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Reflecting on a Rural Revolution

As the sun set in the hills of Creswell, it cast long shadows silhouetting buzzing beehive boxes, apple and hazelnut trees, a herd of bison, and a small but mighty community dedicated to helping rural Oregon communities thrive.

At My Brothers’ Farm, a family-run operation, this community was hosting a reunion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Oregon-based AmeriCorps program known as RARE, or Resource Assistance for Rural Environments. Taylor Larson, one of the owners of My Brothers’ Farm, is a RARE alum who served in year 2012-13 in Tillamook. RARE operates within the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement (IPRE) in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM).

“You all are the reason we can stand here today and say, ‘We have made a difference in rural Oregon’,” Titus Tomlinson, the new RARE Program Director and alum (2006–07 and 2009–10), told a group of about 150, including fellow RARE alumni, their friends and family, and past community partners seated at tables in the grass.

People in grass and under a tentNew RARE Program Director Titus Tomlinson and RARE Project Coordinator Aniko Drlik-Muehlck (left); Kevin Smith and Karen Laing, siblings of longtime Program Director Megan Smith

Karen Hyatt, the UO Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, took the mic and shared U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio’s statement that he read into the congressional record on July 22 acknowledging RARE’s contribution to the state. DeFazio, Oregon’s longest-serving congressperson, voted for the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, which first established AmeriCorps, paving the way for the inception of the RARE program.

“In the past 25 years, RARE members have completed more than 2,000 assessments, plans, and reports for local communities; written more than 700 grants, raised more than $6 million for communities, and recruited more than 10,000 community volunteers who served more than 8.6 million hours,” Hyatt read. “It is my pleasure to congratulate the RARE AmeriCorps program on 25 years of service to rural communities in Oregon and to thank RARE for its many vital contributions. I have no doubt these first 25 years of success will serve as the inspiration for the next 25.”

Pillars of the RARE program received heartfelt thanks, including the program founder David Povey (who was unable to attend), longtime IPRE co-director and PPPM Instructor Robert Parker, Departmental Grants Administrator Julie Foster, and Project Coordinator Aniko Drlik-Muehleck. Amid the speeches and catching up with friends, however, there was a notable absence: former RARE Program Director Megan Smith. Smith passed away in October 2018. She had been with RARE since the beginning.

group of people on rocksMemorial for Megan Smith at RARE reunion; RARE cohort from year two of the program, including Megan Smith, center, and David Povey, front right.

“We are all here today because of that amazing woman,” Tomlinson told the crowd.

Megan’s siblings, Annie Laing and Kevin Smith, also spoke at the event.

“The RARE program was so much of her soul,” Laing said. “You were her kids. She loved you all.”

Countless members of RARE, under the guidance of Smith, Povey, Parker, Foster, Tomlinson, and others, have gone on to help communities throughout Oregon. Here is a look back at how RARE shaped its participants, and how its participants have shaped Oregon and beyond.

Scroll to bottom for more photos from RARE reunion.

group of people waving in grassRARE 25th Anniversary at My Brothers’ Farm

infographic map of OregonRARE Map of 25 years of service

Keavy Cook, RARE 2002–03

Keavy Cook

Keavy Cook—now the director of The Ford Family Foundation’s Children, Youth, and Families department—joined RARE because she was looking to connect with communities in her own country before setting off on a career in international development. Before she was even selected for RARE, she drove from Boston cross-country to meet Megan Smith.

“I have strong memories of Megan Smith. She played more of a role in shaping my professional career and my life in Oregon than any other individual.”

Cook was accepted and served with the Siuslaw Watershed Council, where she launched a youth summer camp that still operates to this day and crafted a strategic plan and several grant applications. Cook received a Master in Community and Regional Planning in 2005. She never did go into international development, rather choosing to focus on development at home.

“Being in RARE helped me fall in love with Oregon, to feel closer to rural communities, and to develop confidence in my organizational development passions and understand how to apply this to community building,” Cook said. Cook explained how her relationship to RARE is multifaceted: She has been a participant, staff member as RARE’s field coordinator, and, now, a funder. “Not only does the program support the individuals who participate, but it also benefits the nonprofits and communities that host,” she said. “Human capacity is probably the number one thing needed in rural Oregon. RARE has that orientation, the reputation, and the structure to meet this need.”

Spencer Masterson, RARE 2010–12

Spencer Masterson

Before joining RARE, Masterson spent a semester abroad in Thailand learning how development projects were adversely affecting the most vulnerable residents in predominantly rural areas. There he co-authored a human rights report that was presented to Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission, an experience that primed him for RARE.

