Courtesy of Kelsee Montagna
Former Madera Coyote and current Cabrillo College women’s indoor and beach volleyball coach Kelsee Montagna and some of her players push out carts full of supplies to donate to evacuees of fires in Santa Cruz County. Montagna raised more than $3,000 to help out people who were forced to evacuate from their homes.
When a fire tore through Santa Cruz County in August, former Madera Coyote girls volleyball player and current Cabrillo College women’s volleyball head coach Kelsee Montagna knew she had to do something.
After talking with her players, Montagna, who is in her third year as the head coach at the Aptos school, put a post on Facebook that if anyone wanted to donate to help to send her money through VenMo. She woke up the next morning and had $1,800 in donations. Overall, she raised more than $3,200 to help first responders and evacuees of one of the most destructive fires in California state history.
More than 1,100 structures have burned in addition to 86,509 acres in the last three weeks. However, fire containment continues to rise and is up to 84 percent as of Thursday.
“We were just going to donated $1,000 program-wide for first responders, initially,” Montagna said. “We had to stop to start practice. I got on a call with my players through Zoom and we were talking about it. I wanted to make sure they were staying inside. Most of the kids all came from the Central Valley or were just moving in because we were supposed to start school. They wanted to know how they could help. I told them we’ll try to do whatever we can.”
Montagna thought her and her players would make sandwiches and help first responders. However, because of COVID, they weren’t allowed to make sandwiches and first responders are relatively taken care of so she had to change directions.
“At first, it was just trying to find little things for the firefighters,” she said. “Then, we found out a lot of people were getting evacuated at a rapid pace. A good friend of mine, I played with his daughter, runs the Moose Lodge in the Scotts Valley area. I contacted him. They were the last evacuee campsite in the area. They locked everything else. We thought that would be the biggest center that needed help because they were in the hills. Donations are fine, but they needed someone to grab the food, water and things they couldn’t. It just worked out in a way to connect with them. We went to Costco and bought food, water and Gatorades. They were so amazed by how much we got and how hard my girls were working.”
Even now with the Creek Fire raging through Madera County, Montagna feels a sense of helping out. She is trying to find a way to be able to help out her home in the Central Valley.
“Home is on fire,” she said. “How can I help out? I want to find connections to help out. Red Cross has done a great job. Cabrillo College is a campsite for evacuees, and still are. Some of things Red Cross can do is amazing. I do think there are community members that want to help out, which is important to see the community all come together. If COVID wasn’t a situation, it would be even more powerful, but we’ll take what we can get.”
When the fire was going through Santa Cruz County, Montagna wanted to do something.
“This is my home now,” she said. “After my girls talked to me, I put it on my Facebook to see what I could get and let people know what was going on. It was really quiet at first. I don’t think anyone knew how gnarly it was. UCSC was evacuated on Day 4 or 5. They are pretty close to town. We are in a stand still now. Evacuation orders are lifted. We want to help clean up houses or help rebuild houses, but that’s going to be months from now.”
Montagna was amazed by how much she was able to raise.
“My original post said how grateful my players were passionate for this,” she said. “We were going to donate our time, but if anyone wanted to help donate, as well, you can VenMo me. We will make sure their money will go to a good cause. We wanted to ensure they knew where their money was going to. If people from outside the area wants to donate, it will go to the right place. I wanted to make sure they had a place they could trust. It was awesome. I received money from all over the world. People donated from $25 to $300-$500. It was really nice to see rival school coaches donating. It was really cool to see how no matter what, COVID or fires, we’re all going to stay together.”
Montagna’s expectations weren’t too high. She only expected her parents to help out. But, she was humbled by how much came in.
“I think it just showed the power of human beings,” she said. “When things aren’t going so well, it showed me there’s still a positive light at the end of it. Some people reached out from Salt Lake City who have family out here. She said someone re-posted my message and wanted to make sure that my money went somewhere to be of value. It was pretty overwhelming.
“I am part of a big yoga community and we’ve been doing coaching every other day Zoom meetings. I remember that day, I remember being super aggressive. I felt worthless and wanted to know what to do. They told me to take time to debrief and figure out yourself first. Then, I got on the Zoom call with my girls and they wanted to help. It was an energy to buckle down. For me, it was going to be the program and me donating with the girls helping out as much as they could. It exploded from there.”
Even her players were so surprised at how much money was brought in. However, Montagna says they were even more surprised by how much they were able to purchase.
“They were kind of baffled,” she said. “The money kept coming in. We went to Costco and only spent $600 of it because it’s Costco. We stacked 50 cases of water and Gatorade, each and 30 cases of snacks. They were kind of in awe of how much money can do for you if you only needed essentials. That’s something I want to teach them through my program. Do we want to win? Yes. Do we want to be competitive? Yes. How am I putting you out to the world? That is something I expressed when I applied for the full-time job, as well. It’s something I am true to, to become the best version of themselves before they leave. Volunteering and figuring out life isn’t so easy sometimes is going to help them along in life a little bit.”
Montagna even got the support from fellow coaches that wanted to help out.
“They all wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “We had a Zoom meeting with all of the coaches. I told them sorry about what I did. I think everyone wanted to help, but it was up to someone to take action. I’m all about that. Sometimes I do it too much in my life and that’s why I get stressed out because I’m involved in so many things. We tried to get together with other programs. Everyone was very supportive. We tried to get everyone involved as much as we could. There’s so many opportunities, volunteer-wise. The department was really excited. Everyone was happy and we had some donations from other peers and mentors. Thirty percent of our faculty were evacuated as well. They were all appreciative of it.”