Board representatives, staff, volunteers and community members gathered at Mt. Hood Winery in Pine Grove on May 17 for The Next Door, Inc.’s annual Stories of Hope.
The event focuses on three of The Next Door’s 25 programs. This year, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Oregon Trail Transitional House and Youth Connection were featured, with guest speakers describing how they became involved in each of the programs and how their lives have changed — for the better — because of it.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Executive Director Janet Hamada. “It inspires me. It’s called ‘Stories of Hope’ for a reason.”
Emcee was Jackie Joyner, director of development, who came on board about six weeks ago.
The first presentation was by Big Brothers Big Sisters team Paul and Carl, who were matched when Paul was 13. Paul grew up in a family without a father, and his mother enrolled him in the program to give him a male role model.
“No matter how old I get, he’ll always be my big brother,” said Paul, 26, describing how, even though he aged out of the program at age 18, he and Carl have remained close. “… He taught me how to have an open mind, and we had conversations all the time.
“I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school, and having Carl there at graduation was a nice moment,” Paul continued. “Carl was there at all my sports events. He benefited me in my life as a good, steady role model. I want to thank Big Brothers Big Sisters for giving me the opportunity to have Carl in my life.”
Carl said he started volunteering in the early 1980s as a way to give back to the community.
“Paul didn’t say much the first time we met,” he said, “but his reluctance was short lived. We have awesome conversations … Graduation was a proud moment because I knew what it meant to him.”
The two continue to have regular contact, he said.
“Paul needed someone in his life, and I’m grateful to be his match,” he said. “No matter how old he gets, he’ll always be my little brother.”
Elizur Bello, director of programs and community health worker, read a story prepared by a young man who lives in Oregon Trail Transitional Housing, a transitional home for youth ages 17-22.
“I feel privileged to use my voice to convey (his) story,” said Bello before reading the student’s narrative of becoming the family’s caretaker after his father left home, how he would play middle school sports but could only attend home games due to lack of transportation, and how he never felt a connection to any of his foster families no matter how well they treated him.
Now a senior, the student is on track to graduate and has high hopes for his future.
“I have a strong support system,” he said. “I should be another statistic, but I’m not. I’m thankful for Next Door, Inc.”
Another student spoke about her involvement with Youth Connections and how she’s waited all her life to feel proud — and that she’s thankful for the role that her mentor Lucy has played in her life.
“Lucy with Youth Connections reached out to talk,” she said, “and was worried about me. She was there to listen, not to be a therapist or counselor, and I would look forward to our visits …
“I really like the person I am now,” she concluded.
Dillon Borton, branch manager at Key Bank, Hood River, ended the evening’s stories with one of his own: How he and Key Bank have become a financial backer of the non-profit.
“It’s a good organization that does nothing but good,” Borton said. “But without you, it won’t continue …
“Thank you, Janet and the entire team, for the work that you do day in and day out. Thank you. We love you and we not only thank you — we support you.”
Donations to the Next Door can be sent monthly or as a one-time gift; all donations are tax deductible. For more information, visit the office at 965 Tucker Road, or call the Hood River office at 541-386-6665.
For information on the Next Door’s 25 programs, visit nextdoorinc.org.