In the garden at Elk Meadow
It was a cold week. This is not a surprise—it is Bend, Oregon and it is fall. We stood outside in the school garden while Cindy, the president of the school PTO, explained the project. She and second grade teacher Wes Pyne are leaders of the garden project. Each class gets a bed to work with so they can learn about growing food. The classes have also planted beds for pollinator plants. Cindy explained there were very few pollinators around before they put the garden in. Now bees and hummingbirds are visitors. As we stood there, Purple Mums and Black-eyed Susans hung in there with us in the cold, and Joaquin pointed out tomatillos in one of the class beds. Joaquin has been the driver of community engagement programs, like the clothing drive, in Union City (where we make Red Vines®) and has been a key person in Union City’s work to achieve their phenomenal recycling rate over the years.
Karen, Josh, Brenda, Larry, Jose G, Analia, Enrique, Joaquin, Jose C.
We helped Elk Meadow elementary add a reading garden, an area where kids can sit and read, write, or be in class while being outside. Elk Meadow integrates the garden into each subject at the school. While we worked, classes of children came out to the garden and looked for bugs or journaled. One kid struggled with creative inspiration for journaling, but Cindy coached him until he became enamored with an idea of writing about plants talking to each other about what was going on in the garden.
I hear a lot about how children spend less and less time outdoors. We learned about how important getting outside is last year from the National Wildlife Federation–how spending time outdoors improves attention span, improves math and science scores, and also creates connection with nature—a connection we’ll all need so that we can preserve this home that is our planet.
Jose C, Jose G, Enrique, Jackie, and worms
Joaquin, Jose G., Jose C., Enrique, and Analia from our Union City, California plant came out to Bend to do service work in the community for the week and visit our corporate office. Karen, Larry, Josh, and Brenda joined us from our LaPorte, Indiana plant. The theme of our annual service trip is getting children back outdoors, so we look for projects to help organizations in that efforts. The team stayed in beautiful Lavabelles vacation rentals in the old part of Bend.
Elk Meadow is an arts focus school
It is Enrique’s first time away from his family. He keeps connected with them on the phone. He is reading about Einstein at the suggestion of this daughter and shares tidbits with me from time to time, for example, that Einstein did not speak for the first time until he was four years of age.
“The world could be better if everyone of us, give a hand to each other. Thank you so much.” Enrique
Fortunately, we were able to do some of the work indoors. We put together six benches. Second graders stopped by and helped us. A couple little girls danced on an empty box. Larry and Josh built a shed for the garden while the rest of the group went outside and began to dig out foundations for the patios. Larry was one of our key advisors as we all worked on assembling benches. As some of the groups tried to decipher the directions, we’d call Larry in, and he would get us on the right track. Josh usually participates in service work through his church but was not able to this year, and which is why he applied for this trip. Josh works especially well with the kids, who surrounded him as he patiently taught them how to put together a bench from Costco.
Analia in the garden
Lunch with the kids: One young man wanted to be our guide and sat with us during lunch one day. School lunches have improved tremendously since I was a kid. Each child needs to pick out a fruit and a vegetable, and there are several choices of entrees to choose from for lunch. When I was a kid in Chicago, I used to use my school lunch money at McDonald’s sometimes, because I was not a big fan of square-shaped perch and “fluff”. At Elk Meadow, I chose hummus one day and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the next day.
Amy from Bend helps out
After lunch, we were treated to a presentation from Jackie from the Environmental Center on worm composting. Jackie brought in worms for the class to check out and explained how worms create compost–the food scraps and paper go in one end and compost comes out the other end. While on the subject of sustainability, I have to mention that Karen’s home, in Indiana, is completely powered by alternative energy. She and her husband power their home with a combination of geothermal (for heat) and wind (for electricity) energy. She says the investment has already paid off, and they pay very little for energy. I ask Karen if I can interview her about her unique story–look for that story in the blog in the future.
The best part of the trip? “Volunteering at a school/community that sincerely appreciated our help. I enjoyed the interaction with the kids and teachers. Also, knowing the benches and toolshed will be used in years to come.” Karen Browning
Joaquin at Smith Rock
One day ended with a picnic at Smith Rock. I’d ordered in a wonderful catered lunch from Tate and Tate. It was very generous but hardly touched, as we were too cold to eat. Larry and Josh went exploring way up on Misery Ridge while some of the others stayed warm in the car. On another night, we all went to dinner (indoors) with Julie and Chandra joining us from the Bend office. Jose G. showed us a picture of his baby, a Pug dog named Mistico. Accordingly to an online Spanish translation dictionary, the name means mystical, as you might expect, or “one who believes in the gaining of spiritual insight through revelation”.
Everyone had some time to go downtown and shop before dinner. Analia, quiet, sweet, hard-working, and a coffee afficionado, started to open up to the other associates on her walk back to her home for the week.
Enrique talks about the work with John D from Bend
After two days working at Elk Meadow, on the third day we took a road trip to Camp Tamarack near Suttle Lake. Our original plan was to work with Deschutes Children’s Forest at Skyliners Lodge; however, because of the government shutdown, unfortunately, our project leader was on furlough. The Environmental Center, who put together all the service projects for us, came through and connected us with Charlie Anderson at Camp Tamarack.
Jose G and Enrique team up
Charlie is rehabilitating the camp, dedicated to his brother Tyler Anderson. It will be used by fifth and sixth graders for field trips, starting in the spring.
“We are extremely excited about this next phase for Camp Tamarack. The direction of development is to focus on opening the camp up to as many kids in Central Oregon as we can. By offering a rich outdoor education curriculum in the spring and fall, developed with the help of Deschutes Children’s Forest, we will be able to meet our objective of enriching the lives of kids with knowledge about all the wonders found in our own backyard.” (camptamarack.com)
Karen resting at the top of the hill on our hike
The team painted a bathroom, chopped wood, and cleared brush. In the afternoon, Charlie treated us to a hike—to the second deepest lake in Oregon. Who knew a smaller version of Crater Lake is right off the Santiam? Brenda is a fast hiker and tells me hiking is something she really likes to do.
“Overall, everything we did I think made a difference” Larry Williams
Josh at Blue Lake
For the grand finale of the trip we got together with our fellow Bend associates and non-profit partners at one of the vacation rentals. Jose C., had brought peppers to eat from his garden at home, and he gave one of them to Cindy to plant in the garden at the school.
Jose C, the happy wanderer
What a wonderful week! I spent the week with a long agenda on my mind of many things to do, wishing I had more time to just enjoy the people, the work, and the environment; however, I managed to be able to do that anyway. I found it truly amazing to able to learn about the great projects we are working on in our community and to be a part of them, to see a very deep blue lake, and to get to know a wonderful group of people—all who I missed immediately after they left.
What was the best part? “to see everyone satisfied with the work, the way the team responded to it” Joaquin
Brenda, a natural on the hiking trail