Lunches are bagged and ready to distribute in earely 2020 as Malheur County schools prepare to help feed children kept out of school due to the virus. (File/Malheur Enterprise)

With 2020 about to become history, the year ahead certainly will have its challenges as well. But there are also reasons for hope.

We invited community leaders to reflect what hopes they have for the year ahead and to offer words of encouragement.

Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

MATT STRINGER

Four Rivers Cultural Center executive director

This has been a hard year for everyone. The stress and anxiety associated with how we have been living is really beyond our comprehension. We all need a break. The vaccine is a wonder and allows us to see the possibility of alleviating this frightening time in life. 

I, and all of us, at Four Rivers Cultural Center stay grateful for life, friends and loved ones and we still have hope and bolster each other as we trudge through lack of activity, social distancing, coming up with community support work now that we are not able to ply our standard trade. 

We have delivered groceries to over 80 families suffering from Covid-19, have booked hotel rooms for 45 quarantining people and have processed 68 applications for rent relief. We have had monthly Red Cross blood drives since April. We have had to close for six of the last 10 months and had very little activity here when we were open.

In the year ahead, Project One will be a community celebration with music, dancing, food, activities and lots of laughs and the community sharing the celebration of health returning to our communities. We just want life to be as close to what it was pre-pandemic, with lots of activities and community participation. 

We at Four Rivers Cultural Center want to get back to producing the more than 60 events that occur here every good year.  We want life as close to what we knew it before and activity.

My hope post pandemic is that our citizens would be preoccupied with preserving our democracy and focusing on supporting a new administration who has to tackle so many issues in our country today. If everybody's response wasn't over the top, belligerent, offensive, and aggressive during these times we would all feel safer, be happier, more content and hopefully more appreciative of what we in this glorious country have.  

If everyone realized it is better to give than to receive, and if everyone was conscious to do random acts of kindness, and if civility and citizenship prevailed, and if we remembered every act of kindness matters more than we can know, and if there were more caring minds and attitudes, and if we had more gracious givers for oh so grateful takers, and if we lived in love and light, then life can and likely will be better in the year ahead.

I have seen the goodness of people who live in Malheur county. I have seen the caring and giving first hand. May we continue to be kind and giving and even step it up a little until we get to the other side. I wish us light and laughter.

 

TIFFANY CRUICKSHANK,

Chair, Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board

Assistant general manager, Snake River Produce, Nyssa

As we look toward 2021, the pressure is immense to improve upon the upheaval of a year that was 2020. From the perspective of the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, much progress was made in 2020 with the third-party administrator and grant agreements finalized with Oregon Community Foundation and the disbursement of two rounds of grant funding bringing the board’s total investment in economic development in the Border Region to more than $650,000.

With 2021 comes additional opportunities for grants and loans, as well as our long-anticipated incentive programs which will encourage new housing and current property improvement.

My personal suggestion to 2021 is to take it one step at a time. Many tasks may seem insurmountable, goals lofty, but when approached with a realistic yet hopeful view, we may find success more achievable than before. Be resilient, my friends – and stay safe.

 

DARREN JOHNSON,

Superintendent, Nyssa School District 

My hope for the children and families of Malheur County is for them to return to full in-person schooling. I think the absence of our regular school functions has helped us all understand how much we need the activities and normal life that school provides. A return to school will allow families to have regular schedules, students to receive the academic instruction and support they require, allow students to do the activities that enrich their lives, and to make the personal connections that are so vital to mental and emotional health. 

All the district employees also want in-person schooling because they recognize the need for these same connections. I certainly hope that students returning to school will also allow parents who have not been able to work to return to work, which opens the economy and helps the financial issues that are sure to come from a long shutdown.  

DINA ELLWANGER

President, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario

In the early part of 2021, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center is hopeful all western Treasure Valley residents will continue with the safety practices needed to get Covid-19 contained. Let's stop the spread and get people healthy so we can return to normal living - gathering with friends, dining out, going to movies, community events and more. 

The vaccine offers so much promise in this regard. We hope people will talk to their doctors and research reliable information so they feel comfortable getting the vaccine when it's their turn.

We look forward to more of the amazing teamwork and communication fostered during the pandemic between health care, community officials, and other partners. Together, we learned a lot about serving our community and want that momentum to continue.

