By luck, a friend told me about a new store that opened up (not that kind of store) in our Montecito Country Mart. It is for people who have lost everything in the fire, flood, and mudslides. They come from; Ojai, Ventura, Santa Paula, and Montecito. These people who have lost everything; memories, clothes, shoes, pajamas, come to the Recovery Free Store, conceived by an amazing woman named Berna Keiler. They come and they not only get clothes for the entire family but warm soup, cookies, music, loving volunteers (Berna’s girls) and a sympathetic ear. Berna has that look in her eye that she can accomplish everything, BTW, she is right. She can.
Berna, was born in St Louis, Missouri, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and went to the University of Portland. Growing up she was always thinking up ideas of how to work and make money. She and her brother collected wild flowers and made bouquets and sold them. Then they created a talent show for the neighborhood and sold tickets, even charging their parents. Her father, an entrepreneur and mother, an artist, were always very supportive of Berna and made her think she could do anything. She worked all through college in fashion boutiques and was always drawn to merchandising. Her first husband, Soren Kieler, was her mentor and they are still great friends today. She eventually discovered Montecito and said to herself, “Someday, I’m going to live there.” She was right. She has been a long time resident of Montecito, now, and loves her community. This is someone who puts her money where her mouth is, but more about that later.
Berna has always loved business and is an astute business woman. She was and still is Executive V.P. of Chainson Footwear and owner of Berna Kieler Assoc. Consulting. If you put her love of the community together with her business acumen you come up with the Recovery Free Store which Berna conceived, created and followed all the way through.
Once the fire, rain, and mudslides were through. Berna thought to herself, these people are going to need clothes. She was right. She started giving her neighbors and friends clothes away out of her house. That worked for a while until it got so big, she knew she needed a space.
She approached James Rosenfield, the owner of Montecito Country Mart, an unheard-of idea and guess what? He gave her a perfect space in his mart for a month. It is the warmest, homiest, place you can ever imagine. Montecitans, and Santa Barbarians have come by the droves to volunteer. They bring their clothes, they sort through everything to men’s, women’s, children’s, blouses, shirts, shorts, suits, socks. Whatever one might need. You name it, it’s there. It is all arranged beautifully by Berna’s girls and it looks like any high-end store one might enter into.
Don’t expect Berna to stop there. She has many plans in her head as to how to help more. She would like another little space for small household items; like blenders, toasters, etc. She wants to work with all the recovery stations available in Montecito and keep going from there. I have a feeling she has just gotten started!
She is happily married to Davis Debin and has a multitude of children and grandchildren. She has a son 42, with two children, a daughter, 47, who has 3 children, a step-son, Mark, 48, and a daughter of her heart, Jessie Chen,48, who has 3 children and a young woman who she sponsored through her schooling, who now lives in Australia. She would like more! Her heart has a huge capacity!! That’s what we love about Berna!
Anne Frank said, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
And she was right! Out of the ashes (literally), came goodness and Berna Kieler is spearheading a great deal of it! Berna is 70 and proud of it, rightfully so. Imagine all the good she can create in years to come!
Recovery Project's Website: recoveryprojectsb.com