Jini started college when she was 12 years old, has flown rescue helicopters, is on the Executive Committee of the Redwood Valley Grange, has counseled professional Hockey, Football and Basketball players on anger management, acted as a mediator at Standing Rock, is part owner of Down To Earth Landscaping Company and helped get her neighbors through the devastating fires in 2017. She has lived in the same house in Redwood Valley for 43 years and has 2 sons and 7 grandchildren.
I grew up in South San Francisco. My father never finished the 8th grade and was a Police Officer. He was also a draft evader by gaining so much weight on purpose that they could not take him into the Army. My mother had graduated from High School and went right into the Police Force. So my parents met during World War II when they were both Police Officers. My mother was the first woman on the Police Force to have her own beat at Hunter’s Point which was a Shipyard. When the war was over, my dad bought a Trucking company.
I started taking dance classes when I was 3 years old. When I got to 1st grade they skipped me to 4th grade because I was reading, like, Life On The Mississippi by Mark Twain… and that didn’t really work. I cried a lot and was very uncomfortable. So my father and friends started a school called the Sunshine School which was what was called a Free School back then. It’s now called Nueva Day School and is in Millbrae. So I studied dance, and I had a horse so I studied Animal Husbandry, Science, and Cooking. My parents always believed in me and left me lots of space to be who I wanted to be.
When I was 7 years old I got really sick with Scarlet Fever. I was confined to a dark room with only candle light. My grandmother took care of me and knowing that I loved plants and animals she went to the bookstore and found this book Herbal For Farm and Stable by Juliette de Bairacli Levy and read it to me by candlelight. I was in the darkness for 6 weeks and recovered. At that point I was obsessed with plants and animals.
While taking dance classes still at 7 years of age I was discovered by visitors and signed 2 contracts. One was with the San Francisco Opera House and the other was to become a model for J C Penney catalog. The Opera House wanted me to do Hawaiian and Flamingo dancing. My parents took all the money I made and put it into an account for me.
In our backyard I started what I called the NAA… the Northwood Animal Association with my next door neighbors Mellanie and took in all stray animals. I documented where we found them, how they got turned into us.
As I grew older I started attending a regular Junior High School part-time. By 7th grade I had finished Chemistry and Trigonometry, and could play the Saxophone. At 12 and a half years old I was told I could take a College Entrance Exam. I took it and was accepted at San Francisco State College in 1967. Some students left the classes I was in because they didn’t like that I was this little girl there. So I transferred to San Jose State. There I listened to a Stanford teacher named Vi Huerta who gave a lecture about becoming a Development Specialist To Make Aware Your Body, Mind and Spirit. I knew that was what I wanted to study with her and I transferred to Stanford. I was 13 years old.
At 15 years old in 1970 I bought my first house in Menlo Park. I was also a teacher’s aide for an Aphashic children program for the San Mateo County Board of Education in Burlingame, was going to school at Stanford, scooped Ice Cream at Swenson’s, modeled, and played Sax in a garage band called AUM that opened for a lot of bands at Winterland.
I eventually met, worked with, and married Don Howe, a counsellor and therapist who had a group home for children in Sacramento. In 1976 we decided to move our group home to Redwood Valley. We bought a home from the People’s Temple. It was called Awake Home For Children: to make awake and aware the body mind and spirit. Don later died in a canoe accident, the children’s home was closed, and my home is now a 1 acre Permaculture farm with goats.
I opened, as the manager, the first Planned Parenthood in Mendocino County. I have also worked for Trinity School, the Mendocino County Office of Education, Mayacama, Real Goods, and the Rural Health Aid program at Mendocino College. Then I started working for the Mendocino Transit Authority as a mechanic which I had learned being around my father’s trucking company growing up. Meanwhile I met Peter, my next door neighbor, and we’ve been married now for 37 years… and I feel that my biggest accomplishment in life is being a mother and grandma.
The fires of Summer 2017 devastated Redwood Valley. The electricity was turned off and no one living around there could go to the valley floor for 6 days where the stores are and where our Grange is. When we were allowed in, I went to the Grange to check that everything was okay, that the refrigerators were ok and leave a note on the door to call me when PG&E arrived so I could open it and light all the pilots. But as I was closing and locking the door I just broke down in tears. I could not do it. Many homes had been lost and people were driving up and down the road out of their minds. I thought… we all need a place to meet. A lot of people were in shelters, out at the Fairgrounds, the High School, in motels. I had been communicating with friends, family, community members and everyone was in upheaval. Peter was with me and I said I cannot close this door. I have to leave the Grange open. People need a place to come. I said I was going to call the rest of the Grange Executive Committee and ask if I, Jini, can use the Grange. If the Grange or other non-profit opened it up, all the food would have to be from a code kitchen, any money changing hands would have to correctly recorded, any child care would have to be licensed… I just wanted to open it up for what it is. It’s our community hall.
So I called the Executive Committee and said I wanted to leave the doors open. I want to call all young people who have children and had lost their homes and they can go to my shop at my house and gather up all the clothing, easels, books, tables, craft stuff that I had collected from various projects I was involved with, and ask them to set up a children’s area in the foyer because those are the people that need help the most. Then they will know that their kids are happy, and they can come into the kitchen, get some food, get some counseling, find out what paperwork they need to fill out and we will see what we can do in the Hall. I’m going to make some brownies, make some coffee, put some sandwich boards out front that say come on in for support, and we will see what the community needs.
We put flip chart paper on the walls where people could write what they needed, and what they had to offer. You would put your phone number or contact. So if you needed a battery for your car, or you lost all your tools and needed to get back to work. And people posted what they had to offer. This one guy’s wife was a quilter who busied her mind when she was nervous with sewing. They were in a motel and he said that if he just had a sewing machine and some fabric she could calm down. We had a sewing machine there in 2 hours. Everyone took care of one another. We had from 100 to 300 people a day come through there. A massage therapist came in give massages, others gave haircuts. We had games for people to play. One young man lost his truck in the fire and another man said he had an extra truck and gave it to him. Another guy wrote out a $5,000 check and gave it to the young man. We had FEMA and Red Cross there. There was food available all day. I opened it every morning at 8am and closed it at 11pm.
I had a gallon glass jar sitting there in the kitchen. People would come in and put money in it. Other people would come in and take money out of it. No questions asked. No one ever cleaned it out completely. When it got down under $200, I had money in the back I would put in to keep it between $200 and $300.
A lot of people who lost their homes still needed to go to work everyday. People would come in for breakfast and make their lunch to take with them. We had a spread for them every morning. CK gave us free internet so people could set up business meetings there. We were able to do that for 17 days before the Grange needed it back for events that had been scheduled.
After Channel 2 showed an interview I did with them, a man called up and asked if we could use a refrigerator/freezer trailer and said he would bring it right up. Surprisingly, it came chock full of food. Sandwich meats like you would not believe. Corn Beef, Turkey, Amy’s meals… and 5,000, 2 foot-long salamis.
It really restored my faith in people. Our community is really strong and really beautiful.