Monthly Cultural Corner - January 2023

January 6, 2023

Cultural Spotlight: Naomi Novak

Naomi Novak

Hello, My name is Naomi Novak. I am the Senior Director for Intensive Mental Health. I work out of all three of our locations although my home office is in Lancaster. I have been at Penny Lane for almost 19 years.

This concept of what culture I identify with is an interesting question for me. I identify with the culture of my family of origin, the unique culture that my husband and I created within our home and community, and even my Penny Lane work culture. Upon reflection and exploration, it has become apparent to me that so many of the values, beliefs and traditions that are a part of my life today come from the cultural foundation that I was born into. My parents met and married on a hippie commune in Michigan that they called “the farm.” They felt called to give away all their belonging and travel with the goal of spreading love. They ended up traveling from Michigan to California on an old school bus with the name “Starship Moses” painted on the side.

They picked up every hitchhiker along the way and always stopped when they saw somebody in need. They arrived in California for what they thought was a temporary visit but found out they were pregnant with me, so they decided to settle here. They rented a large piece of land in the high desert mountains that was completely off the grid. The property did not originally even have a house. They originally lived in a Native American teepee, which was sewn by my mother, and the school bus until they were able to build the house which was mostly made of adobe clay. There were others from the original communal farm in Michigan who moved to California and lived on that property. This “village” that I grew up with were my family and continue to be a part of my extended family today. The culture in which I was raised was very much about family, loyalty, honesty, hard work, service, hope and unconditional love.

I grew up off the grid without electricity, running water, or a telephone. It was a struggle, but it was also such an amazing way to grow up and develop. We had to be resourceful, creative, and resilient. There was always this culture of service within our family.  My parents always had an open-door policy and would do anything they could to be of assistance in the best ways that they knew how (even with very limited resources). We never passed somebody on the side of the road without stopping to make sure they were okay. We would share what little we had if somebody else needed it. I found out that this culture of service and truly “communing” with others has been passed down through generations likely leading back to my Native American heritage and traditions. I don’t necessarily have any specific foods, music or traditions that I can link directly back to my Native American heritage other than the sort of communal/service component and possibly storytelling.  Our family is very big on storytelling and passing down our histories through those stories. My great grandmother was one of the last full Potawatomi Princesses according to my father.

The community in which my family chose to settle was a small conservative town with very conservative beliefs. They did not understand or welcome the “long haired pot-smoking hippies” that lived in what they called a “compound” on the hill. I remember as a small child the looks that we would get and how we were treated when we would “come to town” for groceries. I remember being asked to leave places in the community because of how we looked and dressed. We were often targeted by the local law enforcement in very aggressive ways for their assumptions and prejudices about my family. I went to school in this community and learned very quickly to keep a low profile and to blend in to avoid being noticed to avoid targeting. This really influenced my view of the world and my determination to be an agent of change. I am so grateful to be a part of an organization that celebrates diversity and inclusion because I know what it feels like to be excluded. I am so proud to have such a diverse team of people that I get to work with and learn from every day. I feel that our team is so successful and strong because of the diversity that we embrace.

When I first started working at Penny Lane it was the first time that I found a place in which the agency mission and leadership truly lined up with my own culture and beliefs. I remember the first time that I heard about the Penny Lane founder and her own hippie vibe when she started this agency. It’s no wonder that I truly felt a sense of coming home when I started working in the Wraparound program all those years ago. I also think that the nature of the team based Intensive Service approach fully aligns with my culture and experiences. I have truly lived the experience of being a part of a village so I know how critical that support can be for children and families to be successful. I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today had I not had a village supporting me.

-Naomi Novak, Penny Lane Centers

Check out some photos of my family, my village, and more below!