▶️ How millions in grants may bring relief to High Desert childcare drought

Millions of dollars are available right now to help shrink the childcare shortage problem in Central Oregon. It’s through NeighborImpact’s Child Care Expansion Project.

They are grants helping to grant the wishes of more than 1,000 parents left with no help and, too often, no choice but to quit their job and stay home.

The effort is two-pronged — encourage more people to open up in-home daycares and help established childcare centers expand into bigger spaces. But it’s not going to happen without community collaboration.

RELATED: Grants, funds helping ease Central Oregon’s childcare crisis

RELATED: Want to have a child in Oregon? Here’s how much the first year costs.

Samantha Andersen opened up Patient Bear Daycare Back in September, giving families in Redmond a resource that’s far too rare.

“It’s been great. I love it,” Samantha said.

The High Desert is dealing with a childcare drought. For every three kids who need a slot, only one is lucky enough to get it.

76% of Central Oregon employers noted a lack of childcare as either a high or moderate barrier to hiring. — Bend Chamber of Commerce survey

 

As a mom with two kids of her own and a degree in family and human services, Samantha knew she could be a part of the solution.

NeighborImpact’s Child Care Resources wing launched a pilot program back in 2021, helping prospective providers like Samantha break into the industry, giving them tools and money.

“I was asking for an open door and they showed up and gave me one,” Samantha said.

As a part of this trial run, Samantha was awarded a $5,000 grant to get going.

Millions of dollars available

The pilot’s success is part of the reason the state granted NeighborImpact millions more dollars to expand the project.

“A little bit more than $8.2 million,” Hannah Kuehl, the Associate Director of Grants Management for Child Care Resources, said. “We do think this will make a very large difference (with the 3-to-1 ratio).”

Hannah says that $8.2 million will translate to an additional 1,400 childcare spots over two to three years.

“We should see results pretty immediately,” Hannah said.

Here’s game plan: Offer education and money to encourage people like Samantha to open in-home care and help established centers expand to shorten wait lists all while trying to tackle the turnover problem.

We asked Samantha if this is something she’ll keep doing once her kids are grown.

“I think it’s something I really want to do, like it’s, it’s, I feel like I’ve been called to do it for a long time,” Samantha said.

Space needed, but hard to find

One of the biggest barriers is space, particularly commercial. There’s simply not enough of it.

“We’re working with real estate agents, we’re working with county commissioners, we’re trying to find space for these providers and we would encourage the community to support this,” Hannah said.

Sharon Richardson, the director of Sprouts Montessori in Bend, knows that barrier intimately. She’s been searching for a commercial space to combine her three in-home locations since 2019. It’s been like a needle in a haystack. 

Even when a potential site does pop up, she’s getting passed over — over and over.

“I don’t, at this time, have those funds to go and find the facility, that $100,000 in reserves that these commercial landlords are wanting and then to put all that money towards all the renovation,” Sharon said.

 

Hannah says part of the grant is helping educate childcare providers about loans. If someone finds a place, they can use the NeighborImpact grant money to help pay for it. But they have to go through the application process, get accepted and complete the educational components.

For Sharon, as a full-time daycare director and single mother, she’s feeling defeated. She is opting out of this grant because she’s tired of finding an option and then getting turned down.

But what’s possible with her expansion is significant.

“I have eight people on staff and with these same eight people I could easily expand if I had the space — double my capacity,” Sharon said.

‘Desperate for care’

There are 200 people on Sharon’s wait list.

“People call me every single day. Some people call me as soon as they find out they’re pregnant,” Sharon said.

The three most-prominent obstacles for families getting childcare in Central Oregon are the costs, wait lists and lack of options for infants and toddlers. — Early Learning Hub

 

Both Sharon and Samantha say the most severe shortage is with the smallest babies.

“There are so many families who are just desperate for care” Sharon said.

A single caretaker can only have two kids under age two at one time.

“I’ve turned away and like try to wait list at least like four or five. It’s mostly because they have infants,” said Samantha.

 

New parents with no options.

“We don’t have enough persons in the industry,” Hannah said.

That’s what this grant effort is trying to change. $5,000 to $500,000 available to water places similar to Sprouts and help end the drought.

