'Roundtable' reflection about the year that was

People often ask me, "How do you come up with story ideas?" And, "Isn't it hard to find things to write about week after week?"

The answer is: many ways, and no. One thing I've learned is that, although Hood River is a "small" town, there's an incredibly vibrant and diverse community of people here.

My job as Kaleidoscope editor is to seek out that community and find compelling stories to tell. And truly, it isn't very hard. In fact, it's an honor to be able to meet people from all walks of life in Hood River and around the valley. I get to step into their lives for a few hours, a few days maybe. I tell their story, then I'm gone. But they are never gone for me.

I keep "them" stacked on my desk not only for quick reference to stories I've written, but to remind me of the people whose lives have touched mine and made it richer. During the past year, I've had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary people who have told me their extraordinary stories -- and let me, in turn, pass them on to you. Here are a few highlights:

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In January I met Jenay Scott, a young woman whose pretty green eyes and big smile betrayed little of her painful upbringing and six years in an abusive relationship. That was in large part because of the year she spent at the Young Women's Center, a live-in facility on Wasco Street administered by Helping Hands.

Under the guidance of director Michelle Hertrich, Jenay had picked herself up and was facing life head-on -- going to school, working and, most of all, doing it all with a healthy dose of self-esteem. Jenay was a role model for the women who'd just moved into the center, a testimony to what they hoped, one day, to be.

In March my attention was drawn to a group of Hood River Valley High School students who, in their spare time after school and sports and other extracurricular activities, were building an electric car. They spent evenings in the high school shop with teacher Jeff Blackman designing and building the car from the ground up, and weekends traveling around the state to race in the Electron Run race series sponsored by Portland General Electric. Blackman has the program off the ground again this year -- this time with nearly three times as many students signed on.

Soon after, Lore Watlamet, the cultural resource protection officer with the Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Enforcement, opened up her world for me and for photographer Jim Semlor. She took us to some sacred Native American sites along the Columbia River to show us where looters had struck.

As we drove up and down the river in her truck, and hiked around various sites, she called the Columbia River "one big archaeological site," and talked of how painful it is when she comes upon a "sorting pile" where looters have sifted through dirt for artifacts to steal. This story will go on; she and CRITFE are concerned about increasing looting as more and more visitors come for -- and capitalize on -- the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's expedition.

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In April Brian and Lorraine Carlstrom and their kids, Logan and Kenzie, invited me to help learn about how they learn -- at home. The Carleton's are part of a growing number of home-schoolers in the country -- and in Oregon, whose official number of kids schooled at home rose from 3,700 in 1988 to over 12,000 in 1998.

Logan and Kenzie shared with me -- and readers -- a sampling of their days, which are filled with home learning in the morning and, often, field trips and "real world" learning in the afternoon. Brian and Lorraine shared the tribulations of home schooling -- as well as its joys.

During the spring I got to meet a whole bunch of locals who were involved with the Dalai Lama's visit to Portland in May. Joan Yasui Emerson had spearheaded an effort to get Hood River youth involved. As a result, Mark Steiner's Chamber Singers choir at Hood River Valley High was invited to perform at one of the Dalai Lama's appearances.

The elite choir rehearsed a special program all spring and performed perfectly for the world-renowned guest on May 15.

It was also in May that, once again, a family opened up their lives to Jim Semlor and me. This time it was the Morales'. The occasion: daughter Brenda's quinceanera, a traditional celebration of a young woman's 15th birthday in Latin American culture.

We followed Brenda throughout her special day -- from early morning hair styling at the family home in an orchard to the last dances at the Hood River Expo Center past midnight. Throughout we were struck by the joy and celebration of this daylong event -- and the involvement of so many in the Hispanic community.

Walt Nance and Griselda Garcia -- though comprising two separate stories -- were two more locals I placed immediately in my "amazing people I've met" category. Walt, who owns a construction company, spearheaded an effort in May to remodel a run-down home for a woman who couldn't afford repairs.

Griselda graduated in June with a nursing degree from Oregon Health & Science University 10 years after she was abandoned by her mother in Mexico and smuggled across the border to join her father in Hood River - who soon died of cancer.

Fall brought a whole new cast of interesting characters to light. Sally LaVenture -- and the whole town -- celebrated 25 years of Waucoma Bookstore in October.

Artists were thriving -- including Jane Pagliarulo and Scorch Meek, who set up a print-making workshop in the Alpinee Hut, and a group of friends sharing and making glass art in Parkdale.

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The aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also found their way onto the Kaleidoscope pages, in the form of local counselors helping people to cope, and a group of diverse citizens -- spearheaded by author Mark Nykanen, who organized a forum of speakers from around the region to talk about America's new war.

In November I spent a day with Frank Akin, owner of Anderson's Tribute Center. He gave me a tour of the remodeled funeral home, talked of his 20 years as Hood River's funeral director, and shared his ever-evolving vision of taking care of people in one of the most difficult of times.

Rounding out the year was a diverse range of stories, from a look at those suffering with HIV/AIDS in the Hood River Valley and a support group for them led by social worker Lucinda Taylor, to a new "senior" housing development designed by Steve Tessmer and Bob Hanel.

The year 2001 was filled with people in the Hood River Valley who filled Kaleidoscope with a vibrant and ever-changing pattern of shapes and colors -- making the world more colorful for us all. So, surely, will 2002.

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