SOhumans Story Collection Project
What is SOhumans?
SOhumans (Southern Oregon Humans) is a collection of portraits and stories of local people from Southern Oregon inspired by Humans of New York. The project seeks to foster greater awareness, compassion, and appreciation for the diversity of people who live within the Rogue Valley who are working on the frontlines. A traveling gallery with stories in both Spanish and English will be posted in public (libraries, coffee shops, community halls, restaurants, civic buildings), educational (public schools, colleges), and professional spaces beginning June of 2022.
AHS Art Teacher
I was at our high school graduation and one of my art students pulled me aside and said, “you helped me get through this, thank you!” If one kid every year gets through and does something with their life, it feels like an accomplishment and that’s what gives back to me. That’s the only reason I keep doing it, because almost everything else about it is grueling!
I don’t know what it’s like to not be an artist. Growing up in Klamath Falls I remember being so wild and having so much energy. One day when I was about two, I was drawing on the walls and my Mom was immediately right there saying no, no, no! I was lucky, because she did a lot of crafts and she got me paper, brushes, and paints and supported me with my creativity. I was really fortunate because I had her support, and the support of others like my uncle, who gave me inspiration and allowed me to continue to grow as an artist. I never stopped.
It feels so good to be in a classroom with kids making art. I still get tingles from it. In my classroom I have a gratitude wall. All my letters from students go up on the wall. Most of them are expressions of gratitude. ‘Thank you for helping me get through this.’ I look at this wall and I think back to my experience. Nobody made me an artist, it was all me doing the work, but having just the right people in the right places, kind of helping you along, pushing you forward, giving you good, positive feedback about your work, about you. That’s what I do. That’s what helps things grow.
People really changed with the pandemic. As healthcare providers we were met sometimes with real mistrust or questioning. There was pushback about our care. I’d never encountered any of this before. Sometimes this came from people we had known and served for years. And it added a layer of stress.
We had different ways we dealt with the intensity. Each morning we’d huddle with the staff and one of the doctors would share a “Dad Joke.” You know like, “I got these great shoes from a patient. I don’t know what they laced them with, but I’ve been trippin’ all day!” We shared stories. We cried together. We had Nerf gun fights between patients to blow off steam. Someone bought this leather notebook so we had a place to write down outrageous things that happened—like the time a woman came in for a pap smear dressed as a vulva.
Being a physician’s assistant in a community clinic is what I’m especially meant to do. And it’s really about meeting people where they are at. I had this one patient. He was a father and a grandfather. Just the kindest soul. He had struggled with alcohol for years. His body was starting to shut down. And I was fighting for him to fight. Eventually he said to me, “It’s okay for you not to save me.” He asked if he could just come in every couple of weeks to visit. He did and I really enjoyed those visits. One day he asked about my son. What kind of things did he like? I remember he lit up when I talked about my son. After this man died a package arrived at the clinic. It was a new set of hot wheels for my son–he had instructed his family to send them to me. My son has never opened them. He keeps them on his dresser and asks me to tell stories about this patient. One night, just before bed, my son said to me, “I wish I could have known that man and told him I loved him.”
Street Nurse and Nurse Educator
The mantra of street medicine and street nursing is go to the people. It’s also referred to as reality based nursing because we meet people in their own realities. We hear their stories and it’s through the power of their storytelling that we really develop true compassion and begin to understand the complexities of their lives. The one thing I love to tell my nursing students is that all they have to do is be a human. Really that’s their only requirement. They don’t have to come in with heavy nursing skills. They can just show up and meet people, human to human, and listen to their stories.
I know people that I’ve met five, six years ago in my foot soaks that are still trying to get out of homelessness. Some people have mental illness or substance use disorders and then become homeless. There are hundreds of causes of homelessness. There’s just so many stories out there. The only thing different between us and someone who is unhoused is that they don’t have a house. There is so much that we have in common. Meeting human to human, I think, is the beginning of how we heal some of the rifts.
I was out on a backpacking trip under the stars when I decided I was ready to take our foot soak clinic to the next level and start a street team. I had decided a change was in order. And when I was laying under the stars, I just kept thinking “what is it in this work that brings me the most joy?” And I literally was just seeing all these faces of people I’ve gotten to know in my foot soak clinic. I am so grateful that I know these individuals. I never would’ve met them if I didn’t push myself out of my own biases and just start talking to folks and getting to know them. So now I hope to be out working as a street nurse on a regular basis.
