Current News

RARE Opportunity Taken

In the fall of 2014, a group of citizens came together in Roseburg around a common mission: To improve quality of life for Douglas County residents while saving them money by catalyzing a shift to renewable energy and energy conservation.

Douglas County Smart Energy was formed, and two years later, they took a uniquely Oregon opportunity to boost their impact by participating in a program called Resource Assistance for Rural Environments. Each year, the RARE Program places thirty Americorps participants in rural communities around Oregon for a one-year period to coordinate a variety of collaborative community service projects.

RARE is how I landed in Roseburg from my former home of Hood River, and my one year of service is now wrapping up. I have had an incredible time working with Douglas County Smart Energy, coordinating renewable energy projects and promoting energy efficiency. With just a few weeks left, I am reflecting on the successes I’ve helped create and the remarkable people I’ve gotten to work with. Here are the top projects I got to work on:

  • Coordinating the submission of four grant proposals to place solar arrays on the buildings of community groups serving low-to-moderate income residents. Two of these grant proposals were to the Pacific Power Blue Sky Foundation, the fund made possible by contributions of Pacific Power rate payers. We won’t know for a couple more months if these projects will be fully funded, but we are feeling very encouraged by the fact that we recently received partial funding for one of them.
  • Supporting the development of an additional four solar projects for nonprofits in the county that will serve the low-to-moderate income population as a member of the statewide Sunshot Solar in Your Community team, coordinated by Sustainable Northwest.
  • Helping pave the path for more funding options for medium-to-large solar projects in Douglas County by making it easier for nonprofits, local governments, churches and other groups to take advantage of the federal investment tax credit, which can reduce project costs by 30 percent.
  • Participating in the submission of a grant to get four new electric vehicle charging stations in Roseburg.
  • Creating a plan to promote energy efficiency awareness that targets multiple sectors, including contractors, home builders, realtors, county and city staff and officials, K-12 students, and the general public.
  • Conducting outreach to twenty Douglas County school districts to get out the word about Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s solar curriculum program, Renewable Energy Leadership Lab.
  • Developing a list of Douglas County energy efficiency success stories of people who went the extra mile and built very energy efficient homes, discovering along the way how quickly the investment paid for itself.
  • I am in the midst of my last RARE project, surveying realtors and contractors to help DC Smart Energy better understand how to promote energy efficient construction. With buildings being responsible for approximately 40 percent of all energy consumption in the United States, and there being many tried and true (and cost effective) methods for constructing buildings that consume a fraction of the energy of buildings built to code, there is plenty of room for leaders in Douglas County to make a difference. This survey should help us better understand opportunities in the building industry in Douglas County, and potentially bring relevant training to the county.

At this point I haven’t decided what I’m doing next, but I’m finishing up my RARE year with immense gratitude for getting to work on such fun projects with such fantastic people. I’ve gotten to do work I care deeply about, and have discovered passion for a new career path I plan to pursue.

To those of you in Douglas County Smart Energy and others who helped make this possible, thank you, and keep up the excellent work.

Sander Lazar is a RARE volunteer working with DC Smart Energy and UCAN as the Renewable Energy Coordinator. For more information on energy efficiency and renewable energy, visit, or on Facebook by searching DCSmartEnergy.

Originally published in The News-Review

OSU Extension – Welcome, Lauren Johnson!

We are pleased to welcome Lauren Johnson as the new Member Services Coordinator for the Oregon Community Food Systems Network. Lauren is a RARE/AmeriCorps volunteer and will be based out of the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems for her year of service with OCFSN.

In her own words:

“I got a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, but my heart was always with food and farming, so I often explored those themes in my research. After college, I spent the winter farming in Costa Rica, and then came to Oregon for a RARE (Resource Assistance for Rural Environments) AmeriCorps service position in Wallowa County in 2014. My job was to engage with different facets of the County’s local food system, from health care to farmers markets to schools to community gardening programs.

“During that year, I had the opportunity to attend the Oregon Community Food System Network’s first annual convening. I remember
feeling so energized being surrounded by all these incredible people and organizations working at the forefront of community food systems development. Not only were they implementing what was then fairly new and innovative programming to support community food systems, but they were also engaged in a difficult conversation about how to make that work more impactful.

“During my graduate degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, I interned with OCFSN’s Policy and Advocacy Working Group because I believe in what they’re doing so strongly. Now, I’m so excited to be working full time with these 53 organizations, spread throughout Oregon and engaged with every facet of this state’s food system. It’s pretty incredible to get the bird’s eye view of community food systems in my daily work.”

