If friends or relatives unfamiliar with our communities came to visit, let’s say for a wedding or some other benchmark event, what would you want them to see? Who would you want them to meet? What experience would you want them to have?
What we want to share first with others is often that which means the most to ourselves. If you are an altruistic person, it may be what you believe will mean the most to them. Regardless of the framework, we are truly blessed in the Gorge to have a myriad of people, places and experiences to share that are incomparable.
For myself the answer is always these three: family, home and farm. They define me, far more than my education or my work or my hobbies. They are an intrinsic part of my life from which I cannot be separated. So visitors are forced to meet my kids and grandkids, perhaps have a cup of coffee and fresh-baked cookie on the deck overlooking this spectacular valley.
We are blessed with some of the most amazing mountain and valley vistas, from Panorama Point to Surveyors Ridge, the east hills from Gilhouley or the Gorge from Post Canyon pull offs. Hard to beat the sunrise or sunset painting a blush on the cheeks of Mount Hood across the deep blue of Lost Lake, or Mount Adams from the top of cantaloupe hill. Even the west hills are majestic when viewed from anyone of a cornucopia of curves on The Old Dalles Road.
Waterfront views of the Columbia River are punctuated by the technicolor explosion of sails floating above kite boarders and windsurfers.
Forests, fruit orchards and vineyards pepper the hills with their own colors, aromas and tastes. Because we feast with more than our eyes, I love to tell visitors to inhale the smell of decomposing vegetation on the forest floor or the rich aroma of newly sawn timbers and kiln dried 2-by-4s at Mt. Hood Forest Products.
While I have yet to acquire a taste for the aroma of hops brewing, the breweries, wineries, cider houses and distillery are as flavorably famous as the many varieties of pears, cherries, apples, strawberries, huckleberries and blueberries. Add to that the heady aroma of lavender fields, mushrooms, chestnuts, roasting coffee beans and newly mown hay fields and your olfactory glands are working overtime.
Of course there are some world-class restaurants to share along with luscious bakeries, fruit stands and vegetable markets. The art, theater and music scene is awash with some incredible talent that caters to our entertainment needs. And opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless with roads and trails to hike and bike, rivers to swim or sail and mountains to climb, ski or snowboard upon.
But bottom-line for me are the people that make our communities so satisfying.
We are blessed with people who care, about their children, their families, and their communities. They serve others in the workplace, in service clubs, sororities, churches, schools and homes in a manner that exemplifies the meaning of service.
We will celebrate some of these volunteers and organizations on Friday evening at the Commission on Children and Families’ “almost-annual” event Got Outcomes. It is impossible to name them all, but a healthy sample includes Gale Arnold, Susan Gabay, Patrick and Becky Rawson, Maria Elena Castro, Becky and Chuck Bugge, Debby Chenoweth, Andy Wendle, Linda Presley, Dennis McCauley, Karen Peck, Chuck Daughtry, Karen Joplin and Claudia Montano.
We are health-heavy this year as our communities chart their own course on the road to health reform engages health care professionals like Kristen Dillon, Rich Martin, Michele Beaman, Ellen Larsen and Lynne Frost. Others like Elizabeth Stillwell are dedicated to training parents in car seat safety. Mentoring programs abound under folks like Kristin Reese, Bonnie New, Allyson Pate and Pam and Michael Hughes. There are volunteers who help our young students feel cared for like Robert Eldred and Hair Because We Care and Christine Keith and Prom Dress for Success.
Others serve through clubs like the Rotarians, Lions, Lioness, Soroptimist, Elks, Eagles, Masons, etc. Our churches provide spiritual support, and serve those in need by providing food shelter and clothing. Collectively they have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to our children’s educational needs and helped fund major projects including the hospital, senior center, aquatic center, dialysis center, community centers, youth centers, library services, community parks, skate parks, children’s parks, and ball fields of every sort across the county.
In addition, they have supported emergency equipment from Jaws of Life to defibrillators and snow cats.
Serving others is a community norm. AmeriCorps and Jesuit Corps come to serve and learn from the community around them. Our youth are brought up in a culture of service, providing their energy and talent to many community projects and building resiliency in themselves and their families.
Cooperatively these efforts have helped us achieve some admirable outcomes. We are the third-healthiest county in Oregon. We have the lowest suicide and child abuse and neglect rates in the state and one of the highest graduation rates of Hispanic/Latinos. Our juvenile and adult crime rates are in the lowest third of the counties statewide and our youth have some of the lowest tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use rates in the state. It is not utopia, but pretty darn close.