The Big Idea. It means so many things to so many people. For many of us at United Way, it meant our education initiative to get 100% high school completion for the Class of 2020. What a weird ending to the 8 years we were with the students who were little kids and all fit on one side of the bleachers at old Central Medford High School at the beginning. By the 11th grade, they had only grown a little in numbers and a lot of in size when they took up both sides of the bleachers at South Medford High School. There are so many I came to know personally. And I treasure each one and the memory of their growing up. If I began to name names, I’d miss a few and feel badly. While many more recognized me, I came to really know several of them.
One was this beautiful blonde boy in the 5th grade. He wore baggy basketball shorts, a t-shirt and untied shoes. He joined our committee. He was so smart and brave and curious. Someone had told him about Oxford University and he wanted to go one day. He wanted to be a writer. He was a track star. He worried about other kids at school and worked to stop bullying when he saw it. He spoke his mind. He went on the high school with the other Big Idea kids and ran track still. He was really good at it.
Real life intervenes even when we’re bright and open and have dreams. It intervenes when we’re too curious. It intervenes when life has too many obstacles. And dammit, we don’t all make it. Joby didn’t. We lost him this week to drugs. I will carry Joby in my heart forever and I am so glad I met him and I’m a better person for knowing him. The Big Idea was better because of him.
Please pause for a moment when you read this to remember a bright light extinguished too soon.
Yesterday…12/8/2020, To Jan
After 24 years of bringing her whole self to work at United Way of Jackson County, Jan Sanderson Taylor retired. I wanted to write this yesterday but quite honestly I cried too hard. Jan is the first person I hired to work here. She had previously served as head of Camp Fire Boys & Girls, led a small business, headed a family of three children and lost one child.
We partnered on so many projects over 24 years together and created positive community change! She will be deeply missed not just by me. She’ll be missed by hundreds of volunteers and all our staff. She had profound accomplishments in her time at United Way including Project Community Connect, COAD, Consortium, VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and more. We changed how we funded programs together, introduced equity into our process years ago. She built relationships with everyone she met and was able to hold space for the hard conversations.
And then there’s the real life stuff. We both lost loved ones over this time; we lost personal relationships and created new ones. We held on to each other in times of great sorrow and great joy.
And last night as I was choking back tears walking her to her car, I remembered the most important lesson in life that we’re all just walking each other home. So glad to have shared this walk with her.
PS If you think she can actually retire from helping people in need, you don’t know her well enough. She’ll still be volunteering for COAD and for Consortium. Be lucky enough to walk with her.
Thanksgiving in hard times is an interesting holiday. And in COVID19, it’s very hard to not be with our loved ones. In a meeting this week, the check in was what is your favorite Thanksgiving side dish? I said my loved ones that I can’t be with this year: my mom, in an assisted living center, in Arizona and my spread out sisters who live in California, Arizona, Texas and Virginia and their kids and and and.
And here’s what makes thanksgiving extra hard here. 2,605 families in our community lost everything on September 8. United Way of Jackson County launched a Fire Relief Fund, United Together that very day. To date, we have raised funds from a person in every single state and 5 foreign countries. What does that say? It says Thanksgiving! We are deeply grateful for those who have recognized the torn fabric in our community.
We received 763 applications for our Fire Relief Fund and today we have cut the first 197 checks totaling $336,550! We are working hard to move through the verifications process and complete the application review and awards by December 15.
And on this Thanksgiving eve, we are grateful for your support, your prayers, and your wisdom. We need you now and you’re delivering! We’ve raised $2.5 million to date and want to be at $3 million by year end. Please consider a gift. 100% is going to help folks in Jackson County recover, rebuild and renew their lives.
May you take a moment this Thanksgiving to find wonder in something, a perfectly formed leaf on the ground, a smile, your favorite food, a smile across zoom. Feel free to share what brought you that wonder. Stay safe and be well.
It’s been more than a month since the fires of September 8 that changed so many lives. I want to say everyone’s but that’s just not true. Did you know there are people living in our Valley who have not journeyed to see the damage yet? I’ve been sharing a devastating Washington Post article from 10/20/2020 and the link is below. The video can and must have a trigger warning from me. I’ve heard from folks I’ve shared it with how devastated they felt.
I’ve received emails saying, “How can I help?” from people who live here. My first answer is go see it because it’s clear in the conversation they don’t yet understand that the 2,605 residences included:
- 11 mobile home parks
- 2 low income apartment complexes
- 2 residence motels
- 1 senior assisted living complex
- And two plus subdivisions
We also lost 198 commercial buildings, mostly small businesses that drive the economy. And we lost 6 public buildings including the Southern Oregon Education Service District building that housed the people and equipment that provided special education and migrant education services.
The communities of Ashland, Talent and Phoenix were ripped apart. The Phoenix/Talent School District has been profoundly impacted and is working so hard in this wacky school environment. They are there for their families! They are the model of what community school can be. Thank you to them. There are tons of shout outs that can be done on this remarkable community.
Here’s what is really different about a clear sky on a beautiful fall day. Jana, the woman who helps me almost every day at Starbucks, lives in Talent. Her house survived miraculously and it’s right across the street from mass destruction. She lives in her house again and sees that every day. The smell, that’s what different. We’ve had plenty of smoky days in the Rogue Valley. We haven’t had the burn smell after the rain washed away some dust. It’s a different smell even on a beautiful day.
I live in Ashland and I used to take I5 to work and back each day. Now I consciously choose to drive 99, to feel the pain, to see the pain, to smell the pain. Please go see it if you live here and haven’t been through yet. Tell me what you think.
While the race is long, we have plenty of tortoises and hares who will get us there. Be you! We need you now. Thank you. Onward,
Wow, I’ve just spent some time prepping for our Fire Relief Committee. We knew gifts were coming in from all over the country and from some countries around the world. Thanks to the New York Times article, “An American Dream, Scorched in Oregon” and to the many groups like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival who shared our donation link, we have received gifts from 44 states and 5 countries!
I am overwhelmed each day by the notes of support, the calls to see how we are, the stories of those directly impacted and the generosity of people sharing their wit, wisdom and wealth. On Monday and Tuesday, I spent the day at Harry and David giving away Skechers and Hanes donations. People would cry at the drop of a hat, well literally, the drop of a McDonald’s card or a listening ear and heart. I met Bobbie Sue who was still wearing her house slippers because that’s what she ran from her mobile home in; Pam who is brain injured and struggling with FEMA paperwork; and, Oscar’s little girl who got a groovy new backpack from Skechers. While the best part of my job has always been hearing stories, the stories are hard. I heard many times how weird it is to adjust to losing everything. A woman shared she was chilly in her apartment and went to get her… She stopped and realized she can’t go get anything she used to go get. I cried then. I can’t get her out of mind and that is good. We have much to do and there’s a place for all of us in this recovery. Find your spot and do it. Please consider at gift to our fire fund at www.unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org/give. Thank you! Onward, Dee Anne