Thanks, Lauren, and welcome.

‘We don’t want to overflow our streets but we want people to come and enjoy this place’

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. — Jared Sidman says it didn’t take long for him to fall for the charms of Cottage Grove.

“So we’re full of beautiful murals; we’ve got covered bridges around town that we’re known for,” said Sidman.

The native of Philadelphia is the new full-time coordinator for Cottage Grove’s Main Street program.

Only a few months ago, Sidman was wrapping up a two year assignment in Micronesia, for the Peace Corps.

“So I was actually on a one square mile island with just a few hundred people, doing some teaching in the schools,” said Sidman.

And doing projects to boost tourism. Now, Sidman wants to see what he can do in Cottage Grove.

“So I’m trying to translate that to here,” said Sidman. “We don’t want to overflow our streets but we want people to come and enjoy this place.”

Sidman acts as a Liason Officer between city hall and downtown business owners.

Business owners, such as Candace Solesbee, is getting ready for a downtown infrastructure face-lift called, the Main St. Revitalization project.

“It’s a pretty big deal down here,,” said Solesbee. “It’s going to help us even out our roads because we’ve got a real “barrel” in our roads–so it will be great for the citizens here.”

Yet-to-be-finalized projects may include new sidewalks, more downtown lighting and other elements if funds from a $10 million state grant are approved. Sidman also dreams of funds to erect some billboards and attract more people downtown. in short, he’s bullish on the town’s future.

Originally published on NBC 16

Colorful Coburg

Coburg, Oregon continues to hold its place in the heart of the South Willamette Valley despite its proximity to the Eugene area. In large part this can be attributed to its small-town appeal including Coburg’s National Historic District of vintage style homes with architecture dating back to the 1800s. Coburg’s agrarian flair has been established through cultivated connections to surrounding farming communities, long stretches of country roads and backdrop of the Coburg Hills. The well -preserved homes of varying styles include cottages, barns and bungalows which recall over 150 years of Coburg history. Coburg residents’ value their small-town charm and are fervent to sustain preservation of these assets. During 2017 the community completed its Visioning project with Rural Development Initiatives identifying historic character as a substantial priority to retain and build upon in the years to come.

Coburg’s Heritage Committee continues to play an important role in advancing projects that aim to inspire community involvement. One such project was Coburg Community Historic Art Contest which culminated in Coburg’s first Art Show this past May. The art show displayed depictions of historic structures in Coburg as a means to spotlight local artists and historic buildings. Other projects including an updated Historic Walking Tour Brochure and Colorful Coburg Coloring Book. The Colorful Coburg Coloring book printed through 2018 Certified Local Government (CLG) Grant funds includes depictions of historic homes and architecture included in our Coburg Historic Walking Tour Brochure. Through a partnership with local business owner and active community member Terry Dawson, the Coburg Coloring Book was reproduced from a previous edition dating back to the 1980s. The Coloring Book will be available throughout the holiday season to engage more youth interest in historic preservation. Through these projects, we wish to promote creative expression for future generations as we maintain and enrich ties to our past.

Written by: Emma Vallillo, Community Development Project Manager, RARE AmeriCorps Member for City of Coburg

Originally published on the Oregon Heritage Exchange

Newberg residents begin charting 20-year vision

A new city group hopes to set the city’s future as continued population growth is expected

Between now and July, a citizens’ advisory group will look to chart the vision for Newberg for the coming 20 years.

As one of its goals to be completed this year, the Newberg City Council asked for the completion of a community visioning process. Community Development Coordinator Doug Rux said the city then went to the University of Oregon and were provided a participant from the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) program to serve as a visioning coordinator.

According to a packet provided to members of the Community Visioning Citizens Advisory Committee, Newberg is the second largest city in Yamhill County, and its population has “greatly grown because of a high standard of living; a clean, green environment; and a strong economy. Large agriculture and manufacturing sectors; education, health care and social services; and tourism lead to a household median income of over $53,000. To prepare for the growth expected to continue to happen, the city has created plans to meet the housing and business needs. This will help Newberg keep the small-town feel that makes it such a great place to call home while keeping a strong, local economy.”

Rux said the RARE visioning coordinator has drafted a community profile, which the committee will provide feedback of to the city.

Right now, he said a project website is being constructed as well.