We hope Covid-19 declines enough to allow a return to the many fundraisers that support worthy causes in our community. Saint Alphonsus currently supports the temporary winter shelter project in Ontario. We'll join many partners for an important groundbreaking in June as the former Presbyterian Community Care Center is converted to an affordable housing complex with on-site social services for residents.

Despite having our hands full with Covid-19 this year, we're excited that work still occurred so Saint Alphonsus can expand services in 2021:

•A new mammography machine means more local women will get the best imaging available for breast cancer screening.

•A new radiology room near the Emergency Department will increase patient safety and decrease wait times.

•New echocardiogram equipment will allow us to keep more patients in Ontario for important heart care.

•We'll also expand chemotherapy infusion services from two days to five days per week.

And finally, we're hopeful a new orthopedic surgeon will be added to our team in the new year, and that we see the return of TVCC nursing students and dedicated volunteers in our hallway.

TOM VIALPANDO

Vale mayor-elect

With 2020 coming to an end, I look forward to the great times ahead on the horizon for Vale and Malheur County. The holidays are about sharing time with loved ones, practicing our faiths and remembering those who are no longer able to be with us.

As I look ahead to the new year, one of my top priorities is to engage fully with our residents and other community members. I want all of you to know that my door is always open! My goal is to ensure city government is run as efficiently and accessible as possible.

A successful city government will depend on the cooperation of myself, the members of the council, and our team of dedicated personnel who will work every day to affect positive change in our community. Another priority will be to hire a city manager and part-time grant writer.

The tremendous effects of the pandemic have devastated some of our long-standing great businesses and this coming year the city will continue to make efforts to assist businesses in their efforts to keep their doors open for business. I have had the opportunity to meet nearly all of the Vale business owners and offer total encouragement as we go forward.

As always, I look forward to the many ideas, opportunities and partnerships that lay ahead in which we can invest in our youth, seniors, veterans and all community members!

LYNN FINDLEY

State senator, Vale

My hope is we can see the return of Malheur County and all of Oregon youth back to the classroom. I believe we must place more authority with the local health departments, public safety councils, Education Service District, school boards and emergency management organizations.

The one-size-fits-all approach to control the spread of Covid must stop. We must provide a purpose for our youth and returning to school and school activities is critical. I believe the most recent direction for the governor and Oregon Department of Education is a step in the right direction.

We must protect our small business and local workforce. The uniqueness of our area provides considerable challenges to our business with Idaho completely open and Oregon closed. Our businesses can't survive much longer. With the recent special session, landlords will be offered limited relief and support. We must do more to protect this critical sector.

The glimmer of hope I offer is there are now two vaccines available and there is a plan to provide at no cost a vaccination to everyone who chooses to receive one. Our frontline medical staff is well into the cycle and very soon phase 1B will allow our seniors to receive their turn. This is extremely positive news.  

After reading this response I do not think it is very inspiring. I really do think we are about to turn the corner and empower our local folks to have a greater say in how we deal with a vaccinated population. I believe our kids will have to opportunity to return to the classroom if the local school board believes they can provide the proper environment and I believe most have been working tirelessly in that effort it will happen.

CHERYL CRUSON,

President, Treasure Valley Community College Board

Owner, Oregon Trail Hobbies and Gifts, Ontario

The year 2020 certainly held some struggles and surprises for us all! Reflecting on the various issues we have had to contend with as a community makes me aware of what an awesome area we live in.

People have come together to help one another in ways we might not experience in large metropolitan areas because we know each other here and what their needs are. I have been encouraged by my customers because they have made an extra effort to shop local and express their gratitude for us being here.

I look forward to 2021 being a year that will have us adjusting to some different ways of doing things but more grateful for each other and the things we have discovered to be most important. We will appreciate our freedom to gather in community activities as things open up and return to some normalcy. We will appreciate our restaurants and small businesses for how they persevered during an unprecedented time.

We will appreciate each other’s smiles and hugs again.

WENDY HILL

District manager, Oregon Department of Human Services, Ontario

A brighter outlook is in the works for our fellow Oregonians as the dedicated staff of District 14 (Grant, Harney and Malheur counties) usher in 2021 for the Oregon Department of Human Services. The district was part of “wave one” in delivering services to Oregonians through the successful self-sufficiency launch of the OregONEligibility System. This enhanced access to services gives our customers options to connect in person through our store fronts, virtually (computer), by phone or mail to apply for benefits. This is exciting because, finally, there is no wrong door!

