Roseland Collegiate Prep in Santa Rosa, CA

"Turning devastation into delight and ice cream"

Bringing people together to help the students. (Credit: Nancy Ballard)

I started Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo in 2011, transforming chemotherapy centers from sad and drab to hopeful, lovely and soothing. Following devastating wildfires in 2017 in Sonoma County, where I live, there were so many places that needed help beyond depressing chemo rooms. Below is the story of one school we helped feel like itself again, and how the community pulled together around it.

Stories About Roseland College Prep

“Everything’s purple,” Roseland Collegiate Prep (RCP) senior Ramiro Sanchez told NBC. “It’s not really our color.”

After his school burned down in the horrific 2017 wildfires that devastated much of Sonoma County, Ramiro and hundreds of students at RCP moved classes to a warehouse owned by a sister school. The charter school, which will graduate its first senior class this year, was grateful for a place to continue learning. But there was just one problem: everything was purple, 100% purple. The color for the walls, doors and fixtures in the space was chosen to signal neutral territory to rival gangs in the area, one red and one blue. RCP’s colors are blue and green.

“This is not good,” another senior, Hugo Palacios told NBC. “It does not make me feel good.”

Good feelings at RCP were in short supply following the fires. Allowed only15 minutes to evacuate, with smoke so thick they could barely see and flames surrounding them, RCP students were told by their families to save only what they could carry and had value. Hugo took a photo of his grandmother who recently passed. He wanted to take his goldfish but was told it held no value. Helping his Dad load the TV into the car, he hid his goldfish in what he hoped was a safe place and promised he’d come back for it.

Nancy Ballard, founder and executive director of the 501c3 nonprofit and author of RoomsThatRock4Chemo. A Story. A Tool Box., wanted to help in the rebuilding and recovery process of the fire victims. New to the Sonoma County community, she searched for a project in which she could make a difference. A friend told her about RCP and she gave them a call. She met with the school a few days later to see what they needed and to offer assistance.

She learned the new temporary facility was in a warehouse with no windows and was completely purple. The kids despised it, especially the seniors who were to be the first graduating class. She quickly realized it was above the expertise of her Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo volunteers. This job called for professional painters, not just volunteers.

“I just knew there had to be someone who could help these kids,” said Ballard.

With Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, Ballard has transformed 18 chemotherapy centers throughout the United States and two in San Salvador from sad and drab to hopeful and lovely. So, she simply applied the same process in finding support for the school.

Due to the widespread destruction in the county, it wasn’t easy finding help. It seemed as if everyone was already helping someone, donating time and money when asked. Tradespeople were overwhelmed, with customers placed on a waiting list to help rebuild what was no longer habitable.

But tenacity won out. A local business,¬†Christopherson Builders, eventually stepped up and donated the paint and supplies. Painters at Cutting Edge Painting in Windsor donated an entire day to painting the hallways a fabulous teal blue, wiping out the depressing dark purple. These generous young men didn’t stop for coffee or lunch — they just worked through to get the job done.

On April 7, 2018, six months after Ballard started, the school was back to blue and green. The work was done over the school’s spring break and finished just in time to capture reactions from returning students.

A group of surly middle-schoolers were not big fans of the new colors, one complaining that it looked like a “kindergarten classroom.”

You can always rely on young teens to be overly cynical — that’s how Ballard knew that she had done the right thing.

“Kindergarten is the happiest place on earth!” she said.

Students love the new school paint job. (Credit: Nancy Ballard)

Besides, the opinion was in the minority. Most students loved their newly painted school. especially Ramiro and Hugo, who said that the new school now feels like their school, like home. It will only be home for a short time for them, however, as both are graduating in May and are off to great colleges with scholarships and grants.

One week after re-opening the school, the seniors held a rally to thank those who transformed their school. The theme was, “It is so much more than paint.” Umpqua Bank rallied with the school, bringing its Umpqua Ice Cream Truck and donated ice cream for the 450 students.

Ice cream for everyone! (Credit: Nancy Ballard)