For two years, Masterson served with the Ten Rivers Food Web, a food systems network in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties that works to increase the resilience of the area’s foodshed in the face of climate and economic uncertainty. As a result of community organizing and network development, he wrote a community food assessment of Linn County.

One of his proudest accomplishments during his time with RARE was launching a program that matches Oregon Trail Card benefits at farmers markets, which both provides low-income residents with access to locally grown foods and increases sales for local farmers. He also helped organize the Santiam Food Alliance, a community organization that focuses on spreading the joy of growing, buying, cooking, and eating local foods throughout the Santiam River basin.

Masterson, who is now associate director of Partnerships & Programs at Oregon Food Bank, said he uses the skills he picked up in RARE on a daily basis. “I learned so much about how communities can band together to make the change they wish to see in their communities,” Masterson said. “I also was able to hone many practical skills such as meeting facilitation, public speaking, and grant and budget management.”

Michael Held, RARE 2011–12

Michael Held and a group of people sitting on chairs in grass

While pursuing a master of public administration degree (’11) at PPPM and working as an economic development planning intern with the City of Oakridge, Held met several RARE alumni and Megan Smith, who encouraged him to apply for the program. “Megan became an immediate mentor and someone who I was naturally drawn to because of her tenacity for public service,” Held said.

Through RARE, Held served with the Port of The Dalles, working on two major projects and several smaller initiatives. The first project Held spearheaded was the planning and implementation of a $5.5 million industrial lands redevelopment of a 77-acre mill site, which paved the way for dozens of new jobs and private investment.

He also facilitated a wetland planning process, which established a regional general permit, or a regulatory device that expedites business permitting and development while transparently maximizing environmental protections.

“The relationships I’ve established through RARE serve as my career’s backbone,” Held said. That career has led him to his current position as director of Rural Economic and Policy Services at Rural Development Initiatives based in Eugene.

“To this day, the program embodies that public service spirit and is to be commended for its intentional cultivation of public-minded leaders,” Held said. “I view RARE as a critical component to creating an equitable and just social and economic environment for rural communities.”

Held says he has hired RARE alumni; he’s also engaged to a RARE alumna he met at an earlier RARE reunion.

Jasmine Jordan, RARE 2016–17

Jasmine Jordan

Before moving to Oregon to from the Midwest to join the RARE program, Jasmine Jordan went to Burkina Faso with the Peace Corps to be an economic development volunteer with projects focused on small businesses, irrigation, and reforestation.

“I always wanted to round out my foreign service by giving back to a community stateside,” said Jordan, who had graduated from the University of Dayton, Ohio, with a BA in political science and international studies.

In 2016, Jordan began the RARE program, working as a main street program coordinator for St. Helens Economic Development Corporation (SHEDCO) in northeast Oregon. In St. Helens, she facilitated the development and promotion of local businesses and proprietors through collaboration with the city planning department. Jordan helped write grants for restaurant expansions and art installations, recruit volunteers, develop the SHEDCO website, create wayfinding, and put on events such as the Spirit of Halloweentown celebration (the Disney Channel movie Halloweentown was filmed here).

Her biggest impact, she said, was the grant she wrote for the rehabilitation of El Tapatio restaurant: In 2017, the restaurant received $100,000 from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s Main Street Revitalization Grant.

“My position in St. Helens exposed me to many professionals that work in planning, public policy, city government, and economics, specifically the finance and economic firms the city hired to work on urban renewal,” Jordan explained. Exposure to that work and having conversations with these professionals over lunch, she said, helped her decide between going to graduate school for economics or public policy. Jordan is currently a second-year PhD student in economics at the University of California, Riverside.

“RARE’s ability to place, train, and encourage volunteers has truly proven itself over its 25 years of commitment to the State of Oregon,” she said.

Matt Tsui, RARE 2016–18

Matt Tsui

The Penn State University environmental science and geographic information systems (GIS) graduate Matt Tsui applied to RARE because it met three criteria to jumpstart his career:

  • an entry-level job in an interesting field for someone who only had internship experience
  • the opportunity to immerse in the culture of a new state
  • the chance to alleviate some student loan debt through the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

Tsui said he walked away with so much more than that.

“It provided me with a family,” Tsui said. “I have had a lot of pretty amazing jobs in the past, but my experience with RARE far beats the rest, because of the support and joy that I received from my RARE fam.”

Tsui served as a geographic information system (GIS) coordinator for the City of Umatilla, specifically the public works department, where he collected locations and attributes for all 2,154 city-owned water and sewer utilities. For the data collected, Tsui developed mobile web mapping applications to streamline access to utility maps and plans in the field. In short, Tsui helped modernize the system, establishing a GIS-based tool that helps the planning and public works department make better daily and long-term decisions about how to improve utility services for Umatilla residents.