We look forward with enthusiasm at a new era for child welfare in 2021 with the “Vision for Transformation” plan. Cooperating with internal and external partners, we will expand services to prevent unnecessary foster care placements, ensure children remain in care of family, friends or neighbors when possible, and continue dismantling structural and systemic racism.

We will work collaboratively to uplift families and communities. We will honor diversity. Our profound desire is to build an equitable and fair system of support for all families. We look forward to a safe return of our children to the classroom and parents return to work. The year 2021 is the year we at the Department of Human Servicers do not return to normal! We will be better together!

NICOLE ALBISU,

Superintendent, Ontario School District

Our plan is to continue to expand our limited in person instruction and allow more students into our classrooms. Ultimately, we hope for the safe return of all OSD students to our buildings!

We will utilize the creativity and ingenuity that staff have proven during this past nine months towards future methods of educating students. This would likely include an option for students who have excelled with the online platform or for parents who are concerned about the return to in person learning.

We will facilitate open lines of communication between school and home and school and community.  We hope to be able to continue the progress that we have made in genuinely gathering stakeholder feedback and using that data to make meaningful changes.

We will prioritize the social-emotional health and well-being of students and staff as we ease them back into our new normal, however long it takes.

JIM MARET

Nyssa city manager

Here in Nyssa we are anticipating the start of the Treasure Valley Reload Center. This will help our community economically by providing jobs and services.

We hope to see an end to the Covid outbreak and have less restrictions on our citizens, businesses and city as a whole. Here in the city we have been focused on trying to get some form of normal back into our community, working with the Chamber of Commerce on different events such as Thunderegg Days, the annual Scarecrow contest, We Love Our Farmers celebration, the Christmas reverse parade, delivering and handing out Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, to finally the first Nyssa Police Christmas give away. These things have all helped our community and we will continue this focus into 2021.

 

ALISHA MCBRIDE,

Superintendent, Vale School District

My greatest hope for Malheur County in 2021 is to be able to provide all K-12 students with the opportunity to return to the classroom for full, in-person instruction. Despite admirable efforts by our staff, families, and students, the social, emotional, and academic needs of students are not met through distance learning. Data continues to support the fact that, when health and safety protocols are followed, schools do not contribute to the spread of Covid-19. As a result, in-person instruction needs to become a priority in January.

ANDREW MAEDA

Executive director, Ontario Recreation District

The Ontario Recreation District is excited to announce that we will be finalizing the designs and moving onto the fundraising goals for the future aquatic center. This marks a major turning point in the project as we will now be proceeding with funding for the actual construction.

This project will serve a wide range of populations within Ontario, it will provide a safe community space, and it will bring a major attraction back to life within our community. It has the potential to make major and much needed improvements to our community, such as improved health and wellness, economic development, and social inclusion benefits. Our current optimistic goal is to reach 80% of our fundraising goal by May to begin construction shortly afterwards.

The 2020 year has truly shown many the importance of social interactions and overall wellness to our daily lives and health. While returning to school, returning to work, or economic improvements may not be fully recovered within this next year, we hope that our community will have the opportunity to rebound and/or improve their physical, psychological, and emotional wellness once again.

The Ontario Recreation District hopes our community will take advantage of every opportunity to improve their overall health and wellness. We have all experienced the reality of life this year through the loss of lives, jobs, and freedoms. This new year can be the opportunity we have all been waiting for to truly chase our health goals, improve our relationships, and define what really matters to us at the end of the day.

ADAM BROWN,

Ontario city manager

For the coming year, we are putting a lot of money into our infrastructure and hope to leverage our own money to bring in grant resources using our grant writer. We would like to implement the new branding, finish some streets, make more park improvements, finish the Beck Park tennis courts, and other lifestyle enhancements.

The Ontario City Council has made a big commitment to improving the quality of life and adding a value-added proposition for choosing Ontario as a place to live, work, and/or play. More urgently we are doing everything we can to keep our businesses afloat. We have purchased two dozen outdoor canopies, two dozen patio heaters, and propane tanks for our businesses so they can serve people outside.

My biggest hope is to return to a healthy economy for our businesses. If they do well, (make money), then the city does well. Thankfully there is an end in sight and we just need get our businesses through it.

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