Shutdown Ends

The Mill Casino Reopens

KVAL television report (May 14, 2020)

The World newspaper report (May 14, 2020)

KGW television report (May 15, 2020)


News Release

May 14, 2020

NORTH BEND – Just in time for the 25th anniversary of its original opening, The Mill Casino-Hotel & RV Park once again will welcome the public to enjoy its hospitality and entertainment.

The Mill Casino’s limited reopening will commence Monday, May 18. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

“Seeing our friends again after a two-month closure will be an exciting moment,” said Brenda Meade, chairman of the Coquille Indian Tribe. “The Mill is a hub of community life on the South Coast, and we’re delighted to resume that role.”

The Mill closed in late March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of public places across the country. With Oregon counties and local businesses making plans to reopen, Meade said the Coquille Tribal Council deliberated carefully about resuming operations. As a sovereign Indian nation, the Coquille Tribe self-governs all operations at its businesses.

“Closing The Mill Casino was heartbreaking for the tribe and our employees, and we’ve been eager to get back to work,” Meade said. “We want everyone to know we remain committed to the health and safety of our guests, our employees and our community.

“Things may look a little bit different for a while, but we are all doing everything we can to make The Mill as friendly, comfortable and fun and as it always has been.”

The Mill Casino originally opened on May 19, 1995, in a converted wood-products plant on the shore of Coos Bay. It has grown into the Coos Bay area’s premier entertainment, lodging and dining venue, as well as Coos County’s second-largest employer.

The Mill Casino = Hotel & RV Park’s contributions to the community’s economy include not only its payroll, but also purchases of goods and services, millions of dollars in grants to community organizations, and taxes and fees paid to local government.  

“Like everyone else who closed during the pandemic, we have to rebuild our business,” Meade said. “It won’t happen all at once, but we’re thrilled to be starting.”

See the “Safe Play Plan” summary

 

 

Ko-Kwel Wellness Center

A crew drives piles to support the foundation of the future Ko-Kwel Wellness Center. The tribe’s existing health center is visible in the background.

Tribe will expand local care access

Project provides ‘some good news’ during pandemic

April 30, 2020

The Coquille Indian Tribe has begun construction of Oregon’s first tribal health center offering services to the general public.

“This is an exciting opportunity to apply our potlatch tradition of community sharing,” said tribal Chairman Brenda Meade. “It will be another option for people who have had trouble finding a health-care provider.”

The Ko-Kwel Wellness Center will be a 22,000-square-foot building on the tribe’s Kilkich Reservation near Charleston. When it opens next year, the $12 million center will offer primary care, dental care, behavioral health, a pharmacy and other services.

The tribe has discussed the project for several years, and plans solidified in the fall of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected the construction timeline.

“In the midst of this crisis, we’re really pleased to be able to give the community some good news about health care,” Meade said.

The tribe is working with Craft3, a nonprofit lender that serves Oregon and Washington, to develop a financing package expected to include a direct loan and allocation of federal New Markets Tax Credits.

The New Markets Tax Credit program attracts outside investment to projects that benefit critical community needs. Together with favorable loan terms and several private grants, the financing package will let the tribe pay for the wellness center with only a minimal investment of the tribe’s own money.

“It’s a wonderful example of how a tribe can be an economic engine for the broader community,” Meade said.

The new facility nearly triples the square footage of the tribe’s existing Community Health Center, which it replaces. The wellness center will open its doors to several hundred new patients from the community at large, along with tribal families and tribal employees.

“Our vision is for a wraparound health-care home for patients,” said tribal Chairman Brenda Meade. “We’re aiming to create a holistic wellness experience, in keeping with our people’s traditional values.”

The tribe will welcome patients using Medicare, the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) or private insurance.

Construction began in April, and the facility is scheduled to open in the summer of 2021. The tribe intentionally named it a “wellness center” to reflect a focus on serving each patient’s overall needs.

“We want to care for the whole person,” Meade explained. “People will be able to get primary medical care, dental care and a pharmacy, all under one roof. And we don’t want to stop there. Over time, we want to add alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture and chiropractic.”

The wellness center will not be a hospital. Nor is the tribe positioning it as a competitor to existing medical clinics. Instead, the intent is to cooperate with other care providers to meet community needs.

“Finding a primary care provider can be challenging for patients, especially those on Medicare and Medicaid,” Meade said. “We’ll provide another option to help relieve the strain.”

