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George Fox University explores building an allied and mental health college in Roseburg

George Fox University has signed a memorandum of understanding to explore building an allied and mental health college in Roseburg.

The university will be working with Oregonians for Rural Health, a coalition dedicated to promoting the health and vitality of rural communities, to start the process that could bring a new college to the area.

Wayne Patterson, executive director of the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership, said the Oregonians for Rural Health coalition would look for a site to build, create the ownership structure and provide the funding. George Fox University is expected to bring the management group, the accreditation, the models on how to run a university, staff and instructors.

“We have been meeting with the rural health coalition to help them understand the process for bringing accredited programs to the area,” said Linda Samek, provost for George Fox University. “We currently have a wide range of healthcare and mental health programs that are needed in the area. We are innovative and open to creative solutions to messy issues.”

According to Patterson, the coalition has explored several sites and has signed with a local engineering group and property owner to start a site plan for two locations. The coalition is also looking at a third location. All sites will be within Roseburg city limits.

“We want to do it within city limits,” Patterson said. “There’s a three-legged stool as part of this process. The first one obviously, because we need a workforce. The second part is economic impact to the community, and the third one is branding. The critical part is how do we mix all that together and the site has a part of that.”

George Fox University’s main campus, founded in 1891, is in Newberg, with additional sites in Salem, Redmond and Portland. The university also offers online instruction.

“George Fox is an established Oregon academic institution whose broad range of nationally accredited allied and mental health educational programs directly serve acute workforce needs shared by providers, including hospitals and medical facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Kelly Morgan, CEO of Mercy Medical Center, in a press release.

Samek said the university has always been fairly entrepreneurial and has periodically gone to places where they could be of service to the community.

“We have very accomplished practitioners who run the programs, very experienced people,” she said. “We keep our classrooms relatively small and they’re very hands-on programs. For example, our physical therapy program has been up and running for about six years, and if you come to the facility where they do their training you will find the faculty with the students studying, playing games, having conversations, they eat together, they work together.

“We run a pro bono clinic out of our facility in Newberg to connect with our community, and that’s probably one of the things we’re probably most well known for — a deep connection with any community where we do programs and our hands-on practical training,” she said.

The physical therapy program is relatively new, but the university started focusing on health care in the 1980s and is continuing to roll out new programs. A physician assistant program is set to start in 2021.

The signed memorandum established an exclusive partnership between the two organizations to build a college that would offer advanced degree programs. Patterson said the college is expected to offer nine different programs.

“The community seems to want this to happen and that is critical,” Samek said. “We have always had students from the area and we care about rural communities. Roseburg is accessible to Southern and Eastern Oregon, the South Coast and the I-5 corridor from the California border to Eugene. Mercy Hospital and the VA are both willing to be partners and Umpqua Community College is already doing nurse training. We like to build on community strengths.”

The college is envisioned to provide a reliable pipeline of healthcare professionals in multiple medical fields, connect individuals to living wage jobs and create economic growth and stability to the region.

Not all programs will start right away, it will likely stagger the start of some of the programs based on the need in the community and the availability of programs.

Samek said there is already a proposal for a satellite program of the university’s physical therapy program.

“This can be, and our hope is that it is, the greatest thing to ever happen in Douglas County,” Patterson said. “Because it’s going to bring jobs, but more importantly it’s going to provide workers in a desperately needed area for all of rural Southern Oregon and the VA.”

When it comes to funding, Patterson hopes to get equal shares from the state, the VA and the private sector. The Roseburg VA Medical Center is the second largest employer in Douglas County.

“So many people have been a part of making this happen and getting us to where we are,” Patterson said. “I feel very grateful for the trust that’s been given to the partnership to get this project underway and all of those contributions to make it happen.”

Myrtle Creek Man of the Year Josh Norton offers a message of hope to those struggling with sexual identity

It wasn’t until Josh Norton stood in front of more than 100 Myrtle Creek community members waiting for him to speak that he realized it was time to take control of his own story.

Norton was named Man of the Year at the Myrtle Creek-Tri City Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet on Saturday. The chamber recognizes a male and a female resident who demonstrate a particularly high level of community involvement.

After thanking everyone for the honor, Norton made a personal announcement that he had never discussed publicly, in a conservative town with a population of about 3,500, where 68 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

“I will take this recognition as a leader of this community by saying that I am a gay, active member of this community,” Norton said.

The audience stood and applauded.

The 28-year-old Myrtle Creek native, who works as the city recorder and manages the community pool, said in an interview that as he stood in front of the audience, he thought about how the award signified community leadership. He was compelled to show the community for the first time in his life that he is proud of his identity, he said. He couldn’t accept the recognition without being the kind of role model he never had growing up.

Immediately after the banquet, people lined up to congratulate Norton on the award and his announcement. The day after, he posted a video of his speech along with a message on his Facebook page. Almost 200 people have reacted to the post, and more than 75 people have posted comments congratulating him.

He said he has been overwhelmed with support almost a week after the banquet.