“RARE provided me with the time and flexibility to make mistakes and learn the core principles of geographic information systems.”

Tsui uses the principles and skills he learned in his current position in North Carolina as an ArcGIS analyst for Esri, a GIS company that builds mapping and spatial analytics software. RARE is so important to Tsui, he noted, that he flew across the country for the reunion and back in just 48 hours.

Emma Porricolo, RARE 2016–18

Emma Porricolo, RARE 2016-2018

RARE provided Emma Porricolo with the experience and qualifications that helped her acquire her current job as assistant planner with the Portland-based Angelo Planning Group. In 2016 as Porricolo neared completion of her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science (with minors in PPPM and geology), she says her PPPM advisor Jessica Matthiesen suggested she give RARE a try.

“My time with RARE provided ‘real world’ experience that has been invaluable and allowed me to truly understand how cities function and the role of city planners at the local, regional, and state level,” said Porricolo. “Through my time serving with RARE, I gained an understanding and appreciation for the cultural differences across the state of Oregon.” Porricolo began serving with RARE in 2016 as a main street program coordinator for the Hermiston Downtown District. Here, Porricolo developed a network of stakeholders to focus on downtown and helped the district gain 501(c)3 nonprofit status. She said the network continues to partner on events and promotions that bring people downtown.

In her second year, she served as a downtown planner for the City of Sandy, working on a walkability study and a master plan for downtown expansion.

“Learning firsthand that I could connect with people very different from myself and collaborate with them to reach a shared goal was a pivotal experience for me,” Porricolo said.

Corum Ketchum, RARE 2017–19

Corum Ketchum

Corum Ketchum, who received his undergraduate degree in Planning, Public Policy and Management in 2016, first discovered RARE when he was taking the course Real World Eugene and working with the city to research student transportation projects. Megan Smith came and pitched the program to the class. “I didn’t know it at the time, but the conviction from that red-haired woman would point me toward the beginning of my career.”

Ketchum just completed his second year with RARE, where he has served as an economic development specialist with the City of Veneta. During his tenure, Ketchum worked on a wide variety of projects including developing a network of local and regional economic development professionals, planning large public events such as Veneta’s downtown festival, and writing policy reports to guide the decision-making of staff and elected officials. He also wrote grants for more than $300,000 in economic and infrastructure projects.

“RARE has been the perfect opportunity to apply what I learned in PPPM in a professional context,” Ketchum said. “RARE has made me feel both empowered and vulnerable. Clearly, I have been able to apply myself to a wide range of problems and make my mark. That has been gratifying, but it is the humility I have gathered from spending time with the people I’ve met along the way where I have grown the most as a person.”

Ketchum will return to the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management this fall to pursue a Master in Public Administration.

Originally published by UO School of Planning, Public Policy and Management

RARE announces new Program Director – Titus Tomlinson

We are excited to announce Titus Tomlinson has assumed the role of permanent Program Director for the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps program. Titus served as RARE’s Field Coordinator for seven years until Megan Smith’s passing last October. At that point he assumed the role of Acting Program Director.

We are delighted to have Titus assume this role—his depth of experience and passion have added stability to the RARE program during the past difficult few months. We look forward to his wisdom and commitment as we continue RARE’s legacy of supporting rural Oregon communities and organizations.

As we look forward to the next 25 years of RARE, please join us in congratulating Titus on his new role!

Reedsport Community Celebrates Centennial

Aug. 14, 2019 — Reedsport celebrated its Centennial birthday on Saturday with a carnival, concert and free admittance to one of the coast’s most interesting educational destinations, the Umpqua Discovery Center. Reedsport was incorporated as a city on Aug. 6, 1919, just 26 years after the City of Florence was incorporated.

Emily Bradley, Coordinator of the Reedsport Main Street Program, says the fact that the city made it to this birthday is significant in and of itself.

“The Centennial Carnival and the entire year of events to commemorate 100 years of Reedsport came about because 100 years is no small feat. Since it first became a city in 1919, Reedsport has experienced monumental highs with the boom of the timber and fishing industries, but it also has experienced some lows with major floods and when those same timber and fishing industries crashed leaving the economy in disrepair. Through each of those lows, the people of Reedsport were resilient,” she said. “The city recognized the importance in celebrating the centennial because really it’s celebrating the people who make up this community.”