The wellness center is being built atop a former cranberry bog on the tribe’s Kilkich Reservation near Charleston. Its design will reflect the tribe’s indigenous heritage: Its exterior will evoke a tribal plankhouse, with a main entrance simulating a traditional round door. The center’s interior corridors will trace the shape of a forked fishing spear, a common symbol of the Coquille Tribe. The space between the fork’s tines will form an interior courtyard where patients can relax in a secluded green space.

S+B James Construction, Medford, is the design-build contractor for the project.  Several subcontractors on the project are local or employ local workers, including Billeter Marine, Coastline West Insulation, Guido Construction, Knife River Materials, Kyle Electric, One Way Builders, Rich Rayburn Roofing and Umpqua Sheet Metal.

The word “Ko-Kwel” in the center’s name highlights the historical pronunciation of the tribe’s own name. Although the city and river bearing the Coquille name are commonly pronounced “ko-keel,” the tribe has revived the older pronunciation in recent decades.

Tribal Government Responds to COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coquille Indian Tribe has carefully taken steps to protect the safety of our employees, customers and tribal member families, while maintaining essential services to our membership.
The tribe has canceled group events, curtailed travel by our employees, and closed most tribal facilities. (Our Community Health Center remains open.) Many of our employees are working from home, while others practice safe social distancing as they perform essential workplace functions.

We will evaluate further actions as the situation develops. In the meantime, we offer our best wishes to the entire community.

2020 Grants

Coquille Tribe distributes $366K

Grants will aid 71 community organizations

 

NORTH BEND – Almost six dozen worthy community groups collected grants on Friday, March 6, from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.

Grantees and local dignitaries gathered at The Mill Casino-Hotel to celebrate the work of 71 grantees. Totaling $366,126, the grants will help communities in five local counties.

This year’s largest grant, $20,000, went to the Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association, to reroof the landmark Coos Bay movie house. Southwestern Oregon Community College received the second-biggest award: $11,300 to buy “Chester Chest” simulators. Student nurses will practice accessing the simulators’ plastic veins as they prepare to care for local patients.

Even the smallest grant will deliver a visible community impact. It provides $1,000 to the Coos County Master Gardeners to stage a horticulture seminar. A more picturesque and verdant community is the likely result.

The fund is a leading source of charitable grants for South Coast nonprofits, distributing nearly $6.8 million since 2002. The money, drawn from casino revenue, supports organizations in categories including education, public safety, health, historical preservation and the arts.

Each year an appointed board of tribal members and community leaders meets to review applications and decide on the awards. This year’s board consisted of Coquille Tribal Council Secretary Linda Mecum; Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins; state Rep. Gary Leif; Coos Bay Mayor Joe Benetti, Terri Porcaro, chief executive officer of The Mill; and tribal members Jon Ivy and Scott LaFevre.

The tribal fund’s next application cycle will begin Sept. 1. Learn more at www.coquilletribe.org, or call fund Administrator Jackie Chambers at (541) 756-0904.


2020 grantees

Here’s a complete roster of the Coquille Tribal Community Fund’s 2020 grantees:

