In a recurring series of sit-down interviews, Lewis, an accomplished writer, coach and podcast host, chats with local leaders and business owners.
By: Danna Lewis
On a crisp Mill Valley morning, I had the opportunity to sit down with Amy Torrano, the new General Manager at the Homestead Valley Community Association for coffee and a chat at The Depot.
Danna: It’s so nice to get to sit and talk with you. And, since our story centers around life in Marin, how did you end up here?
Amy: I was born in San Francisco, my family moved here in the 70’s and I grew up in Kentfield. I am five generations Marin. After going away to college, I came back after graduating to my first job at the Pacific Sun newspaper – where Sweetwater is now. I always wanted to be a teacher, I have learning disabilities, Dyslexia, and wanted to be able to help and teach others. I left Pacific Sun to do student teaching at Old Mill School and also worked at O’Leary’s Pub which is where Vasco’s was located. I then taught for 25 years, middle and elementary school as well as being a school administrator. I’ve lived in Mill Valley since 2005, so 17 years. First in Tam Valley and now Sycamore Park. My oldest child, Marissa, is 21 and my youngest is 17. Dante is a senior at Tam High. My kids have gone through the Mill Valley school system. I have to give a shoutout to my daughter who currently lives in the city making music in three bands! She’s the lead singer and plays the drums.
Danna: Love that. Okay, jumping to your role at the Homestead Valley Community Association, how did that come about?
Amy: I took the last school year off and was looking for a career change, hopefully utilizing my Masters in Public Administration in some way. In May, I was helping my son Dante to look for a camp counselor position and saw the General Manager role posted. I wasn’t actively looking but stumbled upon it. So, on a Tuesday night, I applied for the role and on Wednesday morning the Board President, Ashley McDonald, emailed me and by that afternoon we were having a phone conversation. Two days later on Friday I had an in-person interview with several Board members. The following week I was offered the position!
Danna: Congratulations! I wish for that kind of ease and flow for everyone. What is the Association?
Amy: The Homestead Valley Community Association encompasses the Center, the grounds and meadow, the pool, and the great room facility. A lot of people don’t know this, but it’s not just for Homestead Valley residents, but for the entire Mill Valley community. Anyone can go to the pool, we have day passes and are open through October. The pool area has been recently renovated including all new changing rooms and showers. The meadow is where the Homestead Valley Music Festival happens. We also have a camp called Camp Funderblast. There’s so much here for the community at large.
Danna: What vision do/did you have for the Association that sparked the Board?
Amy: One of the things I’m really excited about in this role is to open opportunities for the community including for connection and engagement. We have a dog group every afternoon in the meadow, In Harmony Music for babies (baby parent music classes), a Retired Men’s Coffee Group that meets weekly to give them a consistent indoor space, Bicycle Maintenance Class, two back to back Math Clubs for elementary kids, a Paint & Sip, and talks of a game night. The Great Race- scavenger hunt through Mill Valley is another event we’ll be doing as well as art installations starting in October of local Mill Valley artists. And further down, a few months away is Teddy Bear Tea at Christmastime, similar to what they have at the Ritz Carlton for little kids and their stuffed animals, accompanied by an adult.
Danna: Let’s talk about the big P – how did the pandemic affect the Association?
Amy: The Executive Director/GM retired mid-pandemic, after many years of service, leaving a hole in the community and the Center. Everything ceased. The Board took over but were unable to find a replacement or keep consistent events – they were limited in resources and because of Covid restrictions. It remained that way until I was hired. I’ve been there since the beginning of June, re-implementing and getting things moving forward again.
Danna: What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Amy: Getting the pool opened and hiring lifeguards. There is currently a lifeguard shortage and some are college kids who have returned to school. Permits and getting things finished have been challenging and have taken longer than expected. The pool was originally supposed to be completed in February and then we had several delays until finally opening in August.
Danna: What’s surprised you (so far) about the role?
Amy: Looking back and Knowing that this chapter in my life was meant to be. The broad age range of who I now get to work with (versus being a teacher to only little kids) and collaborate with is so vast. It’s so important to bring people together and give them the space for connection and community.
Danna: What delights you about your customers?
Amy: What’s pleasantly come to be is how uplifting it is for people to come by on a daily basis and meet me. The former GM, and now me, have a dog cookie jar inside my office so we also get dog visitors everyday as well. During the pandemic it just became so apparent how isolated
Danna: What would you like your customers to know that maybe they haven’t tapped into yet?
Amy: We are celebrating National Taco Day October 4th from 5-7, with a taco truck and music in the meadow.
Danna: What does community and small town business mean to you?
Amy: For me it’s so easy to go to Amazon for something, maybe easy for all of us to go to the big stores – and not stay aware of the unique qualities of the businesses in Mill Valley. They each have their own signature, it draws me in. The personal greeting is everything to me. The personal attention and knowing the owners and people that work at these businesses is special. I love that about Mill Valley, I feel welcomed and known. It’s about comfort and feeling supported.
Danna: What are three things about your personal life that bring you joy and or inspire you that customers/community may not know?
Amy: 1. My family and my dog Ruby. 2. I write and am writing a book, historical fiction. 3. I am five generations in Marin County. My great-great-great grandfather was the first mayor of San Rafael (Maximillian Herzog).
Danna: Is there a business within MV that you’d like to give a shout out to for a great experience you’ve had?
Amy: Bungalow 44. They’ve done so much during the pandemic to welcome people and create a great space for everyone to continue dining and spending time together. And Mill Valley Bakery. Karen Fong is amazing and it’s so good to see the bakery open after struggling through the pandemic being unable to open and it’s a miracle that she’s now open.
Danna: Thank you Amy Torrano, it was great to get to know you and learn about The Homestead Valley Community Association. We are looking forward to all of the fun events coming up!