By Sandra Stratman

When the Northridge Earthquake hit, my roommates and I lived in a 1920s multi-story home on a hillside in Hollywood. The earthquake jolted us out of our sleep into what felt like a war zone. Everything was so loud in the house; dishes falling out of the cupboards, doors shutting back and forth. We took cover until it settled, and after we dusted ourselves off, we walked around to assess the damage. Although our house was ultimately yellow-tagged (i.e., significant damage but still livable), we knew that others would not be so lucky.

Sandra Stratman
Sandra Stratman is an independent opinion columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email her at 

After realizing we were going to be ok, I called my mom and step-dad, who lived 15 minutes away, to check in on them. They went unscathed, and as we talked about our next steps, my mom said, “Meet me at the Salvation Army; they are going to need help.” Despite the fear that was stirring within us, we all went out to serve others who were less fortunate.

When my roommate and I arrived, my mom was already there knee-deep in the trenches. Even though money was tight growing up, she still found a way to give back, whether it be of time or money. She knew what it was like to lose everything without any notice, having been one of the last people to leave freely from Cuba when Castro took over. Although her family endured displacement, they slowly built their lives back up. The displacement forever scarred and changed my mom, just like the Northridge earthquake forever scarred and changed many people. But her ability to have empathy for others showed up because of her experiences, and she knew helping others was a way of healing from her past.

Fast forward to 2020, where the world knocked us off of our feet and asked of us things we never would have imagined. It was a game-changer for sure. Although our world did not physically shake, our communities did. We had to quickly adapt to sudden changes from a pandemic, watch our nation go through the aftermath of the George Floyd incident, and then endure the drama entailing our elections. Despite any setbacks our family personally experienced as a result of COVID-19, giving back to the community was a top priority knowing that MANY would suffer from the pandemic.

You see, we have choices to make in times of crisis. We can sit back and watch things unfold with frustration and anger, never to feel satisfied because we chose not to take action. Or we can be CHANGE MAKERS by reaching out to those in need. Although I was laid off from the pandemic and had no idea what the future would hold financially, we gave back to the Food Bank, knowing others would not receive unemployment or be eligible for certain services. With more COVID shutdowns and understanding that others are struggling right now, we recently reached out to friends and family and collectively adopted two families for the holidays. We took action because we don’t want to sit there and watch things happen. We want to be the ones that make things happen. I share this not to boast but to guide and give insight and inspiration that through crisis and trials and giving, serving others is what makes change happen.

With the tumultuous year coming to an end, my challenge to the community is to look 2021 straight in the eye and take a position of Change Maker. We all have the ability to change history, to be peacemakers, and to live knowing that above all else, love prevails.

That is how our world will change for the better. Whether it be an earthquake, fleeing your country for political reasons, or a pandemic, step out knowing we all have a purpose and remember,

“At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you have accomplished. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.” Denzel Washington.