  • Agness-Illahe Rural Fire Protection District, $1,929 to buy brush jackets, pants and helmets
  • Alternatives to Violence, $6,410 for its Batterers Intervention Treatment Program
  • Animal Shelter Partners, $5,324 for new fencing for the Animal Shelter
  • Aviva Health (formerly Umpqua Community Health Center), $5,000 to expand its denture program
  • Bandon Historical Society Museum, $2,750 for storage space renovations
  • Bob Belloni Ranch Inc., $7,000 for therapy sessions for families and individuals
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley, $6,000 for a reading and enrichment program
  • Brookings Harbor Community Helpers Food Bank, $5,000 for snacks and snack packs for youth
  • Brookings Harbor Education Foundation Inc., $4,300 for iSTEAM program funding for Brookings-Harbor Schools
  • CASA of Douglas County Inc., $7,500 for ACE mental health assessments for children
  • CASA of Lane County, $7,000 for its “Serving the Need” capacity expansion project
  • Center for Nonprofit Stewardship, $2,000 to bring a nonprofit learning series to Coos County
  • Charleston Fishing Families, $1,500 for Fisherman’s Appreciation Day 2020
  • Christian Help of Gold Beach Inc., $2,000 for food pantry purchases
  • City of Port Orford, $10,000 for a new trail and overlook at Fort Point Bluff
  • College Dreams, $6,000 for its college barrier removal services (transportation, college appication fees)
  • Community Presbyterian Church, $2,000 for its Lakeside warming center expansion
  • Compassion Highway Project, $5,000 for services to homeless and low-income individuals in the Medford area
  • Conference of St. Vincent de Paul Myrtle Creek, $5,000 for its “Feeding and Clothing Our Future” program for children in rural south Douglas County
  • Consumer Credit Counseling of Southern Oregon, $5,000, for credit counseling for low-income families
  • Coos Art Museum, $3,500 for its annual maritime art exhibition
  • Coos Bay Area Zonta Service Foundation, $5,000 for its Little Red Schoolhouse project, providing school supplies to Coos County Students
  • Coos Bay Coast League, $3,000 to replace outdated equipment in compliance with new athletic standards
  • Coos Bay Schools Community Foundation, $5,000 to buy shoes for needy students in the Coos Bay school district
  • Coos County Friends of Public Health, $5,000 to provide access to preventive health services to Coos County residents
  • Coos County Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue, $10,000 for new radios, uniforms, GPS units and rain gear
  • Coquille Indian Tribe Community Health Center, $5,000 for its fresh produce program for tribal Elders
  • Coquille Valley Art Association, $1,800, for pottery wheels
  • Curry Watersheds Partnership, $5,000 to replace undersized culvert at Greggs Creek
  • Dolphin Players Inc., $2,500 to upgrade theater lighting, heating and outlets
  • Egyptian Theatre Preservation Association, $20,000 to replace its roof
  • Eugene Opera, $5,000, for its “Opera is Instrumental” project
  • Florence Food Share, $5,000 to help deliver food to the food bank
  • Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, $5,000 for free meals to seniors and homeless community members
  • Gold Beach Community Center, $5,000 to prepare and deliver food to home-bound seniors
  • Habitat for Humanity/Rogue Valley, $10,000 to buy a box truck for the Restore
  • Harmony United Methodist Church, $2,500 for its Blossom Gulch snack pack program
  • Kids’ HOPE Center, $5,500 for Darkness to Light training materials
  • Knights of Columbus Council 1261, $4,000 for its holiday food basket program
  • La Clinica del Valle, $10,000 expand expanding La Clinica’s health services in Jackson County
  • Lane Arts Council, $5,000 for its in-school residency programs in Lane County Schools
  • Lane Leadership Foundation, $5,000 to provide housing and other support to those aging out of foster care system
  • Lighthouse School, $5,427 to purchase and install magnetic locking doors for emergencies
  • Maslow Project, $7,000 for its mental health counseling services program
  • Millington Fire District No. 5, $5,940 for updated fire boots
  • North Bend High School, $1,900 for Spanish books
  • North Bend School Foundation, $10,000 for the NBHS construction trades program
  • Operation Rebuild Hope, $5,000 for interior renovations at Bryan’s Home
  • Oregon Coast Community Action Food Share, $5,000 to expand its fresh produce programs
  • Oregon Coast Community Action, $7,500 for Court Appointed Special Advocates training
  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, $3,000, for its financial aid program, offering increased access for underserved students to participate in science programs
  • OSU Coos County Master Gardeners , $1,000 for a one-day garden seminar
  • Parenting Now!, $5,000 for its “Make Parenting a Pleasure” program
  • Pearl Buck Center Inc., $5,000, for its Urgent Necessities Fund, providing basic shelter, food, health and hygiene
  • Powers Food Pantry, $5,400 for healthy food purchases
  • Reedsport Rotary Foundation, $4,000 for its Renovation of Henderson Park Playground in Reedsport
  • Roots & Wings Child Development, $7,000 for financial assistance to families for early childhood education and child care
  • Safe Project, $2,000, for its Upgrades to the current facility, including better security
  • Save the Riders Dunes, $2,000 for new radios to help with safety issues
  • Siuslaw Outreach Services, $5,000 for its emergency voucher fund and homelessness relief program
  • Smart Reading, $5,000 to buy books
  • Southern Oregon Songwriters Association, $3,146 for a new public address system for performances
  • Southwest Oregon Public Safety Association (CERT), $8,000 for a storage unit or container to house readily available CERT gear
  • Southwestern Oregon Community College Foundation, $11,300 to buy 10 Chester Chest simulators for students to practice accessing veins
  • Southwestern Oregon Veterans Outreach Inc., $4,500 for taxi vouchers and bus passes to transport veterans to out-of-town appointments.
  • Springfield Young Readers, $3,000 for books
  • The Child Center, $5,000 for its wellness program, with services such as food, clothing and housing
  • The Friendly Kitchen/Meals on Wheels Roseburg, $5,000 for its “Frozen Fridays” weekend meal program
  • Umpqua United Soccer Club, $1,500 for its “Empowering Girls Through Soccer” program
  • United Way of Southwestern Oregon, $5,000 for its “Day of Caring” and “Coats and Shoes for Kids” programs
  • Waffle Project, $3,000 for provide free meals to the public on Thursdays, (when the Nancy Devereux Center is closed)