Reedsport is located at the mouth of the Umpqua River and lies in close proximity to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Center. Both of these major natural attractions bring tourists, outdoor enthusiasts and residents to the small former logging and shipping town, which has a population of just under 5,000.

The economic situation in Reedsport mirrors many other towns in the area that were founded and sustained for decades by supporting the timber and fishing industries, until those sectors essentially disappeared.

However, Reedsport, Winchester Bay and other small towns situated along the boundaries of the dunes are currently enjoying a resurgence with the ever-growing popularity of different types of off-road activities.

The large numbers of families and youngsters wearing ATV branded clothing and hats at the Reedsport Centennial spoke to the importance of integrating younger generations of tourists into the region’s recreational menu.

Saturday’s celebrations began with a classic car show early in the day, with the Reedsport Fire Department at hand with a ladder truck for youngsters to explore.

“The carnival specifically was the main event because we knew the event needed to be family-friendly and inviting to the entire community,” Bradley said.

The Centennial Carnival was sponsored by Anandapure, Lower Umpqua Hospital and Fred Wahl Marine Construction, which meant the event had free admission. All the games were also free, and there was a prize every time for each child.

“We had no expectations for how many people would attend, because Reedsport has never had a carnival,” Bradley continued. “Attendance and excitement surpassed expectations and over 1,000 people were in attendance. “

One of the main draws for the celebration was free admission at The Umpqua Discovery Center. The center’s mission is to “provide users and visitors with education about the natural and cultural history of the lower Umpqua area” — and it does just that with a number of informative displays devoted to many different aspects of the region.

Umpqua Discovery Center Director Diane Novak said she was extremely pleased with the turnout for the celebration and her organization’s contribution to the success of the event.

“Reedsport’s 100th birthday … was well attended by over 500 people visiting the center with the free admission,” Novak said. “Visitors enjoyed the Natural and Cultural history exhibits, along with viewing of the newly updated ‘I Remember, I Remember’ exhibit with new Oral Histories to listen to. The new centennial bench, donated by Bill Hardy, located at the front entry of the Center, was also enjoyed by many.”

People were able to take a self-guided tour of the center, which were situated on a series of ramps showcasing dioramas that share the different types of wildlife, trees and undergrowth of the Reedsport area. There is a helpful audio component to most of the dioramas as the animals or birds or bugs that are shown in a specific display can also be heard with a simple push of a button.

The displays are colorful, well maintained and share a significant amount of information in a small space.

In addition, the walls and inclines in the discovery center are painted with long, colorful murals that depict regional themes, history and locations, adding to the overall sense of integration of the facility into the surrounding outdoor space. Many of the animals and birds that are included in the displays inside the center can be seen from these vantage points along the Umpqua River.

The center also features an interactive weather and tide display, a small replica of a Reedsport shop, artifacts donated by past residents and a new collection of oral histories available to interested listeners. An extensive collection of old photographs line many of the walls of the center and these compelling historic images can be purchased as mementos of a visit to the discovery center.

The focus on the natural world and the attention to detail at the discovery center offer a multi-sensory learning experience that is entertaining for all ages but seems particularly well suited to engage younger visitors, of which there were many on Saturday.

Outside, the center offered a wide wooden deck for viewing the Umpqua River, which flows a few hundred feet beyond the center. The deck connects to a small family-run restaurant, The Schooner.

Furthermore, the Umpqua River and surrounding waterways present a growing water-related recreational sector for Reedsport. People who have discovered the many lakes and rivers close to the ocean and the Siuslaw National Forest had tied up their kayaks and canoes along the river and walked the short distance to the carnival area.

The Reedsport Centennial Celebration literally ended on an upbeat note as the last event scheduled for the day was a free concert given by the band Stillwater, which was enjoyed by about 200 individuals.

“Reedsport has a proud past and a promising future, and it’s the people in the community that are giving the promising future to Reedsport,” Bradley said. “It’s important to celebrate the past 100 years in order to look forward to the next 100.”

For more information on Reedsport, visit www.cityofreedsport.orgFor more information on the Umpqua Discovery Center, call 541-271-4816, stop by 409 Riverfront Way in Reedsport or visit

Originally published by The Siuslaw News

RARE AmeriCorps Applications Open for Late Recruitment

Are you interested in community building, natural resources, food security, natural hazard planning, economic development or land use planning?  Does your organization have community building, natural resources, food security, natural hazard planning, economic development or land use planning projects that you do not have resources to complete?  If so, you should consider applying to the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) Program. Continue reading “RARE AmeriCorps Applications Open for Late Recruitment”

USDA Grants PPPM $100K

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) awarded the University of Oregon $100,000 for its Rural Energy Development for Oregon program proposal. The grant was the largest given out of the $1 million dispersed across 17 states and Puerto Rico.

