Kindness follows on the heels of heartbreak for Inside the Outdoors manager and family

After losing their home to the devastating Bond Fire, the longtime caretaker of Inside the Outdoors’ Rancho Soñado site and her family were recipients of a surprise act of kindness on Friday.

Stephanie Smith, who has lived at Rancho Soñado for nearly 20 years as the operations manager for OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors environmental education program, was presented with a check for $2,000 courtesy of Cops Care, a program created by Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) Orange County and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to aid families impacted by crises.

The funds will help pay for clothing, furniture, toiletries, cookware and other necessities.

Sheriff's deputy and family

“We are so grateful for all the kindness, generosity, love and support we are getting as a family,” Smith said. “We will pay this forward one zillion times when we get settled.”

A “Rebuild Inside the Outdoors” GoFundMe page has also been set up to collect funds on behalf of the Inside the Outdoors Foundation and the family.

Smith, her husband and their twin daughters were forced to immediately evacuate Rancho Soñado on the night of Dec. 2 as the fast-moving Bond Fire swept through the property. They escaped without injuries, but a number of the program’s animal ambassadors did not survive and several structures were destroyed, including the family’s on-site residence.

As we noted previously, Inside the Outdoors has a comprehensive animal evacuation plan that was developed in concert with experts who evacuate the Orange County Zoo. It was practiced frequently. But the Bond Fire arrived with a speed and intensity that made it impossible for the evacuation team to approach.

After learning of the fire and visiting the grounds, School Resource Officer Samantha Siegel connected with the family and nominated them for the Cops Care programs.

“No family should ever have to experience a loss like that of their home and their animals, including their own personal pets,” said Siegel, a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

KCAL 9 News was on hand to capture the brief but meaningful presentation.

Administered by OCDE, Inside the Outdoors nurtures student knowledge and stewardship of the natural environment, offering 14 field trip sites and dispatching Traveling Scientists to local schools. The program has pivoted to virtual lessons during the pandemic.