The childcare desert doesn’t just impact Central Oregon families, it’s having a direct impact on the economy.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study found states, on average, miss out on $1 billion of economic activity a year because of childcare shortages.

And it plays a huge role in staffing. That same study found 58% of parents left the workforce because they couldn’t get the care they needed.

▶️ Sunriver Resort kicks off 1st Food and Wine Festival

Fancy bites with a glass of wine perfectly paired on the side.

Sunriver Resort kicked off its inaugural, monthlong food and wine festival Wednesday. The event is free and open to the public.

The festival helps showcase Central Oregon and the Pacific Northwest through tasting events, cooking classes, live music and more.

“And there is so much good food and wine right here in our own state that we really want to be able to show that off to the community and have them come enjoy it and then tell all their friends so that they all come,” said Lindsay Borkowski, Sunriver Resort Director of Sales and Marketing.

You can find the full festival calendar at this link.

RELATED: 5 months later, what has Bend’s ‘Corky Lady’ made with those 20,000 corks?

RELATED: Destination Oregon: Scotch Church Road Winery

 

▶️Pacific Power electric mobility grant includes e-bike vouchers for low-income

Electric vehicles might be the future, but they’re pretty costly — especially for low-income households. That’s why Pacific Power decided to make them more accessible in Central Oregon. 

It’s part of a $2 million electric vehicle grant spread across 18 Oregon towns. 

Local organizations like 350 Deschutes, Kor Community Land Trust and Central Oregon Community College will receive either e-bikes or charging stations. 

The City of Bend is also getting vouchers for 110 low-income households to purchase e-bikes. 

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“We live in a place in Oregon where a substantial chunk of emissions and greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. So the more that we can help people move to electric vehicles, the less pollution is out in the environment,” said Brandon Zero, Pacific Power spokesman.

Pacific Power tells us Central Oregon was a key location as it’s geographically in the middle of their outreach area. 

Here are more details on the Central Oregon grants.

  • Grass Valley Country Market (Sherman County). Funds will be used to add two or four DC fast chargers (dual port) at this popular community gathering spot and travelers’ stop, in a rural area with no other charging options within 30 miles. 
  • 350 Deschutes (multiple locations). Funds will be used to create an equitable EV charging and EV car share plan for Central Oregon that specifically involves underserved, rural, and urban decision makers, including black, Tribal and Hispanic communities — the first plan of its kind in Oregon
  • City of Bend. In an effort modeled on the City of Corvallis’ successful e-bike voucher program, the grant will be used to fund 110 vouchers for low-income residents in Bend to purchase an e-bike. 
  • KOR Community Land Trust (Bend). Funds will provide 17 e-bikes and training for low-income home buyers in communities that the land trust is building in Bend, who otherwise may not have access to e-mobility options. 
  • Central Oregon Community College. Funds will be used to install chargers and to purchase four used EVs for fleet and educational purposes at the Bend and Prineville campuses. Chargers will be available to students, staff and the public. 
  • City of Prineville. In an area with only one other public charger within a 20-mile radius, funds will be used to install one or two DC fast chargers near downtown, in a highly visible and accessible location for residents and travelers. 
  • Upper Deschutes Watershed Council (Bend). Funds will be used to purchase one Ford F-150 Lightning EV, which will be used to deliver programs to underserved communities in central Oregon and incorporated into conservation education. 

▶️ La Pine High graduation rate behind curve compared to district

Bend La-Pine School District, like many others across the state, reported an improvement in graduation rates for the 2021-22 school year last week. But within the district, there was an outlier.

Districtwide, the graduation rate was 83.5%. And most schools in the district came in at more than 87%.

But La Pine High School was behind the curve at a 59.2% graduation rate.

“This is a community crisis and a community conversation. I think I would love to see them driving the conversation to get the input from the community around what are the barriers that kids and families are facing,” parent Angela Groves said.

RELATED: 2022 Oregon graduation rates 2nd highest ever; Central OR exceeding state

It’s a rate the district says is unsatisfactory. 

“We are not pleased with the graduation rate for La Pine High School at this point,” executive director for Bend-La Pine high schools Katie Legace said. “Obviously, I know our community in La Pine feels the same way. Our teachers, our whole staff in La Pine and our community. So we’re gonna continue to work with those students and the staff in La Pine and support them in getting the graduation rates up.”

