Meet Lila – SAY Fire Response Hero

Meet Lila – SAY Fire Response Hero

On Sunday, October 8th Lila Azbill was celebrating a monthly family BBQ and game night with her two young children, cousins, grandparents, and extended family. Everything was going as planned – the adults were relaxing by the fire pit, while the kids were laughing at a movie playing in the background and starting to doze off. The sight of full bellies, cheeks red from laughing, and her closest family members in the glow of a night well spent brought a smile to Lila’s face, and a warm feeling that in this moment everything was right in her world.

Lila outside SAY’s Short Term Shelter, the only dedicated emergency shelter for youth ages 18-24 in Sonoma County.

Then the wildfires hit. 

Lila joined Social Advocates for Youth in 2016 and currently serves as our Short Term Housing Coordinator, directly overseeing the Dream Center Emergency Shelter for youth ages 18-24 where some of our most vulnerable youth are housed.

At 12:30am Lila got a call from her staff member on the over-night shift at the shelter. She said, “I think there’s something happening, I think there’s a big fire in Santa Rosa,” Lila recounts, “I told her to stay where she was until we knew more, but to start waking the kids up just in case we needed to evacuate.”

Less than 90 minutes later, Lila receives another call from her staff member saying the Fire Department just called and told her to evacuate the whole building. Lila doesn’t hesitate. She immediately turns to her cousin and asks her to take her two children to their house in Cotati.
“I knew my kids would be safe with my cousin, she would care for them as if they were her own children.”

Three minutes later, Lila jumps in her car and starts navigating the back roads to Bennett Valley. “I didn’t even really know the full extent of what was happening with the fires.  I just knew I had to get to the Dream Center and get our kids out safely. Instinct takes over in a crisis, and my instinct was to get there as fast as possible and bring everyone to our Coffee House Teen Shelter downtown.”

Arriving at the Dream Center, Lila can tell the young people she is responsible for are nervous about evacuating. In the process of checking all the bedrooms in the long-term housing wing of the Dream Center, Lila discovers a youth resident sleeping very deeply due to recovering from a nasty flu. Again, Lila doesn’t hesitate. She literally picks the young woman up and carries her out to the car.

Just over two hours later, Lila and the youth from the Dream Center are safely evacuated to SAY’s teen shelter in downtown Santa Rosa. “I told them I loved them and they were safe. They were a little shaken up, but mostly just tired. They asked if it was OK to go to sleep. I said, ‘Of course you can. Sleep with your shoes on, but you can go to sleep. I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you,’” she recalls with the confidence only a parent can muster during a crisis.

“After everyone fell asleep, I had to go outside to collect myself. I didn’t want the kids to see me rattled; they needed me to be strong. They needed me to be a mama-bear for them.”

The next morning, Lila and the youth returned to the Dream Center only to be evacuated six hours later to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where the youth would remain for the next five days alongside caring staff members rotating in two shifts.

Lila’s dedication to the youth we serve is inspiring, but she does not do this work alone. Whether the work was safely evacuating all the furry pets from Tamayo Village (shout out to team member Maddy!), or our Street Outreach Team providing almost 800 hours of outreach to homeless and displaced youth in the first week of the fires alone, we are truly in this work together as the SAY family.

With more than 500 homeless young people prior to the wildfires, youth represented 25% of our county’s homelessness rate, which is more than three times the national average. Our commitment to these vulnerable youth remains steadfast in the face of disaster. Now more than ever disconnected youth need safe and affordable housing, they need mental health counseling, and they need access to sustainable employment so that they can be contributing members to our community’s rebuild process.

Just like Lila cannot support our kids without her team, SAY needs our dedicated advocates in the community to help us continue our vital work. Together, we will end youth homelessness and empower self-sufficiency through three core areas of action: housing, counseling, and career services. Join us by making a life-changing donation today.

To see the full scope of SAY’s disaster response during the fires, click the image below.