Many Dellos studio families who were nestled in the Chino Hills, Brea, Yorba Linda and Diamond Bar communities were evacauted without much notice. My heart raced as I watched the on-going news coverage and wondered like so many of us did at the time, what can I do to help? I sent out a text-blast announcing that both Dellos studios were available for a quick shelter, also welcoming family pets, horses, and livestock!
I got a return text with a message that touched my heart. My Chino Hills family of eight-year-old Julia Neel, known as ‘Tiny’, a petite 3rd grader at Glenmeade Elementary, was one of thousands evacuated. When I spoke to Tiny a few days later at my studio she shared, “I saw the fire at the top of the hill and it was like coming down towards us. It even felt warm. My Dad was at work (he’s a policeman) talking to the firefighters and I was at home with my brother and my Mom.” When I asked her to share the series of events that finally led the family to escaping potential danger, she spoke with trembling in her voice, “My Mom woke me up really early in the morning and told me and my brother that we were being evacuated. We had been watching the fire coming closer to us on TV all night. My Mom told me to pack up all my fragiles and my favorite things and to get a lot of water bottles. My brother packed his soccer medals and iPod and my Mom packed her jewelry.” Tiny hesitated before going on, anticipating that I was going to ask her what she had packed. Staring directly into my eyes, a smile swept over her whimsical face, “The first thing I grabbed was my dance bag and my dance trophies and everything that was dance stuff… and oh yeah, my Nintendo and Rubiks cube too…” Of course my next question was, why your dance things? Tiny’s immediate and so matter-of-factly response, “Cause if my house caught on fire and I had to go stay at somebody’s house, I wanted to make sure that I still had my stuff to go to dance!”
At that moment of child-like wisdom and sincerity, I had what Oprah calls an “Ah-haa moment”. Why do I continue to teach after 36 years? The answer came to me loud and clear… because I can never learn enough from the youth that I teach… because they offer a whole new insight to the world and because they teach us that the simple things in life are the most important, or in this case, necessary, for happiness! If we could all simply pack the personal belongings that make us feel warm and fuzzy into something the size of a small dance bag, just think how happy and un-cluttered our world would be!