 

La Pine High School’s rates were flat from last year’s numbers, staying steady at 59%. But before that, the class of 2020 recorded a graduation rate of 76.7% — a more than 17% drop.

La Pine High School says struggles during the pandemic are a major reason for the drop.

“We had a number kids during the struggles of the last couple years shifted their focus in some regard to work and family,” La Pine High School principal Scott Olszewski said. “What that meant for some was a full disengagement from school, but for some it was partial engagement. So their engagement may be spotty at times.”

La Pine High School says it hopes its day programs will help students get back on track.

“If you look at our graduation rate from last year, you would see that we are nearly 20 points higher when the students have been in our CTE (Career and Technical Education) program,” Olszewski said. “If they’ve done four or more classes with a CTE program, their graduation rate was at 77.4%.” 

As for Groves, she just wishes the district would be more transparent about where they’re falling short.

“I think the first step is awareness and acknowledgment and transparency, and that’s a really basic date metric that we are evaluating across communities. Let’s own it,” Groves said.

La Pine High School says it has hired more teachers, added more funding and more infrastructure for those popular progams that, so far, seem to be keeping student more engaged.

La Pine High School says when the students in the class of 2022 were freshman, they were on track to reach a graduation rate of 75%. This freshman class from last year has a rate of 87%. 

School-Specific 4-year Cohort Graduation Rate for 2021-22

  • Bend Senior High: 88.2%
  • Bend Tech Academy at Marshall: 51.6%
  • La Pine High: 59.2%
  • Mountain View: 87%
  • Realms High: 94.9%
  • Summit: 95.8%

 

▶️ 2022 Oregon graduation rates 2nd highest ever; Central OR exceeding state

The statewide graduation rate in Oregon in 2022 marked the second-highest rate ever in the state, the Oregon Department of Education announced Thursday. And the graduation rates at all Central Oregon school districts were even higher.

The 81.3% graduation rate was 0.7% higher than the 2021 rate as the country was still working to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the increases across various demographics from 2021 to 2022. An asterisk indicates a record high.

Student group

Class of 2021

Class of 2022

Difference

All

80.6

81.3

0.7

Asian

91.9

92.1

0.2

Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

69.8

74.6

4.8

American Indian/Alaska Native

67.0

68.9*

1.9

Black/African American

73.5

73.7

0.2

Hispanic/Latino

77.0

78.7

1.7

Former English Learners (proficient prior to high school)

84.2

86.4*

2.2

English Learners in High School

64.4

65.3*

0.9

Special Education

66.1

67.5

1.4

Migrant

78.3

81.4*

3.1

Homeless

55.4

58.6

3.2

In Foster Care

47.8

48.4*

0.6

 

In Central Oregon, the Crook County School District touted a graduation rate of 91.95%. That number was nearly 100% at Crook County High School.

“We’re so pleased to see these results because it shows the dedication of our staff and the extra support they give students who need a boost to get across the finish line,” Crook County Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson said in a statement. “This district is about raising the bar around student achievement through intentional systems that work, and it’s paying off.”

Crook County noted that since 2014, when the graduation rate was 30.51%, the rate has steadily increased over the past decade with the exception of 2019. 

RELATED: Oregon math, reading scores drop during COVID; Local schools find positives

RELATED: Crook County’s Sara Johnson named Oregon Superintendent of the Year

Bend-La Pine’s graduation rate in 2022 was 83.54%. The district said the rate has gone up every year for the past decade with the exception of 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s heartening to see our schools continue to show steady gains in graduation rates over the past decade-plus,” said Superintendent Steven Cook in a statement. “These rates reflect the hard work of our dedicated staff and students, however, we will not be satisfied until every student graduates from our schools with a passion, purpose and plan for the future.”

Redmond’s was 87.8%.

“Our successful graduation rates are reflective of a culmination of all of the hard work that teachers are doing from kindergarten through high school,” said Dr. Charan Cline, Redmond School District superintendent in a statement. “Every involved teacher, staff, family, and community member who has made an impact and enriched a graduate’s educational path contributes to our success.” 

