Like so much else in the world these days, Dale Peterson’s journey began with a couple cups of coffee. But those caffeine shots were not meant to get Peterson through his day.
They were meant to get a few strangers through their own.
“I had struggled most of my life,” said Peterson, who has lived in Nevada County since 1971. “I was in a convenience store and saw these guys who had to go out to work in the middle of wintertime in the sludge and the snow.
“They were scrounging for pennies to get their coffee, and I just felt like I’d been there before. It was that small little deal that kind of got me started.”
Peterson bought those workers their coffee and has stayed in the giving spirit since, donating money each year to charities, such as Hospitality House and local breast cancer organizations, and spending his time teaching music enrichment courses at local elementary schools, such as the former Pleasant Ridge.
When the holiday season rolled around in 2012, he got the idea to organize a benefit in which the community could participate, which led to Nevada County Christmas, a concert to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County that takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Center for the Arts.
Dena Valin, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County, was cautious when first approached by Peterson for fear of getting over-committed to something that might not pan out.
“People come in with great ideas for events they want to do, then don’t follow through,” said Valin. “But he’s delivered on everything he said he would do, so it’s just been a pleasant surprise and really good timing.”
The end of the year can be a difficult time for nonprofits, said Valin, as it represents the time when organizations tally up their books and see what goals have been met and those that have not.
“To have something like this unexpectedly come along,” she said, “there couldn’t really be a better time.”
Some of the organization’s “littles” will take the stage Sunday, having been mentored in the art of steel drums by Peterson, to perform holiday songs for the audience.
The concept of having older musicians working with children and teenagers on their music is what led Peterson to thinking Big Brothers Big Sisters might be the right beneficiary for the show.
“I really wanted to have something where the more experienced acts could mentor the kids in the area,” he said. “And I wanted to do something to benefit kids. So I started thinking about this mentoring relationship, and that’s basically what Big Brothers Big Sisters does.”
The road to benefactor and concert organizer has not been a direct one for Peterson, who said he has been on the other side of the coin and, even now, is far from wealthy.
He was a carpenter for years before a recession hit in the 1990s, and he decided to go back to school.
After graduating in 1999 with a degree in environmental engineering from Humboldt State University, he worked for Caltrans as an engineer before retiring last year.
“I worked for them for about 13 years,” he said.
“When I retired, it gave me more time to do things like (organizing this concert).”
Valin said while she is uncertain what to expect from the event, she is grateful to Peterson for taking it upon himself to
pull everything together and for involving Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“It’s just great to be affiliated with something that is family friendly and for the kids,” she said. “He’s really going above and beyond.”
To Peterson, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
“People have helped me through my whole life. I thought it was time to give back,” he said
“I think our society needs people who are doing better to help out those who are not doing as well. It shows appreciation for what you’ve got.”
To contact Staff Writer Anthony Barstow, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4231.