“We’ve done stakeholder interviews,” Rux said. “As we move into 2019 we’ll starting engaging the broader public for what their vision is.”

According to a timeline in the packet, following the stakeholder interviews, the next steps will be to engage the community with public events, which should run through June. A third step is an action plan, which will gather all the data and put it into a plan to finalize the vision and its action plan.

An outreach timeline suggests public surveys, in the forms of forums and workshops, be held from January through June, with recurring advertising also slated to start in January. There will also be community events throughout the year, such as Halloween, the annual tree lighting and the Camelia Festival, to serve as opportunities for outreach. The goal in the packet is to have final documents due to the City Council by July 31, and the project ends Aug. 19.

The packet states Newberg’s population is estimated to grow 56 percent by 2040, which would bring it to roughly 36,700 residents, and notes the city is growing at a faster rate than both Yamhill County and the state as a whole.

According to the packet, a visioning project “is a way for the community to participate in planning Newberg’s future.” The community is rapidly growing, “and if we don’t plan for the future, then it will become something that no one wants.”

It states the benefit of the plan is it creates a roadmap to a preferred future, and at the end of the project there will be a completed document outlining specific goals providing that roadmap. The plan would also provide a “clear picture of the city’s resources so we can identify priorities” and unify different city sectors to accomplish the vision.

Originally published in The Newberg Graphic

Crowds attend soft opening of new Roseburg Public Library

People flocked into the Roseburg Public Library on Thursday as soon as the doors opened for the first time in more than a year and a half.

Giddy community members of all ages looked through the stacks and applied for new library cards as volunteers welcomed people for the soft opening at 1 p.m.

It marks the beginning of regular hours for the new city library after voters decided to end funding for the county library system in 2016. The library and its new partners, the Douglas Education Service District, will hold a grand opening on Jan. 10.

A half hour after the doors opened, more than 140 people had purchased books at a book sale in the Ford Family Room, according to Marcy Belzner, a volunteer with Friends of the Library.

“It’s so exciting,” Belzner said. “I’ve nearly been in tears all day. This is what book hunger looks like.”

Belzner said she was overwhelmed by the number of people browsing through the books for sale, which volunteers weeded out of the library’s old collection in preparation for the reopening.

Construction of new meeting rooms and offices for ESD staff moving to the new shared location reduced the space for the library. Belzner said volunteers maintained two-thirds of the original book collection even though the library is one-third of the original space.

The book sale will continue every day until the end of January during regular hours. Hardbacks and large paperbacks cost 50 cents and small paperbacks and children’s books cost 25 cents. The money will go toward adding books to the collection and funding new library programs.

Fifteen-year-old South Umpqua High School student Kaana Fye held a stack of books nearly up to her chin. She planned to buy what she could carry and come back for more.

“You can never have too many books,” Fye said. “Half of these I’ve never seen before. And if you think about it, when you learn something from them, guess what, that’s more knowledge that you don’t have to pay for later.”

Fye wasn’t particularly excited for any one of her new books, she was excited for them all, she said.

While the book sale stayed busy hours after the doors first opened, people in the main area lined up to register new library cards and check out books. Kids used crayons in Oregon Cultural Trust coloring books set out on the tables in the Deer Creek room. Teens logged onto computers in the new young adult area — an age-specific space that the old library lacked.

Myrtle Creek resident Alvin Helgeson flipped through “Scared to Live” by Stephen Booth as he stood between the stacks. He said he had no problem paying the annual $60 library card fee for non-Roseburg residents. The fee became controversial leading up to the library reopening because all county residents used to be able to become members for free.

“I read quite a few English mysteries,” Helgeson said. “It has cost me a fortune since the library closed because I’ve had to buy the books. So I’m glad to see the library open again.”

He said he used to come to the library once a week before it closed. He hopes the collection expands, but he thinks the lack of countywide funding may impede the library’s ability to get new books from his favorite authors such as Booth. While he’s happy the library is open, he will miss the days when all the libraries in the county — many of which have already reopened — could trade books within the common collection.

Some parts of the facility, such as the children’s library, aren’t open yet, and many Roseburg Library Commission projects are still ongoing. The commission will continue to assess potential book trading systems with other local libraries, according to Library Director Kris Wiley.

The commission is also trying to establish a donation system that will allow low-income people living outside of Roseburg to apply for a library card for free, said Adrienne Groves, an AmeriCorps participant with the city who has been working with the commission. People who use the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would be able to qualify for a free library card.

