▶️ Madras High holds senior celebration, preparing for return of class of 2021


Students coming back to in-person learning is a cause for celebration.

That celebration made its way to Madras High School Friday.

It’s been 10 months since the pandemic closed schools in Jefferson County.

Today Madras High seniors stepped back into the building.

“It was so good to see them and they were really excited to see staff and be back in this environment,” said Madras High Principal Brian Crook.

MHS took several COVID-19 protocols including, temperature checks, masks, social distancing, as well as having students in pods of 20 per area.

Two pods were in the gym.

“One session they went to was a celebration of what you would see in a classic pep assembly,” Crook said. “A staff dance, skits and motivational speaker.”

During the assembly another two pods were in informational meetings.

“What it is going to look like when they return to school and about graduation requirements and staying on track for graduation,” Crook added.

After an hour, the two pods switched places.

MHS saw 80 of their 130 seniors show up to the celebration.

Crook added, it was an emotional moment for both students and staff.

“One of our secretaries was in the gym watching the kids and she got emotional and teary eyed, just finally having kids back in the building,” Crook said.

The idea behind the event was more than a celebration.

“I think it was really important to let those seniors know how much we care about them,” Crook said.

Madras High School set a goal to have limited in-person learning back with a staggered start by February 1.

▶️ Redirect the Check: NeighborImpact


There’s always a need for the services of NeighborImpact in Central Oregon, but during the pandemic, that need has magnified.

“We have increased our distribution at the food bank alone has more than doubled from 40,000 pounds of food a week to 90,000 pounds of food a week during the pandemic,” said Rachel Haakenson, director of marketing and communications at NeighborImpact.

In fact, Haakenson says at the beginning of the pandemic, 40% of food bank clients were first time users.

NeighborImpact of one of three nonprofits chosen for Central Oregon Daily’s “Redirect the Check” campaign. The Initiative urges Central Oregonians to donate all or some of their stimulus check.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the community has donated more than $23,000. And with a $10,000 match from TDS, Central Oregon Daily’s parent company, the effort will near $40,000 by the end of the week.

“NeighborImpact’s mission is to serve people and to strengthen communities here in the Tri-counties and at the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs,” Haakenson said. “We do that with a variety of programs that serve people at a variety of economic abilities.”

Other NeighborImpact programs include housing, early childhood education, money management and energy assistance.

“Our energy assistance program can help pay your home’s energy bills, our weatherization program can help improve the energy efficiency in your home to decrease your energy bills,” Haakenson said. “We also have rent assistance so we can help those who are struggling to pay their rent.”

“Redirect the Check” donations will help bolster NeighborImpact’s capacity to feed the community.

“We expect to use those funds to help us expand the food bank, which is definitely a need for us at the food bank here,” she said. “Where even before the pandemic when we were distributing half of the food that we are now, we were already distributing and processing more food per square foot than any other food program in the state.”

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▶️ Redirect the Check: Central Oregon Veterans Outreach

▶️ Redirect the Check: Bethlehem Inn


▶️ Redirect the Check: Central Oregon Veterans Outreach


For Ron Moore, a program specialist for Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, the programs at COVO aren’t just a lifesaver for others.

“If some of those people out there didn’t have us, they wouldn’t make it,” said Ron Moore, Outreach specialist for COVO.

More was homeless for seven years.

Things changed when he decided to volunteer for COVO and eventually the job he currently has.

“It saved my life,” Moore said about the outreach program.

COVO, along with NeighborImpact and Bethlehem Inn are the three benefactors of the Central Oregon Daily “Redirect the Check Campaign.”

The campaign, launched last week, urges Central Oregonians to donate all or some of their most recent federal stimulus check to help local nonprofits.

J.W. Terry is a war veteran and COVO’s executive director.

He says the program’s largest mission is to get veterans and their families back on their feet.

“We have our own housing,” Terry said. “We have 26 of our own low-income units that are full most of the time.”

COVO says community donations mostly go to helping people who have fallen through cracks, who aren’t able to get state or federal assistance.

They also provided a service to help relocate fire evacuees during the bad 2020 fire season.

