As some of our local government offices undergo transitions, perhaps a look back in time to various successful community projects would be prudent.
What comes to mind for me was an initiative launched in 2007 called LEAP ( Listen Envision and Act to Empower All People), which had the goal of strengthening our rural areas.
At that time, Odell/Parkdale had been identified as being in the top 12 lowest income regions in the state. We convened vibrant and engaged focus groups which brainstormed community challenges and solutions over plates of steaming tamales.
These discussions yielded ideas such as an after school youth center, a downtown Odell outdoor plaza, a bilingual preschool, a place for indoor soccer, healthcare outreach, beautification projects and affordable housing.
Many of the ideas have come to fruition, some have yet to be born. One dream that was realized was St. Francis House Youth Center in Odell which served hundreds of area youth and adults with homework help, youth mentorship, service opportunities, educational and science trips, visiting artists and musicians, leadership training, recreational field trips, Zumba classes and more.
It’s impossible to list all of the community partners which made this program so vibrant, but there was significant public and non-profit involvement and an abundance of private donors. It’s important to keep in mind the power of this philanthropy in impacting the quality of life for everyone in our community.
After a 10 year run, St. Francis House closed last year due to the school needing the space. However, the vision lived on last month, when five or six youth who grew up participating in St. Francis House and are now young adults, singlehandedly organized Odell’s first tree lighting ceremony, partnering with the fire department and many others with great success and leadership!
Now it’s time for our community to “think big” again, even in these times of County budgetary concerns. Some identified attributes of successful rural communities include evidence of strong community pride and inclusivity, ability to invest in the future, participatory approach to community decision making
(Kudos to county officials for doing just that recently by seeking diverse input with the budgetary process), creatively building new economic opportunities, supporting local businesses, strong belief in and support for education, stewardship of the natural environment, self-reliance and strong presence of institutions integral to community life.
There is an abundance of talent in our region to realize these goals, especially important for the mid and upper valley areas which tend to have less access to resources.
The income gap in our area is growing alarmingly. Our local population ranges from one end of the spectrum of people who start their day wondering if they should mountain bike or sail first to others who are working 18 hours a day at two or three jobs just to put food on the table.
I have friends who I love and respect on both ends of that continuum and we frequently reflect that we can only cause a “rising tide to lift all boats” (meaning healthy community projects benefit ALL residents) by proactively thinking outside the box to create beneficial projects with lasting impact.
There is an abundance of creative opportunities to pursue. Recently, my daughter arranged a tour of Bridge Meadows in Portland (www.bridgemeadows.org), which solves three social challenges at once: Aging seniors live in a small assisted living facility next to small homes of families raising foster children, all for reduced housing costs.
Our guide was a 92-year-old firecracker who shared with us that, while the seniors have to do 40 hours of service a month to help the kids, she usually doubles that! So, in their wisdom, this group positively impacts elderly isolation, support for foster families and housing affordability.
This program is expanding all over the state and simply needs community leaders and a local site to get the ball rolling (in other regions of the state, some of the most common sites are church congregations who want to make meaningful mission driven contributions to the wider community.)
It is incumbent upon us to implement projects which enrich our communities in a meaningful way.
I challenge our elected officials (newly and otherwise) and our community leaders to continue what we are so good at doing in our region: thinking outside the box for the benefit of all our residents.
As we ponder these options, in the simple words of our St. Francis House motto, “May we all create a place where it is easier to be good.”
Rebecca Rawson, FNP, has been employed at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital for 30 years.