Gareth Williams

Gareth Williams – United Way of Ventura County rental assistance

For the last four months, almost all of Gareth Williams’ meals came from just a crockpot and toaster oven.

Since early December, he had been living out of his workplace’s conference room after being forced out of his Ojai home the night the Thomas Fire ignited.

The following day, Williams received a call at 7 a.m. and learned that his house had burned to the ground. Without a chance to salvage any possessions he owned, Williams was left with nothing but his two dogs that had been rescued by a neighbor.

“When you’re faced with instances that flip your entire world upside down, sometimes you have to look for ways to turn lemons into lemonade,” Williams said. “Even though I had lost everything, I had to stop and realize that I was far better off than most people. I had a place to go.”

Although he was grateful for his temporary housing solution, Williams grew tired of being confined to the conference room. Williams began looking for financial assistance opportunities and came across the United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund while scrolling through social media. United Way of Ventura County helped restore some of Williams’ hope by granting him two months of rental assistance.

“I was delighted when United Way was willing to help out with rental assistance,” he said. “The donation made to me is invaluable, and United Way has been able to provide cash at a time when survivors like me really need it.”

On the weekend of April 21, Williams was finally able to move out of the small conference room and into a rental home in Ojai that stood just 50 feet from his previous one. Though the view of his destroyed home is a constant reminder of the challenges he’s faced, Williams has been able to move forward one day at a time.

In fact, these difficult months have propelled Williams to help others impacted by the fire. He operates Fly-Hope-Dream, a nonprofit based in Santa Paula that provides free airplane rides to families grieving the death of a child, and families with children experiencing life-threatening medical conditions. More recently, he’s begun flying Thomas Fire victims.

The death of Williams’ 11-year-old son Timmy from a terminal heart and lung disease inspired the birth of the flying venture. Williams’ personal experience with bereavement and the Thomas Fire makes him the perfect flying companion to help families soar.

“Flying more than 1,000 feet in the air provides freedom from any other distractions,” he said. “In that half an hour, the world stands still. As we fly and leave the ground, whatever we leave gets smaller and smaller, much like the grieving process.”

For more information about Fly-Hope-Dream, visit

Burned Home

Aerial view

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