“Someone came up to me at the end of the speech and said, ‘Did you not think anyone knew you were gay?’” Norton said. “That wasn’t it. I wanted to dictate my story. And I wanted them to know that even if you’re OK with it, I want you to know that I have struggled a lot so you’re aware of it.”

Growing up in Myrtle Creek, it was hard at times for Norton to envision a normal future, or any future at all, he said.

“I think I spent every single day of my teenage years trying to decide between a life of hating myself in private in order to be apart of a community, a life with no community at all, or no life so that I didn’t have to pick between the two,” Norton wrote in his Facebook post after the banquet.

He said as a teenager, he experienced homophobia in different forms, including outright bigotry from people shouting at him from their cars while he walked down the street.

He sensed that he would not be accepted as an equal member of the community he loved if he came out publicly. That drove him to keep it private for years.

He didn’t explicitly discuss it with his parents until about a year and a half ago, he said. And even though they didn’t talk about it again until the banquet, he said his parents were among those filming his speech and embracing him afterward.

While Norton’s experiences growing up in Myrtle Creek contributed to the concealment of his identity, he said he never thought it would be the same community that would give him the opportunity to overcome the shame he felt in keeping his sexuality private.

“I’m not going to be ashamed of anything anymore; I’m not going to hide anything anymore,” Norton said. “Myrtle Creek gave me the opportunity, which is the most ironic statement I think I will ever say in my life.”

A lot has surprised Norton recently, he said.

When he first started working as a 15-year-old lifeguard at the South Umpqua Memorial Pool, and then became the manager two years later, he didn’t think it was laying the groundwork for him to become a leader of the community.

He also didn’t think overcoming the thing that burdened him most as a teenager — the privacy of his sexuality — would become one of the best ways for him to improve his community.

His speech was a message of hope and solidarity to anyone else in the community who is ashamed of their identity and questions their future, he said.

As he looked at kids in the audience at the banquet, many of whom he taught to swim, he thought, “How can you be a role model when you’re ashamed of a part of you there’s nothing wrong with?”

“I think my mind knew, whether it was subconscious or not, ‘You have this platform right now, you have the opportunity to take control of your life,’” he said.

Norton couldn’t let it go to waste.

The speech was the most “vulnerable experience of his life,” he said. It was more frightening than anything he experienced in the eight months he traveled abroad alone teaching English and volunteering in places like Morocco and Cambodia, he said.

He gained the courage to be that vulnerable by thinking back to a conversation he had a few days earlier sitting with some friends in front of his fireplace with the power out — a result of the biggest snowstorm in the area in decades.

“I said I’ve been really struggling lately,” Norton said.

He told his friends — fellow former lifeguards, who were previously aware of his sexuality — that he has been thinking about a quote he heard recently: “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”

He thinks his community — and society as a whole — has progressed in its acceptance of homosexuality in his lifetime. But there’s much more work to be done, he said. He added the work may never be finished.

“When you feel different, for any reason, I think you have to put the hard work in for a result that isn’t noticed,” Norton said. Kids often don’t have the ability to be themselves, let alone work toward progress. That’s why they need role models to tell them they’re OK, he said.

“I want to work and put my name out there so that we get to a point where nobody asks if you’re gay or not,” he said. “They see you with your partner and they literally don’t think anything of it.”

Many places are at a point where mere acknowledgment of homosexuality is still a key step to progress, he said. But he feels thankful to live in a time and in a place where he could say what he did at the banquet.

He worries about people like him who are decades older and still conceal their identities.

“The people that did deal with this even 10 years ago, and have stayed hidden, I feel so sad for them,” Norton said. “But they are so much stronger than me because I would have killed myself.”

He hopes his message will be one of many ways he can be a leader and serve his community — even if he never expected it would be.

“To everyone listening, and to me when I was younger, what I want to say is I see you and I accept you and you’re OK, and if there isn’t a spot for you in the community, then make one,” Norton said as he accepted his award. “And once you’ve made one, make one for another person, and thank you for doing that for me.”

Power finally restored to Elkton, crews making progress in Camas Valley, Tenmile and Melrose

As of Thursday night, Douglas Electric Cooperative officials said the number of members without power stood at 2,954.

There was finally some good news for the town of Elkton. Todd Munsey, a spokesman for the cooperative, said a “creative engineering solution” finally brought the lights back on in Elkton.

The switch was thrown about 3:55 p.m. Thursday and service was restored for the city proper.

Crews are still working on constructing a transmission line to Elkton so that the surrounding areas can be addressed. In the meantime, crews are working on those areas so they can be prepared for when the power starts flowing through the new line.

Munsey said the cooperative picked up most of the members in Camas Valley and Tenmile and parts of Melrose on Thursday and are getting close to completing that section. Once that is done, the crews will be dispersed to assist crews in other areas. He said crews have been using whatever means necessary to get to the problem areas, including construction of a makeshift bridge to get over a stream and using track cats to pull the repair vehicles through the mud that they’re now dealing with in many of the areas.