The UO applied to the grant through Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE), Oregon’s AmeriCorps program, housed in the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement (IPRE) in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM).

With the grant, RARE will partner with the Seattle nonprofit Spark Northwest and rural small businesses, farmers, and agricultural producers throughout the state to increase renewable energy generation. (See map of proposed sites below.)

Map of Oregon sites“Over 24 months, RARE and Spark Northwest will work together to evaluate renewable energy opportunities and provide renewable energy development assistance directly to rural small businesses, farms, agritourism operators, and agriculture producers across the state,” RARE outlined in its grant application. “The project will provide education to engage with at least 150 farmers and small businesses about energy opportunities, provide project-specific consultations for at least 40 of these entities, and shepherd at least 20 energy projects successfully through the development phase.”

Read more about the grant program in the Capital Press article, “USDA grants to help farms, businesses cut energy costs.

Originally published by University of Oregon College of Design

PROGRESS: Arts And Eats Expand Across The County

UMATILLA COUNTY — Across Umatilla County, restaurants and arts events are popping up to add a little spice to life.

OMG! Burgers & Brew in Pendleton recently celebrated its first birthday.

Soon after, the Pendleton Downtown Association presented owner Rodney Burt with its 2019 Best Restaurant/Bar/Tavern Award. With a menu that includes the Gouda for You Burger and the Pendleton Whisky Burger, the Main Street brewpub is fast becoming a favorite with locals. Burt proudly notes that all their beef is locally sourced and never frozen, and the buns are baked fresh four doors down.

“Things are going great,” he said. “We’ve expanded into the building next door and doubled our capacity. Now we can host big parties for up to 125 people.”

Next, OMG has an eye on possible new locations in Hermiston, Walla Walla, and the Tri-Cities area.

If hot dogs are more your style, River Dawgs opened its doors this spring in Umatilla, with artfully prepared, extra long dogs and more toppings than you can fit in a bun. Those who’d like to try are welcome to build their own creations with everything from jalapeños to cream cheese.

Just up the road, Rae’s Dayz Diner & Cakery is hitting its stride after just over a year in business. The no-frills eatery offers old-fashioned comfort food like fried chicken, fish & chips, and prime rib. Customers in need of a custom cake can tap the skills of owner Raelynn Gallegos.

For a taste of Asian cuisine, Shiki Hibachi Sushi has been serving Hermiston for a little more than a year. Adventurous diners can try the unagi (eel) or uni (sea urchin), while novices may prefer a more familiar California roll and miso soup. And don’t forget the mango mochi ice cream for dessert.

On the music scene, the latest new venue in Pendleton is an old one: The Lodge.

After purchasing and partially refurbishing the former Elks Lodge, Lance Leonnig kicked off a monthly concert series, “Live From the Leslie,” in April in the roomy performance space upstairs. Slated bands cover a country-folk-R&B-rock mix of genres.

A sizeable grant in May from the Pendleton Downtown Association and Oregon Heritage will allow further renovation to be done, including a second stage and a future restaurant on the lower level.

“It’s a big beast but all of us involved fell in love with the building,” said partner Adam Mack.

Eventually, he said, the downstairs Stag Bar “will be open five days a week, and we want music on that stage every weekend.”

On the coattails of the highly successful Whisky Fest, Pendleton has launched another major music event this summer: The Jackalope Jamboree is set for June 29 in the Happy Canyon Arena. The daylong event features smaller regional bands on two stages — and more affordable tickets.

In downtown Hermiston, the festival street completed a year ago next to city hall is now seeing a lot of use. Creating the urban renewal district was a major step, said Main Street program coordinator Darin Foster, with the addition of planters, trees, and sidewalks that transition seamlessly to street.

“It was designed to make it a lot more pedestrian-friendly and easier to close off for events,” he said.

This year the festival street becomes the site of Hermiston’s first Summer Series. Six events, hosted monthly, will include wine and beer tasting at Cork & Barrel on June 29 and and the Spud Fest on July 13, with a carnival and vendor booths.

A few blocks to the west, the 4,600-square-foot Maxwell Pavilion saw completion in March. The new venue opened with the first annual Maxfest Craft Beer Festival, and the Maxwell Farmers Market wasted no time shifting to the new location in May.

The market runs every Thursday from 4-8 p.m., with live music starting at 5 p.m.

Originally published in the Eastern Oregonian

Pendleton Considers Urban Renewal Program For Blighted Homes

PENDLETON — The Pendleton Development Commission could soon get into the home improvement business.