Ashland School Teacher
I was living in this 200 square foot cottage when the pandemic hit. School had been cancelled for the rest of the year. My principal calls and tells me I need to host a Q & A with the parents of my 1st and 2nd graders. I had just learned how to use zoom one hour before the meeting. I log in and there are 25 parents staring at me with my bed, my few possessions all displayed behind me. It was one of the most vulnerable moments of my life. I remember reassuring them about the learning we were going to do, all the things I was going to teach their children. When the meeting ended, I told the parents, “We can do this. We can do hard things.”
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school even though it wasn’t easy for me. I couldn’t fully read until the fifth grade. I struggled through high school. The dream of being a teacher seemed impossible. I gave up on it many times. But my family wouldn’t stop believing in me. My mom was a true Mamma Bear who fought to make sure my needs were addressed. Every day my dad dropped me off at school he said, “Grow up to be President!” And my grandma Mimi, who I was close to, used to say to me every time I struggled, “Randi B. you got this!” Eventually I made it into college, worked hard, and went on to get my master’s degree in teaching.
I feel so lucky being a teacher. The pandemic and the controversy over vaccines. The political divisions. The awareness of all the racial injustice. This has been really hard on students and on teachers. But failure is not an option. Every time things get tough I just remember my grandmother and say to myself, “Randi B. you got this!”
Community Health Manager
The organization I work for wanted to show appreciation to frontline workers in our valley. I remember going to this warehouse and seeing rows and rows of boxes. I was there to help pack them. We had all these locally sourced goodies to give to these workers. One of the organizers told me the boxes needed to have labels facing out, just right, and that the contents needed to be set a certain way and I thought, “Wow, I was made for this moment.” It was such a satisfying experience. Because in that moment I had control. In a time when I controlled nothing, I could control this.
I remember showing up to the Jackson County expo after the fires of 2020. We serve over 3400 Medicaid members affected by the fires. People didn’t have phones. People had lost their medication in the fires. People didn’t have a place to sleep. We did what we could to meet the needs, but at the end of the day, I sometimes sat in my car and just cried. Because it didn’t matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t help everybody.
I couldn’t line up the boxes perfectly.
Almost two years later there are still so many families displaced. So many families trying to put the pieces together. And I struggle, still, with not being able to fix everything. I struggle with wanting perfection. There are some nights after I put my children to bed, I will seek out that sense of control. I might straighten up the kitchen. I might organize a drawer, but ultimately what I’m learning is that the most important thing is showing up, not perfection. I have this sign above my desk, “Let whatever you do today be enough.” Every day I try and remind myself whatever I can give, let that be enough.
Rogue Action Center
On my first day volunteering at the fire relief center in Talent, I was the only bilingual speaker. I was inundated with Spanish speaking families looking for help. I remember this silver Nissan drove up. There was a young man and his wife with a toddler and a baby. This man came to me and said, “We’ve lost everything…” I remember helping him load his car with food, baby supplies, clothes and then they drove off and I felt this incredible fear and sadness for their future. And at the same time, I felt this sense of deep meaning. I realized this is how I want to be in the world. I want to help.
At age 21 I was kicked out of college. I had no friends, no money, no job. I’d failed educationally, socially, economically, spiritually. I was not the man I wanted to be. I had a lot of baggage from my childhood. A lot of pain from being adopted from another culture under difficult circumstances. There was this self-hatred within me and at 21 it started to fester. I needed a change. So I came to Southern Oregon and threw myself into physical labor. I worked on a cannabis farm. I started saving money and eventually I got my own place in Talent. I fell in love and started to feel more self-worth.
When the fires hit, something woke up in me. I started volunteering. I wanted to serve others. And it turns out I’m good at it. Day after day I help these Latinas, some of them with children on their hips. And sometimes I think to myself, these women could be my mother. They are like my mother who didn’t have the support and care she needed to keep me. And when I help these women, I feel I am helping my mother.
And something inside of me is getting healed.
Jackson County Community Long-Term Recovery Group
My generalized anxiety disorder is my superpower. I can walk into any room and immediately make it awkward. It’s a superpower because I work with people who are in very difficult situations. They are reeling from the loss of their homes. They are struggling to keep rooves over their heads and food in their bellies. They are juggling a mental health diagnosis and not fitting in with what society deems “normal.” So when they meet me, I think it’s a relief. “Oh, this woman is awkward. She doesn’t have it all together. Maybe it’s okay if I don’t have it all together.”