Culver’s rate was 94.34%, followed by Sisters at 90.27% and Jefferson County 509J at 88.617%.

It’s important to note that the numbers come four months after a DOE report, citing state assessment results, that english, science and math proficiency scores across the state had dropped dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statewide, English Language Arts proficiency dropped from 53.4% in the 2018-19 school year to 43.6% in 2021-22. Math fell from 39.4% to 30.4% and science dropped from 36.9% to 29.5%.

School districts in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties did not buck that trend. But they were able to note achievements in specific categories and even, in some cases, finishing above state averages.

DOE officials said at that time that 2022 testing shows students who were already behind before the pandemic had the most learning loss but all children overall lost ground when compared to 2019 test scores.

▶️ Highway 97 Classic: Culver vs. La Pine wrestling brings kids 4-18 together

One of the truly unique wrestling tournaments in the Pacific Northwest took place at Culver High School Tuesday night.

The Highway 97 Classic — where every age, every match and every point counts. It’s a unique dual-style tournament between two of the best wrestling programs in Central Oregon: the Culver Bulldogs and the La Pine Hawks.

“We have kids here from four or five years of age to 18-year-old seniors,” said Culver head wrestling coach J.D. Alley. “Every match, whether it’s a girls match, a JV match, middle school match, club match, some kids will wrestle multiple times so we can get everybody a match at those younger levels. They all count toward the end and, at the end, the dual meet scores 230 points to 220 points. And we see who wins.”

RELATED: 2023 Oregon Wrestling Classic filled with dominance, firsts and controversy

RELATED: La Pine offsets referee shortage with officials mentorship program

It was started eight years ago by La Pine head wrestling coach Aaron flack, who brought over the idea from coaching in Oakridge.

“There was a lot of people that came to those and never really saw wrestling matches before and they say, ‘Man, that was awesome.’ And so, to incorporate all of our kids in there all wrestling side-by-side on different mats, I think it’s a huge plus for the sport of wrestling,” said Flack.

 

The host of the meet switches from school to school every year.

“A lot of times, a high school kid has a middle school kid and a club kid, and he’s responsible for that second grader until his mom picks him up or whatever,” said Alley. “They kind of forge some pretty cool relationships out of that, and it’s a good thing for our program.”

Some wrestlers have been a part of the Highway 97 Classic since the early days.

“I mean, it’s crazy because I look back at that photo, and I’m like, ‘Oh, shoot, I used to be them little guys that are out here competing right now’ and it just like I know it makes me happy because this is the way I evolved into the wrestler I am today,” said Culver senior Derek Torres.

 

“Getting there, taking that picture, being a part of the high school team, even though they were high schoolers and we were middle schoolers, it just felt like one huge team,” said Culver senior Debren Sanabria. “You know, that’s amazing. Part of our wrestling for Culver all one big family no matter what, building your wrestling for high school, middle school, elementary school, mat club. You know, we treat everybody as family.”

For some, the high school wrestling journey is closing. But for the next generation, it’s just getting started.

“Becoming a junior and senior, leading in warm ups and stuff. It’s good to see that there are still kids coming up and wanting to be a part of it and be an effort in the school,” said La Pine junior Cache Montgomery.

“It’s fun to practice with them because they can teach us more stuff,” said one young La Pine wrestler.

“It’s fun because you get to meet new people,” said a Culver Mat Club kid.

“I like it because it’s starting to really get me, and I think I’m going to learn a lot from this,” said another young La Pine wrestler.

This was a tournament with an entertainment level strong enough to get your popcorn ready, but also a match that both coaches know has a large impact on each program’s success.

“To be able to wrestle side-by-side with them is a dream come true for a lot of those little guys,” said Flack. “So it is a is pretty special and it’s pretty unique. I don’t I think we’re probably about the only ones in the state of Oregon that does it.”

It starts with the youth programs and ends with both programs usually holding high school state championship trophies.

“It shows those younger kids what it’s like to kind of get to wrestle in a high school match or, you know, have a match count and be part of the show, and they don’t understand that and get to hear many that ride the bus to an event,” said Alley. “I mean, every other year, I think if we could pick, we’d just go to La Pine every year because it’s a big deal to ride that yellow school bus to La Pine.”