On behalf of the commission, Kaitlyn Cook, an associate from the University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments program, studied downtown blight and presented the results at a commission meeting on Tuesday.

Cook said she did the study so that the commission, which is comprised of members of the Pendleton City Council, would better understand the issue of blight while members consider how to move the urban renewal district forward during the last four years of its lifespan.

“I’m not a structural engineer,” she said. “I looked at the buildings and looked at determinators of blight.”

Cook studied every structure from Southeast Sixth Street to Southwest Sixth Street, Umatilla River to railroad, and graded them on a 900 point scale.

She assessed the buildings based on nine qualities of blight, including peeling paint, yard maintenance issues, and structural problems.

Based on her scores, she determined that there were 52 blighted buildings in the downtown area, 25 of them residential.

Although city officials have long been critical of absentee landlords and banks who let their properties fall into disrepair, only a little more than half of the blighted structures were renter occupied.

The development commission’s advisory committee has been exploring how the urban renewal district could take a greater role in housing, said Charles Denight, the commission’s associate director.

They’ve been busy crafting a proposal to improve the urban renewal district’s existing stock while still filling an unmet need.

Denight said the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corp. and Community Action Program of East Central Oregon already offer housing renovation programs, but they’re more focused on paying for projects that will improve the health or safety of a homeowner.

Additionally, previous city programs like Restore Pendleton would make a financial effort to fix up a home, only to see it fall back into disrepair.

To avoid duplication or previous pitfalls, the advisory committee is considering a five-year forgivable loan program that can be applied toward external renovations.

Under the program, homeowners would be able to give their houses a facelift on the commission’s dime, as long as they can pass a series of inspections.

With each passed inspection, the homeowner would get 20% of their loan forgiven. If the owner passes all inspections after five years, they owe nothing.

Denight said the program could also be available to renters, but they likely wouldn’t be able to access a fully forgivable loan.

If the commission moved forward with the loan idea, it wouldn’t lack the funds to sponsor it.

If they relied on tax revenue alone, the urban renewal district could spend another $5.9 million on projects. But if they decided to access their full line of credit, that number expands to $33.5 million.

Originally published in the Eastern Oregonian

Free LED Light Bulbs Offered In Talent

Talent residents can get up to 16 energy-saving LED light bulbs installed at no cost under a joint program by the city of Talent and Rogue Climate that runs through the end of May. Low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators also are available.

Bulbs and plumbing devices are funded by a 3% state of Oregon charge attached to utility bills for reinvestment into energy-efficient projects.

As of Monday, the team had worked in 44 houses and changed out 526 LED bulbs, 21 aerators and 10 shower heads. The program, which began in April, aims for installations in 100 homes, said Michael Hoch, program coordinator for the city.

“There’s always some concern on how the program is working. When you explain that (the residents) are actually paying for it, they are very appreciative of what we are doing,” said Hoch. “Talent citizens are very concerned about energy consumption and usage.”

Judy Finses and her husband, Jim, along with neighbors Jill and Don Miller, make up one of the volunteer installation teams. The couples first practiced on their own homes in April.

“You’re supposed to save up to $10 per year per bulb,” said Judy Finses. “Each bulb costs around $4. You can get up to 16 bulbs. That’s a huge savings.”

Her team worked initially in Oak Valley, a development off West Valley View Road for residents 55 and older. They’ve also worked in another retirement community.

“Sometimes the color is too bright, so they haven’t wanted them in a certain areas,” said Finses. Almost every home she had been involved with has taken the full 16 bulbs available, although some homes already had LEDs in some fixtures, she added.

In 2017 Rogue Climate ran the program on its own. That year the nonprofit installed 1,094 bulbs in 114 homes. Bend is the only other city in Oregon that has done a similar program, Hoch said. Funding for the hardware comes from Pacific Power and Avista through fees on customer bills.

Over the lifetime of the installations, $70,786 in savings is projected, said Hoch. LED lights are estimated to have a 22- to 25-year lifespan. Aerators and shower heads are expected to last 10 to 15 years.

“We decided to reinstate it this year because Rogue Climate helped pay for part of the costs,” he said. The group donated funds for program administration and volunteer coordination. They also bought all the tools and materials, including plumbers’ tape, pliers and light bulb extractors for vaulted ceilings. Six volunteers are working in outreach and 10 are doing installations and other work.

Two types of light bulbs are available, lamp style and recessed can bulbs. They are tested for compatibility with dimmer switches. Specialty bulbs are not offered.