“We’ve just had so many people in the community who said they wanted to donate to help people get cards,” Groves said.

The grand opening of the library on Jan. 10 will feature performances from ventriloquist Steve Chaney and the Jo Lane Middle School Jazz Band.

Regular hours are 1 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Originally published in the News-Review

Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative talks about importance of saving dunes

COOS COUNTY — In a presentation last week to Coos County Commissioners, the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative discussed the importance of preserving the dunes and restoring its lands.

ODRC outreach coordinator Jeff Malik informed commissioners of the work the group has been doing over the last year and cluing them in on its progress. Since 1941, about 65 percent of the dunes have been lost, he said.

The group’s monitoring committee, which inspects aerial records from the USDA Forest Service, has noticed slowly over time invasive plant species such as European beach grass and Scotch Broom has taken over much of the open sands of the dunes.

“A lot of groups and community members with very different viewpoints realized that these invasive grasses could really threaten the dunes,” Malik said. “So, in 2014 the Siuslaw National Forest convened the ODRC to work with other organizations and interested parties to protect and preserve the dunes.”

Since then, the group has hosted numerous volunteer work days, which gathers crews from various locations throughout Oregon to pull and remove invasive species from the dunes.

This year, approximately 18 work days took place with hundreds of volunteers aiding in clearing areas. The Bull Run OHV Trail near North Bend was among one of the locations which received a work crew.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the OHV/ATV community as well as a number of elected officials and environmental groups,” Malik said. “The biggest help we’ve gotten in Coos County has come from ATV groups including the Save the Riders Dunes in North Bend, who were a big part of our project on Bull Run.”

According to the presentation, the dunes could be lost in less than 100 years if action isn’t taken. The group focuses on maintaining various sites throughout the dunes which need improvement, raising awareness through various outreach campaigns and protecting existing area where dunes are healthy and thriving.

“The dunes shouldn’t only be sand,” Malik said. “There are naturally little pockets of wetlands, native plants and natural tree islands scattered about. But, what we are seeing are these invasive beach grasses turning everything into some uniform scrubby grass land.”

The dunes, which stretch from the California/Oregon border to the Columbia River, feature a unique ecosystem with over 400 species of wildlife, said Malik. The group focuses the section of the dunes which stretches from Coos Bay to Florence. In addition to the organized work days, the Forest Service has also begun bulldozing larger areas to remove beach grass followed by performing controlled burns or herbicide treatments.

Last year, Malik said the group received a letter of support from the Coos County Commissioners in its efforts to secure a grant from Travel Oregon. The group was awarded the grant, which provided funds for a range of outreach materials including informational brochures and posters.

“This was our first time in Coos County doing an outreach presentation,” Malik said. “We want to continue coming here and strengthening our partnerships.”

Along with the effects to wildlife and its habitat, Malik pointed out to commissioners the potential impact the loss of the dunes could have on tourism to the area. In Coos County, about $270 million was spent by visitors to the area in 2017. The dunes he pointed out were a big attraction to tourists engaging in recreational activities and contributing to the local economy.

On June 6, the ODRC will present a lecture on the dunes and its disappearing landscape at the Coos History Museum in its Sprague Gallery in Coos Bay. Sometime in the spring, the group is planning on hosting a volunteer recruitment event in Coos County, but has not confirmed a date.

“If we’re unable to save the dunes then we’ll lose acres of natural habitat, wildlife and economic benefits,” Malik said. “I hope that we could start some volunteer activities down here as a way to help the cause and preserve our dunes.”

Originally published in the World

Celebration of Life for Megan Smith

Please join us this Saturday, December 8th from 1pm to 3pm at the Ford Alumni Center to celebrate the life of RARE’s longstanding Director, Megan Smith. Though we grieve our loss, there is joy, too, in having known such an amazing individual. Megan’s tireless dedication to the RARE AmeriCorps Program left a legacy that will only continue to grow with time – let us come together, friends and family alike, to celebrate that legacy.

Parking is available in the free campus lots just west of the Ford Alumni Center accessed from E. 13th Ave (lot 37) and at 15th and Moss St. (lot 33).

Remembering Megan Smith—A Rare Leader in Rural Development and Community Building

The College of Design community is mourning the loss of Megan Smith, longtime program director for Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) and co-director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement (IPRE) in the School of Planning Public Policy and Management (PPPM). Smith passed away Oct. 14 from health complications.

“RARE has reached every community in Oregon, and Megan’s legacy will live on through the public servants she’s inspired to work toward prosperity for Oregon’s rural communities,” said Governor Kate Brown.