“A lot of people who never thought they would be homeless, they’re homeless,” Moore said.

Between the pandemic and deadly wildfire season, COVO says they have never seen a greater need for help in the community.

“This type of money and help could not have come at a better time,” Terry said.

So far, more than $20,000 has been donated by the community and TDS, the parent company for Central Oregon Daily News will match $10,000. 

You can donate some or all of your stimulus check here.

▶️ BLP lays out school bus COVID safety plans for return to class


The Bend-La Pine School District put protocols in place for students riding school buses.

“Drivers will be sanitizing the bus after each run,” said Kim Crabtree, transportation director for Bend-La Pine Schools. “Each student will have an assigned seat, they will sit in that same seat every day.”

Kids planning on riding the bus are expected to be COVID-19 safe.

“Each student will be asked to wear a mask or come to the bus with a mask,” Crabtree said. “If they don’t have one or forgotten theirs, we have one available for them. All of our drivers will be masked.”

Parents are also being called on to do their part.

We are asking all families to register so that we can assign seats and we can know who is on the bus,” Crabtree said.

To see pick up location, time and any transfers, you need to log in on e-Link.

A student’s login information is their student ID and password is their birthday.

The district has around 145 bus drivers and has taken steps to ensure safety of the drivers and students on board.

“A vaccine has been offered to all of our special needs drivers and special monitors and substitute drivers that drive for special needs students,” Crabtree added. “The availability for vaccines for our general education drivers, I believe is coming late next week.”

The district also says it is prepared for COVID scenarios.

“If we find out that there is a student that possibly has been exposed, we save our contract tracing logs, we would turn those over to our nursing staff and that would start contacting families and the county gets involved in that.”

A typical school bus holds around 84 kids on average, but because students need to stay socializing distant, buses will now only hold 40 kids registered to ride.

▶️ Owner, volunteers looking for service dog missing for 2 weeks


A service dog who has comforted mental health clients for the last four years is missing.

“It’s been a sleepless two weeks of us worrying for her if she is out there in the cold or if someone has her not knowing she belongs to us,” Maritza Encines, Clinical Director at Buena Vida Counseling said.

Encines is the owner of Goldie, a Red Nose Pitbull, who went missing two weeks ago in the Three River Area, south of Sunriver.

Goldie isn’t just your average dog, but a service dog, who helps mental health clients.

“I’ve seen clients clutching her and her leaning into them as they tell their stories and talk about mistakes they have made in their life,” Encines said. “So she is a very special service dog for that reason.”

Encines, who has worked in mental health for 20 years says she saw Goldie on a social media post by a kill shelter in California. 

She commented on the post, saying she wished she could do more.

“Someone from Portland offered to have her pulled and treated at the vet and transport her all the way here four years ago, which is really an amazing and incredible story about how Goldie is meant to be with us,” Encines said.

Goldie’s story has caught attention around the Three Rivers area.

“We actually woke up at 6 a.m. Saturday morning and spent that morning until about noon just kind of staking out Sunriver,” said Rhonda Freeman, a volunteer to find Goldie.

Freeman did not know Encines or Goldie, but saw the missing posters and wanted to help.

Kathy Summers, another volunteer donated $500 of her own money to the reward, which is now over $1,000.

It is a no questions asked reward.

“There is something about his story that touched my heart,’ Summers said. “I just felt something drew me to this dog and these people and I felt I just had to do something.”

Goldie has a microchip and was last seen wearing a pink collar with a dog tag in the shape of a bone.

The last place Encines knows Goldie was spotted was near the intersection of Snow Goose and Pintail.

“We just really hope with the public’s assistance to locate Goldie.”

Encines asks that if you are able to locate Goldie, call 541-786-8373

▶️ Historic moment; 4 new Bend city councilors sworn into office


Four new city councilors were sworn into office Wednesday night, creating a historic governing body for the city of Bend.

“I am just really excited to work with the whole council, including the returning counselors and I am excited to get to work on the issues I have been talking about with constituents all year,” new City Councilor Melanie Kebler said.

COVID restrictions forced the councilors to take the oath of office virtually.