Hoch is an intern with AmeriCorps Resource Assistance for Rural Environments working for the city of Talent through the University of Oregon. The city has allocated a portion of his time to help Rogue Climate run the program. During his 11-month tenure, Hoch has focused on energy management. He does energy consumption analysis, energy education and research on renewable energy alternatives in Talent.

A group of Talent residents, along with city officials, created a Clean Energy Action Plan for the city to help transition to 100 percent clean energy. One goal of the plan is to reduce Talent’s energy use by 30 percent.

The teams do installations by appointment during the week. On Saturdays, usually two or three teams will knock on doors to see whether residents want the devices. They can perform the work then or schedule it for another time.

The program is available only to Talent residents. A shower head and faucet aerators are available for Avista natural gas customers. Residents can call 541-236-5038 to schedule an appointment or set it up online by going to

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at

Originally published in the Mail Tribune

Grant Moves Bike Hostel Forward

DALLAS — One of Dallas Downtown Association’s goals is to make Dallas a bike-friendly town. It just received a big boost in the form of a $200,000 grant from the Oregon Main Street Revitalization Program.

The grant will help pay for preservation, seismic upgrades and remodeling to transform the upper floors of the Latitude One and Dallas Yoga & Balance Studio buildings in downtown Dallas into a bike hostel.

“It was very competitive, and we were funded to the fullest level, so we won the full $200,000 for the seismic retrofit and the modernization of the 904 Main St. building, which a lot of people know as Latitude One, and the yoga studio (115 SE Court St.),” said Gabriel Leon, the DDA manager. “The purpose of the Main Street Revitalization grant is to provide a spark for a lot of these rural main streets to become modernized economically that can support tourism and other economic development.”

The grant will cover about half the cost of converting the vacant space into a bike hostel that will have 30 to 40 beds and a few private rooms, Leon said.

He said once completed, the hostel will attract bicycle tourists to Dallas at the rate of 11,000 bed rentals per year. Those guests are likely to spend time and money in Dallas.

“Because of those 11,000 bed stays, the way we calculated it was, if each person spent about $35 to $40 on food and retail goods, which is a really low number, that would generate about $250,000 new investments in tourism dollars in our downtown, so that’s a really big deal,” Leon said. “Particularly for our restaurants and retail, that will be a big boost.”

The Oregon Heritage division of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department awarded 30 grants worth $5.2 million to Oregon Main Street Network organizations across the state for building projects that encourage economic revitalization, according to a OPRD press release.

The grant application received support from the Itemizer-Observer, the city of Dallas, local bicyclists, the Willamette Valley Visitors Association, and the Salem Area Trail Alliance, along with other bicycle coalitions in the area.

“The city of Dallas has considerable potential to be a magnet for bicycle-based tourism, with excellent nearby opportunities for both mountain biking and road cycling and cycle touring,” wrote Salem Area Trails Alliance President Beth Dayton in a letter of support for the project. “The hostel project would close a significant gap in tourism infrastructure by providing up to 30 beds at an affordable price in a very attractive sociable setting.”

Mark Thackray, the vice president of Mid-Valley Bicycle Club, said Dallas is near a coast-to-coast bicycle trail called the Adventure Cycling TransAmerica Route.

“The official route goes through Corvallis, up Highway 99W, very close to Dallas, Oregon,” he wrote in a letter of support. “In many towns along the route, one finds bicycle hostels and accommodations. They are enjoyed by bicycle tourists, who then spend additional dollars in the community during their stay.”

Marshall Guthrie, of Monmouth, who uses his bike as his primary form of transportation, said the project isn’t just about tourism, but supporting cycling as a viable option for commuting.

“Creating a culture of support for cycling means that all residents, especially low-income residents, can more easily and inexpensively get to work and businesses,” Guthrie wrote in his letter in favor of the project. “A bike-friendly community encourages more people to enjoy parks and public spaces, and improves their personal health as they do. Cycling leaves a community more vibrant, healthier, and better off.”

Leon said there’s still some work to do on financing before the project can start, but with the Main Street grant in hand, the renovation will move forward. He said the DDA and building owner Marlene Cox will apply for a National Trust for Historic Preservation Grant.

“That’s hyper-competitive. Last year, there were seven projects chosen and about 1,000 applied,” he said. “There are very, very narrow chances we are going to get it. We have a couple other smaller grants that we’ve been thinking of, and we are in line for about $20,000 of in-kind donations.”

Leon said he’s supportive of cycling as a form of transportation and historic preservation, so to be part of the team that wrote the grant is thrilling.

“I definitely was jumping up and down about it,” he said. “This was what we needed, so we’ll go forward with the project regardless.”

