Tag: Stories from the Field: A RARE AmeriCorps Perspective

Never Say No

By Norah Owings

Talent is a small city 20 miles from the California border tucked between Ashland and Medford in the Rogue Valley. It often doesn’t stand out from the large city of Medford that boasts most of the infrastructure and needs of the valley or the niche market of the Shakespearean Ashland. However, if you happen to take exit 21 off I5 you just might fall in love with this dedicated and passionate community just like I did.

Adjusting to a new community is hard, especially when you’re in an area you’ve never been before. You need to learn the culture of the area, any important people who can help you, as well as figuring out where the best grocery store is. It may take you a week to get your bearings, or you could be like me and not full adjust until month 4. Although you might not feel fully comfortable and not know exactly what you’re doing, the best thing I learned during my time in Talent was to never say no to any opportunity you’re invited to. Whether that is city council every other Wednesday at 6:45 or the small community group that meets in the town hall to discuss zero waste or weed abatement. It may feel awkward and weird at first, but it will help you in the long run understand your community and see who the key players are.

One of the first things I agreed to was to have a booth at the annual Harvest Festival, which was less than a month into my project. It was one those situations where you really don’t want to, you don’t even know what the Harvest Fest is and you don’t even know what you’re exactly supposed to have at this booth. But in the end you throw something together show up an hour early to set up and have an amazing day. I got to talk to citizens, volunteers, council members, and staff all within a 6-hour period in a place that I never would have if I hadn’t agreed to have a booth.

The first city committee meeting I went to was the complete opposite of my Harvest Festival experience. It was HEATED. I was also the only person in there who wasn’t part of their group. Within the first 10 minutes I was like what did I get myself into?! There were arguments about things I had no idea about and deep discussions about plans they had been working on for months. However, I learned that some of these people I would be working alongside with for my entire program. A group of dedicated volunteers wanting to make their community the best town in Jackson County.

No matter the occasion or whether you think you should be there if you’re invited to something or you see an event that you’re interested go! This is your time to make the contacts and learn about your community. The individuals in those first meetings I see now on a weekly basis and have become great colleagues and friends. It has made me one of the passionate dedicated volunteers working to create a better Talent.

A little bit about Norah Owings:

  • B.S. in Environmental Economics and Policy and a Minor in Natural Resources – Oregon State University
  • People may be surprised when they learn that I appeared in Time Magazine
  • One of my most significant accomplishment was my internship at the Corvallis Environmental Center. I was hired to intern for community outreach and event planning for the annual Cooped Up in Corvallis where people got to tour local chicken coops.


Confessions of Parks Planner

By Ben Tolles

“You shouldn’t put a park here! It’s going to increase traffic! I think we need more tennis courts instead of a soccer field. Young hooligans will hide and do drugs in that pavilion. I love the idea of building new parks but I’m NOT paying more taxes. Those neighbors are going to be pissed.”

“Thank you for all your help protecting this tree! The soccer club will really benefit from the plan you are putting together. My children will love the plan for a nature park rather than a typical jungle gym. Scappoose is becoming a better place to live because of your work.”

I hear this all day long. It’s when I’m leading the parks and recreation committee. It’s an unsolicited phone call about someone who read about the Parks Master Plan. It’s an email asking me to consider not building any parks because the Salmon’s habitat needs a 200ft protective buffer.

For whatever reason parks are a hot topic. Everyone wants them but they don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to build them, and they sure as hell don’t want the park built next to them.  My job in Scappoose is to help figure out a path forward while balancing support and opposition. For now, that means finishing up the Parks Master Plan that the past RARE participant started. He wrote most of the plan, but I’m putting the finishing touches on it. Unfortunately these “finishing touches” are proving to be more difficult than I would have thought. It involves creating a capital improvement plan for seven different future parks AND planning an annual town meeting around it.

But I love it. I’m a salesperson for parks.

“You drive into the parking lot and take a right to follow the one way road. You round the end of the lot and park at the first spot on your right, facing the park. As you exit the car you are looking through large Maple trees that have grown up to shade the parking area. To your left you see a field that kids are using to practice soccer next to the huge Heritage Oak Tree. The kids have stashed their stuff beneath the tree, and a few kids are sitting in its shade drinking water. You head left towards the South Scappoose Creek. You make a quick stop at the pavilion and notice people celebrating a wedding shower. It has a great view. You can see the river, and countless people walking the path along its edge reading beneath a tree or splashing around in the water. Across the river is Veteran’s park where a pickup softball game is being played. After admiring the view for a second, you too head down the hill following a gravel path to join your friends enjoying a swim.”

If only everyone could see that. Right now I am a salesperson for the parks, as well as the planner behind them. It’s a great mix of technical planning expertise and community engagement. I deal with zoning, and engineering to find the plan that doesn’t violate city code, and is within the financial budget of the city. I also get to engage committee members and allow them to engage in the creative process. Not everything the dream up is possible (one committee member suggested a zip line), but I take what is feasible and try to make it happen

I love working in Scappoose. It’s challenging when I get yelled at, but I know that once the dust settles and (if) I’ve accomplished what I intended the community will be better served in a variety of ways.

A little bit about Ben Tolles:

  • Bachelors in Environmental Science – Ithaca College
  • People may be surprised when they learn that I am on the Ithaca College Ballroom Dance team! Most people aren’t aware that ballroom dance is a competitive sport and neither did I un l I met a girl on the team who invited me to join.
  • My most significant accomplishment: Backpacking around the world when I was only 19!



Does community development work interest you?  Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon?  Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/