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Three - September 23

Hola todos!
Welcome to another exciting installment of my life in
Woodburn, Oregon! I know this email is way past due,
and a lot has happened since the last one, so
therefore there are a lot of things that I want to
tell you about. (In other words, Caution: this is a novel!)
First of all, I decided to cancel my cell phone
contract and resort to phone cards... sooo much
cheaper, especially when the cell phone ends up
costing half of your monthly stipend. So from now on,
if you'd like to call, our house number is (503)
982-8610. (I promise you there will be something
interesting going on!!)
Let's see, since the last time I wrote, I have slowly
but surely begun to settle into my roles here as
housemate, social services coordinator, senior
ministry coordinator, -and most recently- teacher and
youth soccer referee (more about these later). The
people I serve are fabulously challenging, and very
diverse. I speak spanish everyday, and even had mom
send one of my old spanish books from slu to practice
and try to improve. Most of the people that come in
for help are mexican born immigrants looking for work,
or if they are working, they are not making a living
wage. I most often help them in paying their bills,
trying to avoid utility shutoffs and evictions. The
lack of available resources is frustrating though at
times, because how do you say no to the unemployed
worker supporting a young family in favor of the woman
who is escaping domestic violence and crying in your
office? i know i can't. so it forces horrible
decisions pretty regularly, at times made worse by the
language barrier. I haven't had to turn away anyone
so far that I thought was truly desparate and truly in
need, and I thank God for that. The JV before built
up quite a surplus, but I know that if I continue to
be what I consider not to be generous, but *humane*
then we will quickly begin to run low once the harvest
season is over and winter - the toughest time of the
year - sets in.
I also manage a food bank, which is open twice a week.
In recent years, woodburn has lost a majority of its
berry packing plants due to new child labor laws that
used to give it the title "world's berry center". In
the past, children would work in the berry patches for
a little extra money during the summer... and
according to the various seniors I meet doing home
visits, it was something everyone did and mostly
enjoyed. I'm sure there were field owners who
exploited this practice however, which is why the new
laws were put into effect. But now it has seriously
damaged the area's economy, and ironically woodburn
(and the mid-willamette valley in general) has become
one of the hungriest places in oregon, and oregon
remains the hungriest state in the country. all this
is visible by watching the young families wait in line
for the food bank on thursday evenings, which
sometimes stretches the length of the church. On
average, we serve about 40 families a week, and over
1000 people a month.
Senior ministry is probably the most rewarding part of
the day. This was the job that usually gets its own
JV, but due to budget reasons and lack of applications
to JVC:NW, I'm picking up the slack this year. I'm so
thankful that it has become such a highlight of the
week. It's very refreshing to get out of the office
(and the feelings of helplessness that can
occasionally accompany the social services job) and
meet people in the parish. I feel that this is the
place where I'm really connecting to the community and
being enriched by the lives (past and present) of
those that are often neglected. And I ALWAYS get some
sort of food to take home with me!! Right now I have
four houses I visit regularly (with a fifth starting
this week), and occasional visits to the managed care
facilites (three) in Woodburn. By tradition, I am
also a member of a few senior groups in the parish and
community at large, the most interesting one being the
sewing circle (referred to as 'the quilters') that
meets EVERY Thursday afternoon for THREE HOURS. That
is a lot of quilting. So far though I have only been
used to cut out quilt blocks from patterns... no
actual sewing yet, but I'm sure it's inevitable. =)
But the best perk of this job (besides the food) is
that once or twice a month I get to plan and take the
seniors on day outings, and have my way paid for.
Which, as you can imagine, is very exciting for me and
satisfies a lot of my sense of adventure, which I was
afraid would be scaled back due to the whole $80
thing. We just completed our first trip last week to
the largest dahlia flower fields in the country, which
happen to be only 30 miles away. To my
disappointment, however, only 5 people signed up, and
only ONE actually showed up... I think due to the fact
that this is a fairly close and fairly popular
destination, and a lot of people had already been.
Mary Anne and I had a great time though anyway, and it
was simply amazing walking through 40 acres of flowers
in a rainbow of colors. The next trip is next Tuesday
to Astoria on the Oregon Coast.
The people I work with are equally amazing, and
flatteringly supportive of me and the other "Jesuits"
as we are called. I have so far resisted the urge to
remind them that we haven't taken the vows of celibacy
quite yet... But really, the entire community seems
to be very appreciative and admiring of us and our
cause, and we have learned that we can sometimes play
the "JVC card" and get free haircuts and tortillas and
things around town. not a bad situation. Fr. Dave,
the senior priest in the parish, who is NOT a Jesuit
(the Jesuit community left Woodburn about 7 years ago
for several different reasons, many of which i am
still unclear about) is very dedicated to the people
of the parish, and has done a good job at uniting the
parish over the past seven years in what I consider to
be essentially two separate communities - the Hispanic
community and the "Anglo" community (what the whites
are referred to as), which have begun to interact more
and more frequently. He is sometimes a pain to work
with though, and can be very demanding about the way
he wants things run. We have a respectful
relationship though, and he is very supportive of me,
but a very busy man. Fr. Jaime (Hi-may) is pretty
much the complete opposite of Fr. Dave, and is
exceedingly pastoral, and teaches adult baptism and
bible study classes, amid countless other things, and
has a very lovable and compassionate persona, and is
ALWAYS laughing. He is not fluent in English, but
very close, and we help each other occasionally with
vocab. Yesterday I helped him ref the 6th grade co-ed
soccer game for the grade school which he was pretty
nervous about, because he didn't know the words for
the positions or fouls in english. i teased him that
he was probably going to have to give a little kid a
red card and wouldn't know what to say. The secretary
at the office, Monica, is bilingual and an invaluable
resource, as well as a wonderful sounding board if I'm
having an issue with something, work related or not.