Total: $366,126.49

Fort Point Bluff

Volunteer Steve Lawton looks down on Battle Rock from atop Fort Point Bluff, where the city of Port Orford plans to build a scenic viewpoint.  

A new angle on history

Viewing site will showcase Battle Rock and more

PORT ORFORD – Climb to the top of Fort Point on a clear day, and you’ll be rewarded with a jaw-dropping, 180-degree view of Oregon’s gorgeous southern coastline. The Siskiyou Mountains stand to the south. The Redfish Rock marine reserve lies below. To the north are Humbug Mountain and a working port.

The view is so compelling, the city of Port Orford plans to build a trail and overlook that will make the coastal bluff easier to reach. The path to that project just got a little clearer thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Coquille Indian Tribe’s Community Fund.

The project started in July 2016, when a group of Port Orford citizens became concerned about foot traffic on a nearby sea stack called Battle Rock.

“We needed to redirect people off the rock to reduce the impact of human erosion, and look for another place where people could still have a panoramic view,” said Steve Lawton, the volunteer spearheading the project. 

“This grant for the Fort Point Bluff project will make a long lasting impact on a beautiful Oregon landmark,” said Community Fund Administrator Jackie Chambers. “We are excited to see the project come to life and be open for all to come and enjoy.”

Battle Rock was the site of a famous 1851 skirmish between land-hungry European settlers and local Native Americans. Capt. William Tichenor had dropped off nine men to set up a settlement. When the Indians tried to evict them, the white men wielded a cannon to protect their perch atop the rock.

The battle ended when the surviving white men escaped northward by cover of darkness. Tichenor returned later that year with 70 soldiers and established what is now called Port Orford.

Since then, Battle Rock has been a popular destination for visitors– whose relentless footsteps have begun to damage the historic site. At the City Parks Commission’s request, Lawton began seeking an alternative viewing spot.

Fort Point caught his attention in 2017. After much research, Lawton determined that the city owned the land. A viewing site there seemed like an obvious solution.

“I got encouragement from city councilors and the community, and we moved forward in 2018 to propose it,” he said.

State law requires local authorities to consider a project’s effect on cultural resources before approving it. So Lawton contacted the State Historic Preservation Office to make sure the project would honor indigenous interests as well as the community’s needs. Project supporters met with Kassandra Rippee, the Coquille tribe’s historic preservation officer, to discuss a collaboration.

“We met with Kassie and it was a really positive experience,” Lawton said. “We need to embrace the history of this region, and it starts before we arrive. I think that’s really important for people to recognize.”

Tribal people were Oregon’s stewards for thousands of years, and tribes still care about the land that holds the history of their village sites and way of life. Coquille people still live and work in the Port Orford area.

Thanks to the tribe’s grant and a previous $20,000 donation from another source, the Fort Point overlook will be a low-profile viewing site. Building it on pressure-treated poles, atop a concrete pier, will minimize impact to the land.

“This is a lovely site,” Lawton said. “We plan to have an interpretive sign here that’s going to talk about history and the modern economy. We have forestry over here, you have commercial fishing over here, we have a community that’s expanding and people recreating … so it’s a living, working landscape as well.”

“I’m excited about this project,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lasting resource for the community.”

A resource that will help preserve Battle Rock.


About Coquille Tribal Grants

 The Coquille Tribal Community Fund’s grant to Port Orford was part of $366,126 awarded during the tribe’s 2020 Grant Week. Fueled by revenue from The Mill Casino-Hotel & RV Park, the grants help 71 community agencies in southwestern Oregon.

