By Renee Brincks
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the 1440 Multiversity campus, the Cathedral amphitheater welcomes guests in a peaceful creek-side setting shrouded by redwoods. One tree stands out in this towering, old-growth forest. The Mother Tree has been thriving here for nearly 1,200 years, serving as a beacon of resilience and strength in an unpredictable world.
Redwood trees grow close together in clusters. Over time, the roots of each tree intertwine with the roots of neighboring redwoods. Together, the trees in these groves stabilize and support each other, sharing nutrients and standing strong against gusty winds or high waters.
For 1440 Landscaping Technician Sergio Canchola, the interconnectedness of the Mother Tree and the surrounding redwoods reflects the relationships of his 1440 campus family.
"The roots of the redwoods support each other. One tree helps another, and that's what I see happening with the people here," Canchola says. "We have good managers. They are like a good base. They teach us good habits, which make our roots stronger, and that helps each of us be stronger together. We have a very good team here. It makes me very happy."
Canchola joined the 1440 team about five years ago, after owning an independent landscaping business for 25 years. He worked with residential and commercial clients in the Santa Cruz area, nurturing an interest in plants that took root during his childhood in Mexico. His father was a farmer, and Canchola enjoyed helping the family care for corn, tomatoes, lettuce, lemons, avocados and other crops.
"People know I have a green thumb. I love to grow things," he says.
Canchola's own business grew steadily over the years, despite personal challenges. He is a three-time cancer survivor who received his first cancer diagnosis 20 years ago. A decade after that, he faced surgery for colon cancer. Five years ago, Canchola went through another round of cancer treatments. Bouncing back from the most recent diagnosis was difficult, personally and professionally.
"I lost many clients at that time, and I was feeling very depressed," he says.
Eager to return to the kind of work he loved, Canchola started looking for landscaping jobs. He applied for an opening at 1440, and immediately saw opportunities to improve soil conditions, refine irrigation systems and enhance the natural beauty of the 75-acre campus in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"I was motivated to get back to my work and activities," he says. "I love tending the plants here. It brings me a lot of satisfaction to make the 1440 campus more beautiful."
Canchola enjoys the variety of his workdays, which typically start around 6 a.m. He spends 20 to 30 minutes surveying the grounds, looking for any maintenance issues that need immediate attention. As part of a general safety sweep, he might replace outdoor light bulbs or clear leaves from sidewalks and building entrances. From there, he gets busy replacing plants, putting down mulch, trimming trees, or taking steps to control natural erosion along Carbonera Creek, which flows through campus.
Canchola also monitors nearly five miles of trails that lace along the hills and forests of the 1440 grounds. In addition to maintaining wooden steps and railings along those walking paths, he removes debris and cares for native plants set along the trails. Watching the long-term growth of the shrubs and flowers he has planted is one of the highlights of his work.
"We always have lots of things to do. But, little by little, we continue to fix things and make this campus even more beautiful. We are making the landscape look like a park," Canchola says.
He sees great beauty in the California bay laurels, madrones (also known as strawberry trees), and other trees that surround him as he works. But, over the past five years, Canchola has developed a special affinity for redwoods.
"Before, I was working near the ocean, which has different fauna and plants and is a more open landscape. Now, the redwoods are my favorite. They're so beautiful, and they stay green, always. I like their resilience," he says.
Like the redwoods that inspire him, Canchola supports the people who surround him, too. As a child, he picked up the basics of sign language to communicate with friends who were deaf. Later in life, he expanded his understanding by studying American Sign Language (ASL).
"I started 10 years ago, focusing on the grammar and the correct ways to sign and teach. I learned from friends, books, movies and classes. I also learned from a friend who has a license as an interpreter," Canchola says.
Together with his wife and two children, who are also proficient in ASL, Canchola enjoys volunteering in the local deaf community. The family has impacted the lives of individuals as far north as San Francisco and Oakland, and as far south as Soledad and Greenfield, in southern Monterey County.
"Some friends of mine moved from Mexico to California, and they have a deaf child. I taught the child and the family to read American Sign Language. I also volunteer to teach other parents who have deaf kids, and I'm teaching free classes to people here and in other cities. It's a group of friends that gets bigger and bigger," Canchola says.
Working at 1440 has expanded Canchola's friendship circle, as well. He's gotten to know his coworkers on a personal level, thanks to bonds built during the monthly Family Meal. Team members from across campus dine together, share stories, and answer a question of the day that sparks conversations about a variety of topics. Canchola also appreciates the weekly meetings that bring teams together to review projects, exchange ideas and resolve challenges. And, he values the ongoing kindness and support of his managers and 1440's co-creators, Joanie and Scott Kriens.
"Scott and Joanie, when they see me, they call me by my name. It feels very good. I'm part of the team. They look at us like friends," he says. "This place is very peaceful, and it motivates me. It feels like there is safety. People are mindful. They are very humble. They always think about service."
Canchola believes that team camaraderie and connections with the natural world make his work at 1440 more engaging than past roles, where the paycheck was the main reward.
"The rewards for me are the 1440 team and working in a pretty place," he says. "Sometimes, people will see my 1440 shirt when I'm at the store, and they'll ask if I work there. I tell them that I work in landscaping there, and they'll say, ‘Wow…That is such a beautiful place.' It's not just me that makes it beautiful. It's everybody. But I am a part of that team, and it makes me very proud."