She has a 1st grader who I taught how to make a
balloon squeal one afternoon after school which I
don't think she was too happy about. The religious ed
teacher also has a young daughter who just turned
three, and takes her to work every day. she just got
another job though and i'm going to be so sad to have
them leave... it adds so much to the office to have
Christi running around and wanting to play all the
time... it's great to take a break and chase her
around every now and then.
The other JVs and I are developing our own unique
community, and we seem to be getting pretty good at
"cradling" each other, as they like to say. Them
being four girls and me being not a girl makes for an
interesting mix a lot of the time, but as long as I
can find my own time to do my own thing every now and
then, it works out fine. They are all city girls, and
are having a tougher time adjusting to slow-paced
woodburn, and also 3 of the 4 of them left boys that
they just met, so the stereotypical conversations that
you might imagine us having ranging from boys to
shopping to boys to going out on the weekends to boys
is pretty accurate. it's a good thing that i have
hobbies or else i would probably go crazy.
Over Labor Day weekend, we travelled up to Seattle to
visit the other JV houses there and to go to a big
music festival that was going on there. I didn't want
to spend the $20 a day on the festival (I didn't know
hardly any of the bands playing), so instead I
explored the city on my own with my camera. While I
was there I took a ferry out to Bainbridge Island, ate
some salmon at the waterfront at Iver's (my mom
remembered the name of the restaurant from when they
went to seattle 25 years ago... now you know it must
be good!) and most importantly spent some time alone.
The whole JV lifestyle was still pretty overwhelming
to me then, and it was a wonderful break from
Woodburn.
The next weekend Sarah and I drove up to Aberdeen, WA
to visit the Grays Harbor JV house. That weekend
Aberdeen had their annual "Logger's Playday", which
ended Saturday night with a huge logging show (which
evidently are to the northwest what rodeos are to the
midwest) full of people sawing, climbing, chopping,
and running over and throwing axes at trees. The
highlight for me was when they fired up a chainsaw
made from a Ford V-6 engine... pretty amazing.
Our 'support people' that JVC:NW has designated for us
(kind of like a host family for exchange students) are
also helping us to settle in and feel at home in
Woodburn. We have dinner with them about once every
2-3 weeks, and have reflection sessions afterwards
like good Jesuits should. Recently when their kids
(Sara and Russell, 8th and 6th grade) needed a two-day
service project for school, we volunteered to let them
weed our flowerbeds and lay down the truckload of
mulch someone donated to us. They are such good
workers...=) Joe has a job that takes him to Alaska
regularly to do some sort of consulting, and is also
an amateur astronomer (who built his own 12-inch
scope), so I got to use it to look at mars last month
while he was gone. Pretty amazing... I got to see the
ice caps and everything, but I digress.
Last weekend the rotation of weekend gatherings that
seems to happen among the JV houses up and down the
I-5 corridor (from our house in the south up to
Seattle in the north) finally hit Woodburn with the
annual Oktoberfest in Mt. Angel (a small town 7 miles
from us). So we had our first party here and although
it was smaller than what we had hoped, two faithful
houses made it down, and we had a nice barbeque before
we went over to the festival to sample the food and
music and crafts and dancing and beer. A few of us
decided that the $5 entry fee into the beer garden was
too much, so I spent my $5 on a fresh blackberry
sundae... =)
This weekend my goal was to hike to the top of Mt. St.
Helens. I think there were a lot of other people that
had that same goal, because when I called to reserve
my permit, both days were already sold out. They only
let 100 people up each day, so I'll probably have to
plan ahead more, or wait until springtime in order to
do this. I've heard from many different people that
it is one of the most rewarding hikes they have ever
done, and the experience simply can't be beat. Seems
like the northwest is full of things like this, and
it's so fun exploring all of them... too bad that it's
going to start raining in a few weeks, but as for
right now, the weather is fantastic.
My next big adventure is that I was asked by the new
principal of the grade school if I would like to teach
a month-long elective in October about the weather.
so of course I couldn't pass it up. =) I'm really
excited about the chance to keep active in
meteorology, and especially the chance to hopefully
inspire another little kid to love the weather as much
as me! I'm starting to make some lesson plans up...
the biggest challenge I think is going to be trying to
get the feel of what they're interested in and do that
and hope they learn something in the process... but
I'm really looking forward to the chance.