The Fort Point project was one of two projects to 2020 tribal grants in the Historic Preservation category. The Bandon Historical Society Museum received $2,750.

Since 2002, the tribal fund has distributed nearly $6.8 million to organizations in five counties.

Learn more about the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.

 

 

 

 

Day of Caring

Youthful volunteers help spiff up a yard during United Way’s annual Day of Caring. ( Photo courtesy of United Way/Jamar Ruff)

Group offers a (united) way to help

They show up each year, tools in hand, ready to work.

Volunteers mow lawns, trim hedges and clean gutters. Teams of high school kids, families, community groups and business colleagues donate time and skills on behalf of the elderly and disabled in Coos and Curry counties.

“I was totally wowed last year,” said United Way Director Jen Shafer. “A lot of volunteers were repeats.”

The aptly named Day of Caring attracted 130 volunteers to help 40 households in 2019. They’ll be back in 2020. And, thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund, United Way hopes to recruit even more.

 “The Day of Caring project is truly a collaborative effort, pulling in volunteers of all ages,” said Jackie Chambers, the tribal fund’s administrator. “This is a chance for many to donate time to their neighbors – an important cultural value of the Coquille Indian Tribe.”

The tribe’s check to United Way was one of 71 grants distributed by the fund in 2020. The tribe’s 2020 Grant Week awarded more than $366,000, bringing the fund’s long-term total to nearly $2.8 million.

United Way of Southwestern Oregon, launched in 1961, is part of an international organization that serves 1,800 communities in 40 countries and territories across the world. The local group’s mission is to “fight for the health, education and financial stability” of South Coast residents, collaborating with other nonprofits to make a “collective impact.” 

This year’s Day of Caring will be held Saturday, June 20. United Way is already recruiting teams.

“This is a national day of service for United Ways across the country,” Shafer said. “Last year our volunteers ranged in age from 7 to adult. So it’s a very family-friendly environment.”

Day of Caring is not United Way’s only service to the South Coast. Another is “Coats and Shoes for Kids,” which the tribal grant also will support.

“Every child deserves a good life and that includes the basics of food, shelter and clothing,” Chambers said. “We are happy to be contributors to this valuable community program.”

The program served 308 kids in grades K-12 in 2018. The number grew last year to more than 370, and United Way hopes to serve more this year.

 “The kids love it. The parents are appreciative,” Shafer said. “The local kids get to come to Walmart and pick out their shoes, which is very empowering.”

If you’d like to volunteer for Day of Caring, or if you know elderly or disabled people in need, you can contact Jen Shafer at (541) 267-5202 or director@unitedwayswo.org.


More tribal grants

United Way was one of 31 groups receiving 2020 grants in the Coquille Tribal Community Fund’s health category. Here’s the complete list for that category:

  • Brookings Harbor Community Helpers Food Bank, $5,000
  • CASA of Douglas County Inc., $7,500
  • Christian Help of Gold Beach Inc., $2,000
  • Compassion Highway Project, $5,000
  • Conference of St. Vincent de Paul Myrtle Creek, $5,000
  • Coos Bay Coast League, $3,000
  • Coos County Friends of Public Health, $5,000
  • Coquille Indian Tribe Community Health Center, $5,000
  • Florence Food Share, $5,000
  • Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, $5,000
  • Gold Beach Community Center, $5,000
  • Harmony United Methodist Church, $2,500
  • Kids’ HOPE Center, $5,500
  • Knights of Columbus Council 1261, $4,000
  • La Clinica del Valle, $10,000
  • Lane Leadership Foundation, $5,000
  • Maslow Project, $7,000
  • Operation Rebuild Hope, $5,000
  • Oregon Coast Community Action CASA, $7,500
  • Oregon Coast Community Action FOOD SHARE, $5,000
  • Pearl Buck Center Incorporated, $5,000
  • Powers Food Pantry, $5,400
  • Reedsport Rotary Foundation, $4,000
  • Siuslaw Outreach Services, $5,000
  • Southwestern Oregon Veterans Outreach Inc., $4,500
  • The Child Center, $5,000
  • The Friendly Kitchen/Meals on Wheels Roseburg, $5,000
  • The Safe Project, $2,000
  • The Waffle Project, $3,000
  • Umpqua United Soccer Club, $1,500
  • United Way of Southwestern Oregon, $5,000

Total: $144,400


Learn more about the Community Fund

 

 

 


Save The Riders Dunes

Leo Cox remembers cruising the North Spit when the Pacific Ocean was visible from atop this dune. Beach grass, shrubs and trees now crowd the sandscape.

