Evelin Weber woke up early on that fateful morning of November 8, 2018, to the smell of smoke in the air. Home alone with her 2-year-old son and unaware of the nearby flames, Evelin decided to leave her Malibu home, packing bags and precious mementos “just in case” and loading into the car with her son and dog. At first, her husband, Trevor Neilson, who was in New York at the time on business, told her not to worry, but when she drove to the bottom of the hill and saw traffic backed up on PCH, flames and no cell phone signal, she knew the situation was serious.
“We thought we were going to lose our house,” she recalls, but, “luck was on our side,” says Evelin, who immediately sprang into action with her husband to help the community.
“We knew that we cannot control the outcome [of the fire], so what can we do? We woke up the next morning in Santa Monica and said, ‘let’s do this… we have no choice,’” says Evelin, who founded the nonprofit Malibu Foundation with her husband to help Southern California rebuild and recover just two days after the Woolsey Fire began.
With a background in economic development and natural disaster recovery, the couple started making phone calls—the first was to Mylie Cyrus, who had lost her home and readily agreed to donate to the cause; their lawyer, who filed the 501c3 paperwork; local filmmaker Rory Kennedy, and others to rally for the community.
“At first we didn’t realize how big it would get,” says Evelin. “Our hearts were in it. We had a group of people working to get money out the door as quickly as possible to those who needed relief. We were spared and that was part of the reason why we felt even more compelled to help… it’s our civic duty and human responsibility to use our skill set for our community,” adds Evelin, who serves as Executive Director of the Malibu Foundation.
A Philippine native, Evelin also founded The Philippines Foundation and Narra.life, an A.I. company that brings financial access to the poor, and serves as a Patron to UK-based charities, A World At School and Faces Charity. She also worked in investment banking in New York, London, Africa and Latin America as well as in post-natural disaster economic recovery.
“While the Philippines is most affected by climate change, when the fire hit my hometown, I put all that on pause and really put my heels down in Malibu,” says Evelin. “I feel grateful to be able to serve.”
Committed to the long-term rebuilding of areas affected by the Woolsey Fire, the Malibu Foundation focuses on three phases of recovery: relief, rebuilding and resilience. With the goal to “ensure a climate-resilient community that is sustainable,” the Foundation coordinates with organizations in the public sector that provide economic development, emotional support and advocacy to help leverage their impact.
People are still struggling with all kinds of issues from one of the most destructive fires in Southern California’s history, including financial fallout, insurance problems, situational homelessness, grief, mental health issues and rebuilding challenges.
The Malibu Foundation’s internal programs and partner organizations are doing everything they can to serve the full scope of the community’s needs: housing, job placement, rebuilding, wellness, legal assistance, advocacy and finance. They are also working to serve the environment and the beautiful flora and fauna that were affected by the fires to create resilient communities.
In addition to providing immediate relief to those in need, the nonprofit aims to create long-term sustainable programs that will lead to systematic change.
We are looking at “how to create long-term impact,” says Evelin, thus, “we work with organizations that specialize in helping people.” Currently working with 32 organizations, the Malibu Foundation is looking to support more programs.
“We’re not just bound by the city limits of Malibu… Seminole Springs, Malibou Lake, Oak Forest, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village are all surrounding areas where people were affected by the fire,” says Evelin.
“Everyone can do a little bit; you just never know whom you’ll be able to support and help,” she says, adding, “You don’t know what going to happen tomorrow, so let’s give you the necessary tools to deal with whatever happens.”
The Malibu Foundation is currently accepting grant applications to fund programs and organizations that provide recovery and wellness services through May 31, 2020.
For more information, visit TheMalibuFoundation.org.