Rita Schenkelberg acknowledged her place on this historic council.

“As a queer person of color, imagining being elected official was not even a dream” Schenkelberg said during Wednesday’s zoom ceremony.

New councilor Megan Perkins also shared her priorities coming into office.

“My goal as your counselor is to work on a bend that is safe, equitable and affordable for everyone,” Perkins said in Wednesday’s zoom meeting.

This is the first female majority for the council with Schenkelberg, Kebler and Perkins joining Mayor Sally Russell and councilors Barb Campbell and Gena Goodman-Campbell.

Goodman-Campbell was selected to serve as Mayor Pro Tem.

Attorney Anthony Broadman, one of the new councilors, talked about his main focus.

“The number one thing ahead of us right now is bouncing back from COVID as a city,” Broadman said.

Growing up in Bend, Kebler has seen several revisions in the city.

“I have already seen Bend go through so many changes, you know,” Kebler said. “I remember when the parkway was put in when I was in Highschool. So I am ready to move forward with Bend as we change and grow and I think we can do that in a really positive way.”

The new council will hold a listening session on January 11.

▶️ Dirt berms flattened by Deschutes County after complaints from community


A few days before Christmas, Deschutes County crews began constructing dirt berms along Highway 97, just north of Bend and Highway 126.

County commissioners approved the idea in November and construction began a few days before Christmas.

“On paper it looked like ‘yeah no problem let’s go do that,’” Commissioner Tony DeBone said. “It will be better for everybody.”

DeBone says the plan was in response to safety concerns.

“It’s highway access, it’s high speed,” said DeBone. “You slow down to take the turn or you pull out real slow if you are going north. If you try to cross and go south, it can be very dangerous.”

But the berms also blocked some access to county land. DeBone said the berms near Juniper Ridge upset some community members, including many people who live in homeless camps in the area.

“It really got some people riled up,” said DeBone. “I got some voicemails and some emails, people were just ready to go sideways on this. That was not the intention at the board level.”

There are other ways to access Juniper Ridge even with the berms in place. But DeBone said county officials decided to flatten the berms to make access safer, even though it’s technically not a legal access point.

The local activist group Central Oregon Peacekeepers posted on Facebook that they flattened the berms shortly after they were constructed.

County crews on Monday worked to flatten the berms further using equipment, and the access point was officially reopened Monday morning.

“Today it was flattened over by the county and it wasn’t intended on being a conflict,” said DeBone. “It was intended on improving having less vehicles going in and out of the public land.”

Creating and then flattening the berm cost about $2,000.

▶️ Long-term care facilities eager, ready for COVID-19 vaccine


The first round of Coronavirus vaccinations is underway and soon some of the most vulnerable will get their turn. 

Local retirement homes and long-term care facilities are next in line for what health officials believe is a turning point in the nation’s fight against COVID-19.

“I am going to be first in line,” laughs Jim Courtney Jr., a Touchmark resident at Mount Bachelor Village, in Bend.

Long-term care facilities are a priority in the immunization campaign managed by the Oregon Health Authority.

The plan calls for the pharmacy partners involved like Consonus Pharmacy, CVS and Walgreens to set up on-site vaccination clinics at the state’s long-term care facilities as well as smaller congregate care settings.

“They are going to administer in a couple different clinics, so that they can spread it out and they are bringing a team of nurses, so they can bring the vaccine to us, through CVS,” Angela Stewart, Director of Resident Services at Touchmark said.

Stewart says out of the home’s 350 residents, 90 assisted living and memory care patients will be the first to be vaccinated, along with all 200 staff. 

Only licensed residents (assisted living and memory care) are eligible for the first round of available vaccines.

She also says the federal government ensures the vaccine will be available at no cost to residents and team members or will be billed through insurance or other federal government programs.

“We’re very excited about it. We feel privileged to be part of the first round, to be a part of that opportunity,” Stewart said. “We know it will lower our risk and we highly encourage our residents in being vaccinated.”

Courtney, 90, says he is most excited about getting a visit from his grandkids again, once he’s fully vaccinated.

