Volunteers make towns go 'round
Looking to contribute to the community they became part of in 2017, the Rogers family channeled their volunteer spirit toward the annual Gresham Arts Festival.
"As a family new to Gresham, we wanted to get out in the community and meet new people," said Audrey Rogers. "I'm a strong believer in people helping out and pitching in to make things better together."
Last year, the family of five began by running the water refilling station at the festival. But Audrey realized things were going smoothly, so she shifted to help at the Kids Village.
The city had put together a booklet where children could get stamps from the various booths, earning a prize for completely filling the book. But those books weren't getting into children's hands and many families were confused about the process, so Audrey stepped up to fix the problems.
Her efforts aren't unique to Gresham, as many community members are happy to go above and beyond.
"We couldn't run without our volunteers," said Gresham Councilor David Widmark.
The Rogerses plan to continue supporting the Gresham Arts Festival. They will be volunteering once again at the Kids Village this weekend, and then will transition to supporting the latest world record attempt.
"I love art — so it's not just another community event. I come away feeling so inspired," Audrey said. "This is something we will do every July."
All cities in East Multnomah County rely on the hard work and dedication of community members like the Rogers family, who are willing to give up an hour or two in support of their neighbors. And both Gresham and Troutdale hosted events last week to thank those who volunteer.
"We are immensely thankful for their support," said Sasha Konell, Gresham community marketing specialist.
In the past year, the city estimates it had more than 1,200 volunteers helping out at a wide range of events. Community members assist at annual events, put on holiday celebrations, join the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, become mentors and join groups like the Citizen Volunteers in Policing. Other opportunities include adopting a park or a street.
In Troutdale, in addition to having a an entirely volunteer-led City Council, citizens also pitch in to organize events such as the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce's SummerFest celebration, the Troutdale Tree Lighting ceremony and the chamber's Fall Festival of the Arts.
Individuals, families, nonprofit organizations, businesses, clubs and church groups all readily give back.
One volunteer donates his time just to beautify a small section of Troutdale.
During the summer months, Troutdale resident Mike Childs is out watering four small landscaping strips lining Mayor's Square downtown every day at 6 a.m. before heading to work as a United Parcel Service delivery driver.
On weekends, he does basic flower maintenance. He supplies the flowers and bark dust and applies fertilizer as needed.
"When I'm down there on the weekends, the tourists — or the passersby — go 'Oh, you're working for the city.' I go 'No, it's just what I'm doing.'"
Childs started his endeavors nine years ago when his son was a junior in high school and looking for volunteer work.
"So I hopped on board, and we did a bunch of stuff for the city: Pressure washing and cleaning up, and I noticed these two little planter things that were just gravel and rock," Childs said. "(I said) 'Let's fix this up,' and we planted a bunch of stuff, and I kept adding and adding. I redid it, and people loved it."
The landscaping strips expanded to four a couple of years ago.
Childs said it's his only unpaid labor for Troutdale, and many volunteers donate much more of their time to improve the city.
"I'm a small piece of the pie," Childs said. "I just do this little thing — and people love it."
Friends working together
As a way to thank the unpaid workers, the city of Troutdale hosted an ice cream social on Wednesday, July 10,
Childs attended the gathering alongside fellow volunteer and Troutdale resident Diane Castillo-White. The Troutdale resident serves on boards for the Troutdale Historical Society, the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Town Center Committee.
"It's nice to gather together because these are all our friends," Castillo-White said of the event. "Everybody who volunteers, we see each other everywhere."
Troutdale Mayor Casey Ryan thanked everyone at the ice cream social for their efforts.
"What's happening today is something that's not happening that used to in a lot of communities," Ryan said. "People don't volunteer like they used to."
In particular, he noted youths are not as inspired as they once were to lend a hand.
"It's important that you volunteers mentor the younger generation," Ryan said, "because they are not being brought up with the same values."
Volunteering is one way Troutdale can make itself unique and stand out in a larger metropolitan area.
"Today, you represent the best of the best in our city," Ryan said to the volunteers. "You literally volunteer your time with no pay ... other than you care enough about your city."
That volunteer spirit showed when Michael Gonzales, Gresham's neighborhood and community enhancement manager, ran across a couple picking up trash along the Springwater Corridor Trail.
He learned the two had been doing it for the last three years, unprompted. They told Gonzales it was not only important to do their part beautifying their neck of the woods, but also an easy way to hit their 15,000 daily step goal.
"We couldn't do all that we do as a city without the volunteers," Gonzales said. "Many hands make light work."
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