I have spent over a decade in public health and community development. I know the ins and outs of the bureaucracies that can make our lives a living hell. And for years I’ve spent most of my time trying to make people feel comfortable, keeping my head down, looking at data, being a professional dot connector. When the Almeda fire hit I was drafted to coordinate social services at a scale I had never seen before. I was dumbfounded by the pain and dumbfounded by the many people who stepped forward to help. An elderly couple who had lost everything suddenly giving money to a young father who also lost everything. I have seen so many acts of kindness. And what I’ve learned is that yes, it’s a mess out there. Yes, none of us are doing life the way we want. It is a mess and it is awkward. But I’m no longer willing to keep my head down and be nice. I’m trying to stand up for those who have been left out and left behind while they serve as the economic backbone of the community that condemns them for struggling. I’m being more of a disrupter….which is also awkward. But I’m used to it. And it’s time we all realized we’re never going to get out of this mess alone.
Emile Cruz Garcia
On September 8th, 2020 I knew my house was hit by the Almeda fire. When I drove out to see it, there was this kind of brain glitch–how could something so permanent suddenly no longer exist? But then as that reality sunk in, there was honestly a sense of relief. I didn’t have to sift through or salvage anything.
Everything was just gone. And before I could react, my support system jumped into action. People brought me gift cards, food, places to stay. I received so much care. Soon I was able to serve, I started volunteering with Rogue Food Unites. We had a simple mission: feed everyone affected by the fires. It was incredible. And it was a logistical nightmare. We had hundreds of restaurants making food every day. Hundreds of volunteers stepped up to help distribute the food. You felt the best in human beings.
One night I was out delivering meals with this nursing student. As we came to the end of the route there was a car with a confederate flag on it. This man was a big guy. Rode a Harley. Wore MAGA hats. The student asked if I wanted him to deliver the food. I said I always made an effort to interact with this man. I wanted him to see my brown body, with kindness, bringing him food. Over months we developed a friendship. Seven weeks before our services ended, this man said to me, “This is the last box of food I need. Thank you so much for the support. I’m back on my feet.” The man had tears in his eyes as he thanked me. And we made a real connection.
I don’t know how we did it. But for months this amazing team of people set everything aside, overcame thousands of obstacles, and all the other social divisions, to make sure no one went hungry. And it was incredible.
Emergency Medicine Physician
When I was young I was attracted to being part of people’s lives in an intimate and helpful way. Serving as an emergency doctor met that desire. The things that attract me to it are the breadth of knowledge and feeling useful. The ability to help everybody in all phases of life, and also emotionally and spiritually in different stages of life. People come to the emergency department when things are not going well for them. And I like that space of being able to help someone who is in need and being able to develop that rapport and trust really quickly.
There was a lot of appreciation and recognition at the beginning of the pandemic. There was a ton of love and appreciation. People outside at eight o’clock clanging pots for healthcare workers. We felt that for sure. It has been disheartening to see the trust for the medical community degrading over time by so much misinformation. The trust is not really there as much anymore. So that’s been hard. I can’t really rely on my credentials anymore. It’s always been the case that I need to explain things in a way that makes sense to people, but the Google doctor phenomenon has made things difficult.
This term “frontline worker,” wasn’t really in my vocabulary. It has been really cool for me to see other people who are in the public sphere outside of medicine and to feel a real connection with them. Like just checking out at the grocery store. Seeing that person and being like, wow, we are the same in a lot of ways. Like we’re both having to be here, interacting with people and doing our jobs. And they’re all important jobs and they’re all valuable and we need all of you as much as you need me. And that’s the value of social wellbeing and taking care of the community.
Director of Nursing, La Clinica
There are so many La Clinica staff members committed to the work. I do my job because of them. They keep me going. Now that I’m in administration I feel this huge responsibility to do my job. They are on the frontlines every day, so I need to go even harder. If they can do it every day, then I can do it every day.
They are fantastic.
When the virus first hit, we didn’t really know what we were doing. It was a fearful time. But there was unbelievable bravery among our staff. I remember we hung black plastic and divided one of our clinics in half in order to have a place for our respiratory-triage clinic. Nurses stood up and served in that clinic. I remember Sarah was the first person to stand up and say,
“I’ll go. I’ll do it. I’ll be there every day.”
It was a relief when we could finally give vaccines to the staff. I gave the first vaccine. It went to Sarah. And it was emotional. Then we started giving the vaccine to the public. I remember this van came in with maybe ten octogenarians. We gave them the vaccine and then had them sit in this room. They didn’t know one another, but they just started talking. Talking about food, all the meals they had to eat when they were sequestered. They were laughing about the meals they hated–broccoli rice that gave them all gas. They were having such a good time. Strangers but they were so excited to be together.
They kept saying, “I’m so excited to see my family.” The other nurses and I were next door just laughing our asses off because they were hilarious, but then we just started tearing up. Because you could hear how lonely they had been. And I stood there feeling: This is the best moment of my nursing career. Like right here. Right now. Helping people get back to their life.
It was so emotional to set people free.