For 25 years through RARE (an AmeriCorps program), Smith was a leader in helping rural Oregon communities improve the quality of life for their residents and mentored students to do the same. Her work also included citizen involvement and outreach for the McKenzie Watershed Council as well as community development projects for the U.S. Forest Service and Lane County.

“The ripple of her loss is felt throughout the state,” said Titus Tomlinson, program coordinator for RARE. “She was one of those quiet but strong leaders. It was an honor to work with someone so esteemed in the state of Oregon.”

Smith spent her career building up a network across the state, driving from county to county to find the right communities to place her students where they could best help solve local economic, social, and environmental challenges. Under her guidance, students were placed for 11-month stints in communities statewide, where they worked on everything from facilitating county-wide Geographic Information Systems and coordinating the development of downtown master plans to implementing community health services, enhancing local farmers’ markets, completing economic development plans, and coordinating watershed assessments.

“She was always so thoughtful and very supportive of others, and has played a big role in the applied work of IPRE (and its predecessor the Community Service Center),” wrote PPPM Director Richard Margerum to PPPM faculty, students and UO colleagues earlier this week.

Many in the College of Design community, and in her field, say her commitment to and passion for her work was unparalleled.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area (she was a huge Giants fan), Smith came north to pursue a bachelor of science in geography and sociology at Southern Oregon University. She then attended the University of Oregon for graduate school, receiving her master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning in 1996, where she was also a member of RARE’s first cohort. RARE is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

“I don’t know who taught who,” said PPPM Professor Emeritus David Povey, who founded RARE and was a mentor to Smith.  “She had a phenomenal capacity to share her enthusiasm with incoming students or participants in the program.”

The following year, Smith joined the RARE staff as a coordinator, and shortly after became the program director.

Robert Parker, co-director of the IRPE and an instructor in PPPM, and Smith were graduate students at the same time and worked together for 25 years. He explained that Smith’s work was so important because rural Oregon has historically been economically challenged, and the RARE program connected the resources of the university to these communities.

“It’s really hard to overstate the impact Megan had in the state,” Parker says. “Megan was really sharp and incredibly dedicated to the mission of the organization as well as the participants of the organization, and incredibly dedicated to rural Oregon and finding solutions for the pressing needs of rural communities.”

Through her mentorship of students, she was creating problem-solvers for the next generation. Many RARE participants have gone on to work in the communities where they were originally placed. One such success story is Maddie Phillips, who in 2012 received her master’s in Community and Regional Planning from the UO. Phillips was a RARE participant placed in Creswell in 2013. The following year the city hired her as a planning technician, and now she is a city planner there.

“Megan was a tireless advocate in providing young people opportunities in the public sector,” said Phillips. She adds that Smith was key in guiding her through her placement process, redirecting her to Creswell from her first choice, because Smith knew her student would have greater success in this city.

“She helped people clarify their direction,” Phillips recalled. “Her legacy is that she understood how to approach challenges and find a way to bring young people into public service at a time that was critical for both the participant and the recipient.”

Tomlinson has his own fond memories from working with Smith for seven years at RARE.

“When I was first coming on as program coordinator, she took me on this giant tour around the state, up the gorge and through Eastern Oregon,” Tomlinson said. They were driving near John Day when a golden eagle swooped down in front of the windshield. “We were both totally stunned. I just had never seen that part of the state and she was out showing me her stomping grounds. That is a memory I will always hold dear.”

“What impact will her work have? Huge, just huge. In terms of numbers and the lives that she has affected in a positive way,” Povey said.

Information about possible memorial services will be announced at a later date.


News Briefs: RARE Participant

Ariel Kane has joined Gold Beach Main Street program as a Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) participant to help the nonprofit group with its streetscape improvements, economic development and community programs.

“With Ariel’s help, Gold Beach Main Street is excited to focus on our goals, increase community engagement and grow our tiny town with big dreams,” said President Laurie Van Zante. “We’re looking forward to what we can accomplish in the next year.”

Kane will coordinate, plan and manage various projects the nonprofit undertakes, in addition to marketing, event coordination and technical assistance with which other organizations Gold Beach Main Street works.

Kane, a Winston native, spent the past four years teaching English and volunteering in Japan. She will be based at Gold Beach City Hall.

Her position is supported by the city’s Urban Renewal Agency, the Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement.

Originally published in the Curry Coastal Pilot