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The group focused on preventing youth substance abuse provides 1,300 pumpkins to elementary students.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin Together planned on distributing as many of these 525 pumpkins as they could on Oct. 27 at Bridgeport Elementary School, part of the Gratitude Pumpkin Package project. Helping out with distribution efforts are, from left,  Max Clanton, a junior at Tualatin High School; Kellen Hale, a TUHS junior, Officers Kevin Miller and Brian Miller of the Tualatin Police Department;  Cyndy Hillier of Tualatin Together; Olivia Johnson, a TUHS senior; and Jordan Mills, principal at Bridgeport Elementary School.A lot looks different about the fall season in 2020 — not least of which is that most children and teenagers still aren't able to return to classrooms because of COVID-19.

Popular events have been canceled, including the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin and community trick-or-treating events in many suburban communities.

Lee Farms and other well-trafficked agribusinesses in Washington and Clackamas counties are operating with restrictions, including attendance limits.

But thanks to Tualatin Together and volunteers, elementary school students in Tualatin are getting a taste of fall — and a reminder of the importance of keeping your brain healthy during a stressful and unfamiliar time.

Tualatin Together and volunteers recently distributed "Gratitude Pumpkin" packages along with 1,300 pumpkins.

The packages were given out to students at Edward Byrom and Tualatin elementary schools earlier in the month during supply and distribution days at those schools, with plans to give them to Bridgeport Elementary School students on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Tualatin Together focuses on mental health issues involving young people and works to discourage drug, tobacco and alcohol use among minors.

Cyndy Hillier, a leading member in the Tualatin Together group, said the pumpkin packages provide a way to invest in students and get parents to a point where "maybe they're not having conversations about drugs and alcohol but they are having conversations around, 'Can you accomplish this?' or, 'Can you think, draw and write about something you did for someone else today?'"

Hillier said studies about early childhood experiences and trauma show building resilience is important to teach youth how to navigate through life.

Members of Tualatin Together talked with the elementary school principals to find out the best ways to reach students during the current "unique learning environment."

"What we came up with was this Gratitude Pumpkin Project," said Hillier. "What they get is a pumpkin, a journal and a Sharpie to write on the pumpkin and a pencil to write in their little journals."

That 42-page journal, which Tualatin Together put together with help of elementary teachers and principals, asks students to write on such topics as naming an adult in their lives they are thankful for, or acknowledging something they did well or improved upon from the previous week.

"This, we felt, was something really important that gave our youth and families an opportunity to talk about something and be part of the community in a different way," Hillier said of the journals.

The cover artwork, which students can color, was created by Emily Rose Bartlett, a graduate of the Tigard-Tualatin School District.COURTESY PHOTO: TUALATIN TOGETHER - Skyler, a Tualatin Elementary School student, wrestles with a pumpkin on Oct. 7, provided by Tualatin Togethers  Gratitude Pumpkin Package.

The Sharpie pen allows students to put down their thoughts, writing in a spiral direction from top to bottom on the pumpkin.

Hillier described seeing the excitement of students to receive their very own pumpkins at school.

"Oh my gosh, the faces on these kids (made) tears in my eyes for sure," said Hillier.

The orange squashes were purchased from Al's Garden Center, with The Garden Corner nursery helping move transport the pumpkins to their proper locations.

Officers with the Tualatin Police Department and Tigard High School football coaches and players helped distribute them to the schools.

Elementary principals are excited about the project.

"Tualatin Together's Gratitude Pumpkin program is exactly what our community needed," Matt Coleman, Byrom Elementary School principal, said in a news release. "We are grateful for the opportunity to provide our families with engaging and thoughtful activities to promote gratitude and self-awareness."

Meanwhile, Hillier said Tualatin Together hopes to work on future projects with the elementary school principals.

"We're just 'over-the-moon' excited about this, and they seemed to be, also," Hillier said. "We're looking forward to a long partnership with them, because we're not going to back away from investing at the K-5 youth and family level."

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