Volunteers work to preserve shrinking dunes

 Lush stands of shore pine and beach grass flank the trails where Leo Cox rides his four-wheeler. But Cox, 59, is old enough to remember a much different landscape on Coos Bay’s North Spit.

As a teenager, Cox raced across miles of uninterrupted dunes. Today those sprawling vistas have shrunk to sandy remnants amid a young and spreading forest.

“There’s a unique ecosystem out here that is going to be gone,” Cox said. “If you don’t protect the sand, it’s going to disappear.”

Cox is president of Save the Riders Dunes, a group of about 125 volunteers who love cruising windblown hills on all-terrain vehicles. As part of the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative, the nonprofit group partners with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain and restore the ancient landscape.

STRD is one of 71 community organizations receiving financial support this week from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund. The group was awarded $2,000 to buy two-way radios.

Why radios? Among their other activities, group members volunteer at events such as Winchester Bay’s DuneFest and the UTV Takeover at Boxcar Hill Campground. (UTV stands for “utility task vehicle.”) Cox’s group extends hospitality and safety assistance to the thousands of off-roaders who attend.

“We’re here to help them get onto the sand safely,” Cox explained. “The radios will be a big help.”

Working the sand festivals supports the group’s main goal of preserving dune access. Cox explains that dune preservation has both environmental and economic implications. Numerous species inhabit the shrinking dune ecosystem, and the dunes are a tourism treasure for the area’s economy.

“It’s not a cheap sport,” he said. “People who do it have money, and they spend money.”

Like many environmental problems, the dunes’ troubles began with good intentions. In the early 20th century, well-meaning land managers planted European beach grass, scotch broom, gorse and pine trees to stabilize the shifting dunes. The plants did their job too well, conquering vast swaths of open sand.

Cox’s group works with the Forest Service to remove encroaching vegetation. One recent project restored the area surrounding “Signal Tree,” a distinctive landmark that had been obscured by aggressive foliage. Trail maintenance and noise abatement are other items on the group’s agenda.

Jackie Chambers, administrator of the tribal fund, expressed admiration for the dune defenders’ work.

 “We are so happy that we were able to grant this money to them,” she said. “Sometimes some of our smaller grants can have huge impacts in the areas they serve.”

The regal sandscape that Cox remembers from his boyhood isn’t likely to return. But the work of his group and other organizations may ensure that parts of the dunes can survive for future generations.

To learn more about Save the Riders Dunes and the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative, visit saveoregondunes.org or savetheridersdunes.com.

Coquille Valley Art Center

Retired diesel mechanic Lee Prescott traded grease for mud to pursue a pottery hobby.
 

Grant benefits Coquille’s pottery posse

COQUILLE – On a late-winter Thursday, a dozen amateur potters were wrist-deep in bliss.

“It’s therapy,” said Carol Stange of Coquille.

“A moment of Zen,” said someone else. Karen Richmond of Bandon testified, “It’s the only time when nothing else happens in my brain.”

Since the 1950s, the Coquille Valley Art Center has been a sanctuary for artists of all kinds. It began with six women who wanted room to paint. Now its 96 members also work in stained glass, fiber arts, quilting, wood carving, carpentry – and pottery.

The group’s 24 potters are a growing segment, and they’re about to shift into four-wheel drive. Four pottery wheels, that is, thanks to a grant from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.

Some background: Novice potters typically start with hand building – simply squishing clay into shape. More advanced artisans “throw” their pots on spinning platforms called wheels.

The Coquille potters currently share just two working wheels. The tribe’s $1,800 grant will double that number, joining a pair that were donated by last year by the Oregon Community Foundation.

Bonnie Stowe, the art center’s pottery boss, is targeting another grant for two more. With six, she’ll be able to teach throwing classes.

Tribal Fund Administrator Jackie Chambers, who grew up in Coquille, is pleased to see the art center thriving.

“I remember taking a pottery class there when I was young,” she said. “We made little bowls with lids, and I believe a turtle as well. We were excited and proud to display our artwork at home.”