He said Dallas lacks amenities that cater to bicyclists, and he hopes that is project will begin to change that.

“I feel like this will kind of push Dallas in that direction of being more welcoming to bicyclists,” he said. “We are working on a lot of other projects that are adjacent to it, and I think it will be good for Dallas, both for downtown and the rest of the city’s development.”

With the seismic upgrade and work on electrical and plumbing, he said the grant will help preserve one of the features that makes downtown Dallas unique.

“I think everyone really appreciates the building. It’s kind of unique in that it’s a beautiful Victorian building. It’s on the courthouse square,” Leon said. “There’s not another one like it in Dallas.”

Originally published in the Polk County Itemizer-Observer

Housing Challenges Front And Center At Pendleton Conference

Less than two years ago, the city of Pendleton hosted a housing conference to connect potential home builders with available land in Pendleton.

On Monday, the city held another conference to target the other part of the equation: homebuyers.

The city brought together real estate agencies, housing assistance organizations, and 74 prospective homebuyers and renters at the Pendleton Convention Center.

In his opening remarks, Mayor John Turner said the most recent conference was spurred by a housing study that showed a significant number of Pendleton’s workforce commuted from out of town.

With the hope that more Pendleton workers will make the city their home if given the chance, the homebuyers and renters conference was born.

The conference started with speeches explaining how credit works and ways attendees can save money for new housing.

Denise Jerome, the housing director for the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon, suggested that audience members could take on a second job, sell personal items on eBay, or rent out a room to earn extra income.

Attendees were then separated into “buyers” and “renters” groups, and after half the room emptied out, the buyer group was given a presentation by Greg Galloway, a branch manager for Stearns Home Loans.

Galloway said Pendleton, along with the rest of the Northwest, is a seller’s market, meaning home sellers have an advantage in negotiations because housing stock is scarce.

Additionally, going through the multi-step home buying process can be intimidating for first-time buyers.

“Most people, the first time they do this, they go, ‘Holy crap, this sucks,’” he said.

But Galloway encouraged the audience to explore buying a home as an option, saying potential buyers don’t necessarily need perfect credit to secure a mortgage and a house’s value was more likely to rise than a rental unit’s rent was likely to fall.

Galloway’s latter point sunk in for Lowell and Carolyn Britt, who are in the process of finalizing the purchase of a house in town.

Lowell said the Pendleton couple had learned many of the lessons discussed at the conference the “hard way.”

Lowell had access to a home loan through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but he was stymied from getting a mortgage until he could establish more work history.

He was able to do just that when he got a new job, but the couple still faced a competitive market when they looked at houses. When they bid on their future house in the McKay Creek area, it had been the second bid in the two days the house had been on the market.

Lowell and Carolyn said they were more interested in buying into the neighborhood than the house itself, which they plan to fix up (the Britts said their new house was unaffected by the April flooding).

Abel Lozano is earlier along in the home buying process, but he was glad that he could get some more information at the conference.

Lozano said he’s applying for a home loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of its low-money-down allowances.

A single parent, Lozano said he wants to move out of the trailer park he lives in so his daughter has room to grow.

The challenge for Lozano is finding a suitable house in a market where many homes were built in the 1930s and 1940s and are in a state of deterioration.

“The market is kinda slim,” he said.

While the conference got several positive reviews from the audience, it also got a thumbs up from a real estate agent in attendance.

Jef Farley, a broker/owner at Coldwell Banker Whitney & Associates, praised conference organizers for getting good turnout on a Monday evening.

In an interview after the conference, Farley agreed that Pendleton was a seller’s market.

He added that Pendleton has two months of available housing inventory, meaning all houses that are currently available for sale would be sold in two months if no new houses come onto the market. A neutral market would have five months of inventory.

Although the city has been active in selling lots for housing development, resulting in new housing at Sunridge Estates and on Westgate, Farley said the next challenge is building new lots for housing.

Kevin Hale, another real estate agent for Coldwell, echoed Farley’s statement at the conference.

“If you think housing is tight and you think rentals are tight, then just try to find a lot to build on in Pendleton, Oregon,” he said.

Farley said he’s been studying a recent boom in real estate interest in The Dalles and he thinks Pendleton is poised to become the next hot real estate market, but the city needs to be prepared to create the capacity.

Before attendees left for the evening, the city collected a housing survey they issued to the audience.

The survey asks respondents about their current housing situation, the challenges they face in finding new housing, and their interest in city-sponsored home loan programs.

Originally published in the East Oregonian

RARE Member, Kaitlyn Cook, organized the conference as part of her service with the City of Pendleton.