Well, to wrap everything up and to give you a taste of
my new life, here is a discription of an average day
(yesterday, Sep. 22) in the life of Eric Holthaus:
Jesuit Volunteer...
7:14am - wake up... well, hit the snooze button 3
times and eventually find out that it is now much
later... good thing i only have a 1 minute commute
across the street to the church...
7:55am - finally get out of bed
7:58am - eat two donuts left over from those that were
donated to us after church on sunday... (i wonder
sometimes if we could get by not having to buy food at
all... a good problem to have)
8:13am - leave for work
8:14am - get to work
8:42am - pick up bread at the other local food bank
because the grocery store that I pick up bread from
every week for the food bank has suddenly decided
lately to give us a fraction of what they normally do
9:21am - call around to other local grocery stores
about finding a new place to get bread
9:53am - work on paying some bills for our
community... the girls have nominated me as bookkeeper
for the house, and it's a slow morning
10:25am - drive the big white van (a 1980 ford cargo
van that's losing steering, brakes and just about
everything else that's critical to operate a vehicle)
to the food share in salem (20 miles away) to take
back two weeks worth of cardboard boxes and pallets
that our food is delivered in
11:10am - arrive at marion-polk food share (by the
backroads, cause I don't trust it on the freeway
anymore), see Katie, my housemate that works there
11:24am - leave salem, run some errands around
woodburn before i get back
12:05pm - get back to office, find out it's already
closed for lunch (we get an hour lunch break)
12:06pm - lunch, two peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches, and milk
1:03pm - return to work, listen to phone messages
1:14pm - call more grocery stores... i'm starting to
think that we're lucky with what we have... all the
other stores are already committed to other agencies
1:18pm - call the grade school to meet with the 6th,
7th, and 8th grade science teacher about my weather
elective class
1:51pm - home visit to bring communion to george and
wayne zelinka, george is about 85, and wayne is his
son, about 55. i had to take the old blue truck (74
chevy truck, well used) because father dave used the
senior ministry car sunday (82 chevy caprice), and for
some reason now wipers won't quit wiping. the last
time i got a pie, but george says he didn't get around
to making me one this week... i try to explain to him
that we really don't need a pie every week
2:30pm - back at work
2:44pm - get a call that a woman wants to donate some
furniture, go to check out furniture - as i'm leaving
the church i have a revelation... it's possibly the
most beautiful day since i got here, and i am so
thankful that god has given me this opportunity to be
in a place where i am truly needed and where i enjoy
what i'm doing... i truly am blessed
3:18pm - return from the visit, check out the car...
try to fix windshield wipers
3:32pm - get picked up by fr. jaime to go ref the
soccer game
4:00pm-5:20pm - ref 6th grade coed soccer game...
reffing is much better excercise than what i thought
5:25pm - open up the food bank for the monday
distribution, make sure there are enough volunteers
5:41pm - free time until our weekly community business
meeting, where we deal with money, schedules, etc.
mom tells me on the phone that tonight is free scoop
night at dairy queen
8:30pm - have business meeting at dairy queen
late - go to bed after starting on mass email...
So to sum up, I think I would describe JVC so far in
the following way: It is as if God knew my hopes for
the year and gave me a great big sampler plate of
opportunities to choose from. So while I may wear
many hats, my life here in JVC is slowly melding into
one big cohesive unit, and it becomes more and more
comfortable every day. Of course quite often there
are times where i miss my family and friends, (like
when the neighbor's dog barks and it sounds just like
our dog at home) but mostly i'm getting used to my
life here in oregon. Thank you all so much for your
prayers and support... you guys are the best!
Peace to you all,
Eric

Spanish word of the month: paletaro - the guy who
rides around with an ice cream cooler attached to his
bike dinging a little bell, selling popsicles to
little kids in the evenings for $1 a pop...

1st photo: Seattle
I took this pic right before we left the city to head
back to Woodburn, on top of Queen Anne's Hill that
overlooks the city, right near Seattle Center... the
photo turned out amazing, but it still doesn't do
justice to what it was like to see this view in
combination with Puget Sound stretched out to the
right of us and the sunset beyond that...
breathtaking.
2nd photo: Dahlia fields
I got so many great pics that day, but this pretty
much sums it up... also in the distance you can see
the hills and trees and fields that surround Woodburn.
3rd photo: The Woodburn 5 at Silver Falls
We decided to do a mini-hike after Clare and Sarah's
agency picnic at Silver Falls State Park which is
about 30 miles SE of Woodburn. This is the biggest
waterfall in the park, 170ft tall (in the middle right
hand side those little white dots are people). From
left to right are me, Clare (from Wilmington, DE, went
to St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, English
major, working at a children's shelter in Salem),
Becky (from Chicago, went to Notre Dame, Theology
major, working at St. Luke's grade school), Sarah
(from Alexandria, VA outside DC, went to Virginia
Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, Social Work
major, working at a shelter for 18-25 year olds in
Salem - same agency as Clare), and Katie (from
southern Maryland, went to U. of Maryland, English
major, working at Marion-Polk Food Share).
So there we are... have a wonderful week everyone!
Eric