“It couldn’t be a happier moment, the first thing they do is run up and give me a hug, the next thing they do is go in my room and look for my chocolate candy,” Courtney said.

▶️ Culver wrestling coach takes team to Texas to boost athletes’ mental health


No wrestling is allowed right now at local high schools, but that hasn’t stopped a local powerhouse wrestling team from taking their athletes on the road.

Despite a high number of Oregon COVID-19 cases and travel advisories, the Culver Mat Club team traveled to wrestle in a tournament in Texas this past week.

“To have this and to have them have a why, it’s a blessing, a true blessing to a lot of us families, to be able to give that to our kids and to have Culver wrestling give that to them was amazing,” parent Juanita Dickson said.

J.D. Alley has been the Culver High School varsity wrestling coach for 31 years and has taken his wrestlers to tournaments all over the country.

He called the trip to Texas “the most important trip they have ever taken.”

“To me, for that group of kids and you weigh the risk versus the benefit, it was an easy decision,” Alley, who is also the president of Culver Mat Club, said.

“This was a trip that had a little bit of wrestling in it, but it really wasn’t about wrestling,” he added.

Alley says the decision to travel was mostly about the mental health of his athletes.

“Just where COVID has put us mentally, we needed a snap out of it moment,” Alley said.

The Culver Mat Club team placed 6th out of 118 teams at the Texas tournament.

Many Culver Mat Club members are also on the Culver High School team. The Bulldogs’ wrestling program has been a 2A powerhouse, winning 12 state titles in 14 years.

Last season they placed second in the 2A state tournament. This was supposed to be their redemption year.

 “Some of them that you think would be chomping at the bit, weren’t,” Alley said. “That carrot and that dream has got away from them.”

Alley hoped the Texas tournament sanctioned by USA Wrestling would relight a fire under Alley’s athletes.

“It gave my kid a why to do something and finding a why has been hard, really hard,” Dickson said. “My kid had a why, a why to get out of bed, a why to do his homework, a why to have his smile on his face.”

The OSAA has approved a proposed six-week, mid-May, wrestling season ending with a culminating event.

▶️ Local nurse excited about COVID vaccine; says we’re not out of the woods yet


On the eve of St. Charles receiving its first COVID vaccine shipment, a local nurse shared her excitement about the next stage in Central Oregon’s effort to end the pandemic.

Nurse Ashley, who asked us not to use her last name, is on the front lines, helping patients battle the Coronavirus.

“To be there without their loved ones is really hard and It’s hard for the loved ones to not be able to be there with them,” Ashley said. “I think that has been the hardest thing.”

St. Charles will get 975 doses of the vaccine on Thursday and expects to start vaccinating workers with the highest potential for direct contact with the virus on Monday.

“It’s been really sad to see how sick the patients have gotten and for me, I want to be able to protect them better and so I am pretty passionate about it,” Nurse Ashley said about taking the vaccine.

The Oregon nurses association, which represents about 1,000 nurses at St. Charles called the vaccine’s arrival a “sign of hope.”

COVID-19 vaccinations have the potential to save countless lives in Oregon and across the world,” said Kevin Mealy, ONA’s communications manager. “This is a historic moment but there’s still more work to be done. We encourage all Oregonians to continue wearing your mask, washing your hands and keeping socially-distanced while the state continues working towards an equitable vaccine distribution plan. Your actions are saving lives. Your nurses thank you.”

But not everybody in the medical profession is as passionate as Ashley and the ONA are.

“Some are excited about it and some have some hesitancy,” she said.

St. Charles has about 4,500 employees and a recent survey of the entire staff showed about 10-15% had no plans to get the vaccine.

But nearly all of the hospital’s medical staff of roughly 800 plan to get the vaccine.

Ashley said even with the vaccine, there’s a long way to go.

“It will still take a while before we, you know have immunity,” Ashley said. “Being patient for that is going to be difficult.”

She doesn’t want anyone to rush back to normalcy quite yet.

“Just be careful, be safe, be well and bring in the new year healthy,” she said.

Everyone who gets the Pfizer vaccine will need to take a second dose 21 days after.