Stowe is the spark igniting the pottery group’s recent boom. Soon after taking a grant-writing course from Southwestern Oregon Community College, she snagged a slab roller” a hand-cranked device that extrudes uniform sheets of wet clay.

Another grant paid for a pug mill, a machine that grinds and recycles scraps. Meanwhile, Stowe and other volunteers tore out a wall to expand the formerly 580-square-foot pottery studio to more than 800 square feet.

Most of the Thursday potters are Baby Boomers craving creative outlets. After a career spent repairing diesel engines, Lee Prescott’s hands needed a retirement activity. He remembered working in clay decades ago.

“I’ve looked into getting a wheel of my own, but that’s expensive,” he said. “And if you have your own kiln ….

“Then I heard about this place and said, ‘Hey, let’s see if I might want to get back into that.’”

The price is certainly right. Each potter pays $20 a month to use the art center’s studio and kiln. With facilities expanding, Stowe plans to attract younger people to evening and weekend sessions.

Beginning potter Ophie Keene of Coquille happily recommends the studio to fellow neophytes:

“There are so many helpful people here,” she said. “Those of us who are new at it get a lot of help.”

Would-be potters, painters and other artists can find out more about the art center by calling (541) 396-3294.

Learn more about the Coquille Tribal Community Fund

SWOCC nursing program grant

Student Shaylynn Jensen tends to the needs of a ‘Chester Chest.’ Working with a realistic plastic torso helps future nurses build their skills and confidence before treating live patients.

Plastic patients help student nurses learn

Chester has one arm and no head, but he performs a valuable service for student nurses.

“Without tools like this, it would be really hard for us to learn,” said Shaylynn Jensen of Coos Bay, a second-year student at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

One recent morning, Jensen and seven classmates took turns treating the imaginary ailments of plastic patients. Sharing three simulated human torsos known as Chester Chests, they worked in teams to draw imitation blood and administer mock medication.

Opportunities to practice those skills will expand soon, thanks to a grant from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund. The fund granted SWOCC $11,300 grant to buy 10 new Chester Chests.

The grant is part of $366,126 awarded during the tribe’s 2020 Grant Week. Fueled by revenue from The Mill Casino-Hotel & RV Park, the grants help 71 community agencies in southwestern Oregon. Since 2002, the fund has awarded nearly $6.8 million in community grants.

“We’re glad to be able to help SWOCC educate future nurses,” said tribal fund Administrator Jackie Chambers. “More and more of our local residents are senior citizens – including tribal members. We’re going to need a lot more nurses in the years to come.”

Chester is a “vascular access simulator,” designed as a realistic practice tool. SWOCC has some head-to-toe mannequins for full-scale simulations, but Chester is cheaper, simpler and easier to maintain for routine use.

 “He can be very helpful,” said lab instructor Leigh Eswonia.

The new Chesters can’t arrive too soon. The old units are wearing out, forcing Eswonia to “MacGyver” them with temporary fixes.

She replaced one unit’s fluid reservoir with a recycled pop bottle, using adhesive tape to attach the simulated blood vessels. It works, for now.

SWOCC’s nursing program is growing to meet the rising need for health-care professionals. Jensen and 30 other second-year students will graduate this spring. Coming behind them is a first-year class of 50. Altogether, 100 future nurses will be enrolled next fall, as the college prepares to open its new health and science technology building.

Jensen, 20, will be this year’s youngest nursing graduate. Her all-business attitude is typical of the 2020 class – a group that Eswonia calls “very motivated.”

“We’re thankful for donations because some of this equipment is so expensive,” Jensen said. “This is what helps us practice safe patient care so we’re prepared for the clinical setting.”

A few months from now, Jensen and her classmates will be registered nurses, treating live patients in real hospitals. Most will choose jobs close to home, but their skills are also in high demand in bigger cities.

“These guys can go anywhere they want,” Eswonia said.

Wherever they go, they’ll owe their skills (at least partly) to a headless plastic torso.

Help for Education

SWOCC nursing is one of 20 education-related programs receiving grants from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund in 2020. Here’s the whole list:

  • Alternatives to Violence, $6,410
  • Aviva Health (formerly Umpqua Community Health Center), $5,000
  • Bob Belloni Ranch Inc., $7,000
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Emerald Valley, $6,000
  • Brookings Harbor Education Foundation Inc., $4,300
  • Center for Nonprofit Stewardship, $2,000
  • College Dreams, $6,000

More about the Community Fund