A Car Accident And Volleyball Lead to Well-Being For La Grande Community


An example of how Building Well-being Together can be created for a whole community – figuring out what is not working and grabbing on to what can work 

Aaron Lenox, an Aging and People with Disabilities Manager in La Grande, had been wracking his brain trying to figure out how to better reach out to the Pacific Islander community in his area for better well-being for all. He had tried to help the community with the offer of free winter jackets, toys for children at holiday time, free shoes and was getting nowhere. 

“It was frustrating and very disheartening to know we have those resources – having them freely available – and they were not using them. There was not a relationship of trust. We knew there were needs. We saw kids playing outside in the cold without coats,” Lenox said. 

Then, one day when Lenox was at the Grocery Outlet in Island City, which is near La Grande, he accidentally hit another car. He didn’t want to just leave a note, so he went into the store and asked people coming through the checkout lane if it was their car he had hit. He found the woman whose car he had hit and gave her all the needed insurance information. Then, a little while later, he saw this same woman in the lobby of the ODHS offices in La Grande. She was interpreting for an elder woman who was inquiring about services. 

He made the connection. There was the woman whose car he had hit. He went to talk with her. 

“When we saw each other in the lobby, there was great rapport between us,” Lenox said. 

The connection went further. Lenox realized the woman whose car he hit had been the same person contacting him by phone for the last couple of years about reserving gym times in preparation for community volleyball games. Lenox, in his private time, schedules for his church’s gym. He had also briefly attended the volleyball practices. These volleyball practices were made up of Pacific Islanders – usually with 70 or more people – often whole families — attending. And, this woman is the main organizer for volleyball practices in the area. 

Lenox continued to be in touch with her. He knew it took building a relationship to establish trust with her and her Pacific Islander community. 

“I was able to extend compassion to her – over some things she was going through – her family was going through. I was even able to meet her husband who I had never been talked to before. I feel like that was a bridge starting between us,” he said. 

A key time was when this woman and others from her community came to Lenox’ garage sale. He gave them all the clothes he had at the sale – and with seven children, that was a lot. He also told the staff in his office that when she comes in, he is to be called so he can be there personally for her.  

“I know you can’t rush these things, but I feel that moving forward there are definitely a few steps in place. We have helped at least one community member get EBT (food benefits) services.” 

In many communities it takes a personal touch, knowing and creating relationships with people to be able to serve the community in a way people want to be connected with to help create well-being. Many other communities in Oregon could benefit from stepping back and taking a personal approach – reaching out, creating a bridge between two people. Building connections and trusting relationships happen over time and in small ways. Every small effort or interaction can make a difference and build a path to a strong community connection. In this case, it all started with a car accident. 

About Author

Christine Decker is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Before working in communications she was a working journalist.

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