“We tell these kids — the mat club kids and the middle school kids — that, you know, your points count to the overall score and so just that part of it is, you know, feeling that they’re pretty special at that young of age and just starting out and that they’re out there wrestling for their entire team and their entire community,” said Flack. “So that’s pretty cool.”

La Pine has won the 3A state wrestling tournament three of the last four years. The Bulldogs have claimed gold at the 2A classification 14 out of the last 16 years. And while both programs hope to continue dominance, it starts at tournaments like this with the kids leading the charge.

The final score of Tuesday’s Highway 97 Classic ended in a 239-239 tie.

Alley and Flack decided to play rock, paper, scissors to determine the winning team.

The Bulldogs won the tie-breaker and the tournament.

It was a first in Highway 97 Classic history.

▶️ ‘Point in Time’ homeless count kicks off in Central OR, increases expected

The homeless crisis is visibly worsening, but what do the numbers show? It will all be revealed in the annual Point in Time homeless count, which began on Tuesday.

The count, run by the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Coalition, is a chance for a check-in on the state of homelessness in our region and a reflection on the work left to be done. 

Last year’s data revealed a 17% increase in homeless community members between 2021 and 2022.

RELATED: Homeless Leadership Coalition releases 2022 Point In-Time Count results

RELATED: Redmond community holds ‘Let’s talk about Homelessness’ forum

“I foresee that we are probably going to see another increase again this year,” said Colleen Thomas, the Supervisor for the Deschutes County Health Services Homeless Outreach Services Team. “Part of that is because we have better ability to count folks, and we know we have more staff that know more folks and where they’re at and located. But it’s also just the result of the rising housing costs in our community.” 

It’s the first year the Shepherd’s House Lighthouse Navigation Center in Bend is participating under its current name, after its change from the Bend Emergency Shelter. 

 

Director of Emergency Services John Lodise said the shelter has been at full capacity for “quite some time now.” 

He said he already has an idea of how this year’s count will go. 

“We expect to see an increase,” Lodise said. “So when we first opened the shelter as a permanent shelter, we were experiencing between 60 to 70 people. With the winter cold weather, we’ve been seeing numbers of 100, 110. And then we’ve been letting extra people in to warm, so that sometimes we’ve had 130 to 135 people.” 

Volunteers will help count data until January 31, all the way from Warm Springs to La Pine. It’s a process those involved know is not airtight. 

“The Point in Time count I always say, is just a snapshot of our overall population,” Thomas said. “The survey that is used during the Point in Time count is completely voluntary, and so folks can choose not to participate.”

 

That snapshot is a crucial step for the future of homelessness advocacy. 

“The really important part of the Point in Time count is that those numbers that we report back to the federal government through HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] is how they allocate funding for our region. So the better data that we have, the more resources we can allocate to our community,” Thomas said. “It’s a formula-based thing that the government does, and so that by having that data, it allows us to be receive more funding.” 

Despite the numbers from the past several years, these advocates told Central Oregon Daily News that they have to hold on to hope. 

“I think we always have hope that the numbers are going to go down,” Thomas said. “We want to work ourselves out of jobs in regards to homeless outreach. There will always be people that are going to live unsheltered, but we want to see that rate go down.”

“You have to have faith that, yes, that is going to make a difference,” Lodise said. “People are going to be helped. Maybe the phenomenon will ripple, right? We help a group of people who then become motivated to help others, and eventually we have more people trying to help those who need it than we have folks who need the help.” 

The results from the count are expected to be released in the next couple of months. 

This comes after Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signed an executive order on Jan. 10, declaring a homelessness state of emergency in certain parts of the state that have seen a 50% or more increase in the unsheltered homeless population between 2017 and 2022. 

Central Oregon is one of the regions included on that list. 

La Pine Library set to close for remodeling; Temporary space to open

The La Pine Library will soon be moving into temporary digs while its main building undergoes remodeling.

The Deschutes Public Library announced that the La Pine location will close at the end of the day on Jan. 25 to start the project. 

A temporary space will open in late February in the John C. Johnson building, which sits across the parking lot from the library. The date that it will open hasn’t been announced.

