by Janine Pettit
12 Aug 2016
When Natalie Campanella left the cold corridors of NYC life for sunny southern California in her early twenties, she knew that she wanted to live in a place in which she could “be outdoors” year round. In her mind she harbored the idea that someday, somehow, she would be in a place where she could explore the west coast from San Diego to Canada and beyond. She imagined the sweet life songwriters and poets wax about when extolling the virtues of southern California, a place where it never rains and the days are longer and the nights are stronger than moonshine, a place where dreamers go to live.
Natalie grew up in the Midwest in a camping family, the youngest of seven siblings. She took into adulthood vivid childhood memories of the rocky Canadian beaches of Newfoundland and of spelunking in the cold, dark caves of Kentucky with her six siblings and five cousins who joined her family each year on their camping pilgrimages. Long car rides in the family station wagon before seat belts and air conditioning. Rolling through the miles with the windows down and kids sprawled all over each other. Eight track cassettes with the Beatles Greatest Hits. Coleman lanterns and the parental warning to not touch it when lit! Mosquito bites dotted with calamine lotion and with an “x” dug into them with a fingernail. That and moms sympathy being the standard remedy of the day. Shorts and tees by day, and jeans and hoodies by night. Campfires, sing-a-longs, toasted marshmallows and lightning bugs in jars. Natalie stored all these memories and hoped to one day add to them.
Natalie (the middle hooded child!) with her siblings on a family camping trip in Fish Creek, Wisconsin
Post-college life has a way of getting really busy, really fast and Natalie’s life was no exception. Natalie’s move to the West Coast took her to Santa Monica where she continued pursuing the performing arts while working in the legal department of a large corporate real estate agency. In New York she had been a regular performer at the 1980s famed punk rock and improv venue, CBGB’s, in the East Village. Her free time on the west coast was spent at an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico where she helped the founders raise not only money, but also the spirits of the 100 children who lived there. She was free to “be outside” all the time and ran the LA marathon with her Tijuana “kids” in mind. She raised enough money through sponsorships to contribute to the purchase of a used school bus to take the kids on outings off the orphanage grounds. She knew that exposure to nature has healing effects. She went to her bosses so often with charity projects and fundraising ideas that they eventually made her the manager of the nonprofit within the company. For the next 10 years, she raised funds through the company real estate offices and provided services and assistance to countless individuals and groups until the corporate office changed its structure in 2015 and the job was eliminated. For the first time since graduating from college, she was unemployed.