RELATED: Redmond, Sisters libraries close starting Sunday; Temporary spaces opening

RELATED: Deschutes Public Library dumping 150-year-old Dewey Decimal System

During the transition period, customers are asked to hold their returns or return them to the next-nearest library in Sunriver or any other Deschutes Public Library location in Deschutes County. No late fees will be charged for materials held during the transition period, and holds will be available once the temporary space opens in late February.

The remodeled library is set to open in the fall. Updates to the La Pine Library include bright and open spaces that welcome customers with amenities such as flexible meeting and tutoring rooms, an enhanced children’s discovery space, improved lighting, a cozy fireplace and reading area and a large community gathering space.

The upgrades are being made possible by a November 2020 bond measure approved by voters.

The Redmond and Sisters libraries closed last weekend and will be working out of temporary spaces. The Redmond Library is moving to a new location and the Sisters Library is being remodeled.

▶️ 2023 Oregon Wrestling Classic filled with dominance, firsts and controversy

The Oregon Wrestling Classic tournament at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center in Redmond last weekend had a lot of big moments. Teams on the High Desert saw a lot of success this year, but there was a tournament of controversy for one program.

Culver High School continued its dominance at the Classic, and Mountain View High School won it for the very first time.

“Making program history has always been a dream, I think of everyone, every kid on the team wants to make a difference at Mountain View and be that next best Mountain View team,” said 138-pound Mountain View wrestler Andrew Worthington.

RELATED: La Pine offsets referee shortage with officials mentorship program

RELATED: Culver wrestling legend wants sanctioned dual state tournament

RELATED: Wrestlers gear up for Oregon Wrestling Classic championship matches Saturday

Throughout the years for the Mountain View High School wrestling program, it’s been a slow grind to reach consistent success. But years of hard work and dedication from both athletes and coaches have led to a year like this one.

“It’s been a really good year,” said 132-pound Mountain View 6A state champion Drew Jones. “This is the best, as far as my knowledge goes, the best Mountain View has ever been in the history of the program.”

The Cougars took home the first-place trophy in the Oregon Classic Wrestling tournament for the first time in program history.

“It was like a Watershed moment for us, but one of the things we talked about when we walked away, we didn’t want this to be that feeling of culmination like we had reached where we wanted to be,” said head wrestling coach at Mountain View Les Combs. “We just wanted it to be one big step and we felt like we got there when competing with the 5A.”

Mountain View was one of many teams from Central Oregon to find success at the Classic this year.

Culver won at the 2A level for the 17th year in a row, while Crook County took silver at 4A.

The La Pine Hawks took first at the tournament for the first time last year and were looking to do the same this year. But according to head coach Aaron Flack, the team was forced to forfeit from the Classic due to an error made during weigh-ins — a possible mistake by the Oregon Classic staff.

According to staff directors, any athlete that wrestles at the wrong weight must forfeit the entire dual, meaning the entire team has to forfeit.

In a Facebook post Flack says:

“This was a very unfortunate situation and anyone that thinks that was intentional, obviously does not know me very well…. We beat all three teams on Friday by over 40 points. We didn’t need his points. I don’t want to take away from the fact that our kids were wrestling tough, and they didn’t deserve to have this stripped from them”

You can read Flack’s full post here:

For the Mountain View Cougars and coach Combs, who has been the coach since 1996, they have high hopes for another historic moment in program history.

“We need to win state,” said Jones. “It’s never happened. Coach Combs has been coaching for a long time, and he’s never gotten that, we’re going to do everything we can to do what we can to make that happen this year.”

▶️ Cat dies, dog rescued in La Pine house fire

A La Pine homeowner was able to rescue his dog from a house fire early Friday morning, but firefighters say a cat was lost in the fire.

It happened at 4:17 a.m. at 15931 Fir Lane.

The La Pine Rural Fire Protection District said the homeowner, who was the only one inside the two-story home, was awakened by a smoke alarm.

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He tried to put out the fire himself from outside the home, but was not successful and called 911.

Police and fire arrived to find an active fire on the second floor. Firefighters were able to stop the spread of the fire in less than 30 minutes.

The homeowner declined help from the Red Cross, La Pine Fire said.