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

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 or

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 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

COPS grant

Tribe helps sheriff buy pickup

Aug. 28, 2019

The Coos County Sheriff’s Office has a shiny new patrol rig, courtesy of the Coquille Indian Tribe.

Because the county provides patrol help on the Kilkich Reservation, the Tribe is allowed to pass along the benefits of the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program.

“That gives us an opportunity to give back to the neighboring community,” said Tribal Police Chief Scott LaFevre.

LaFevre explained that the Tribe applies for a COPS grant every two to three years and usually receives about $300,000.  Though the Tribe’s own needs take first priority, LaFevre looks for opportunities to share. This year, the sheriff netted a four-wheel-drive Ford F-150.

“I think it helps immensely with our teamwork with the sheriff’s office,” LaFevre said.

Teamwork is important, because the Tribe’s four-person force can’t provide 24-hour, 365-day coverage on the reservation.

“That truck will be responding at Kilkich when we’re not here,” LaFevre said.


2019 Community Fund Grants

Coquille Tribal Fund supports 49 groups

NORTH BEND –  The largest was $20,000, the smallest just $1,110. Whatever the size, each of the 49 grants awarded by the Coquille Tribal Community Fund this year will improve life in a local community.

Grantees and local dignitaries gathered at The Mill Casino-Hotel on Friday to celebrate the work of the grantees. This year’s tribal fund grants totaled $261,762.50. The fund, consistently the leading source of charitable grants for South Coast nonprofits, has distributed more than $6.4 million since it was launched in 2001.

The fund’s largest 2019 grant was $20,000 to the Umpqua Community Health Center, to help buy a new ultrasound machine for expectant mothers. The machine will replace an obsolete model nearly three decades old.

The smallest 2019 grant was $1,110, awarded to the Lakeside Community Presbyterian Church’s warming center project. Operating on a frugal budget, the church opens its doors to homeless people on nights when the temperature dips below freezing. The $1,110 will cover its costs for a whole year.

Money for the fund comes from a share of the tribe’s casino revenue. Each year an appointed board of tribal members and community leaders meets to review applications and decide on the awards.

The year’s board consisted of Coquille Tribal Council Secretary Linda Mecum; Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins; state Rep. Gary Leif; Chelsea Burns, Coquille Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors; Joe Benetti, mayor of Coos Bay; Jon Ivy, tribal member; and Scott LaFevre, tribal member.

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

Here’s a list of 2019 grants:

  • ACCESS, $5,000
  • Bandon Historical Society Museum, $2,500
  • Bandon Showcase Inc., $1,500
  • Bear Cupboard, $7,500
  • Boys & Girls Club of Southwestern Oregon, $5,000
  • Brookings Harbor Education Foundation Inc., $3,500
  • Camp Myrtlewood, $10,000
  • CASA of Lane County, $5,000
  • Charleston Fishing Families, $5,000
  • Charleston Food Bank, $5,000
  • Chetco Activity Center, $5,000
  • Community Presbyterian Church Warming Center (Lakeside), $1,110
  • Conference of St. Vincent de Paul Society of Myrtle Creek, $2,500
  • Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southern Oregon, $5,000
  • Coos Art Museum, $3,500
  • Coos Bay Area Zonta Service Foundation, $5,000
  • Coos Bay Seventh-day Adventist Food Pantry and Community Service, $5,000
  • Coos County Friends of Public Health, $4,500
  • Coos Watershed Association, $2,000
  • Coquille Indian Tribe Community Health Center, $10,000
  • Coquille Watershed Association, $3,525
  • Curry County Historical Society, $1,500
  • Florence Food Share, $3,000
  • Friends of Coos County Animals Inc., $5,000
  • Harmony United Methodist Church, $5,000
  • HIV Alliance, $5,000
  • Junction City Local Aid, $5,000
  • Knights of Columbus Council 1261, $5,000
  • La Clinica del Valle, $10,000
  • Little Theatre on the Bay, $5,000
  • Mapleton Food Share, $5,000
  • Oregon Childrens’ Foundation dba SMART Start Making A Reader Today, $5,000
  • Oregon Coast Community Action – Court Appointed Special Advocates, $5,000
  • Oregon Coast Community Action – South Coast Food Share (SCFS), $10,000
  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, $3,000
  • Peter Britt Gardens Music & Arts Festival Association, $2,000
  • Rogue Retreat, $10,000
  • Roots & Wings Community Preschool, $7,000
  • ShelterCare, $5,000
  • Smith and Bern VFW Post 6102, $10,000
  • South Coast Clambake Music Festival, $3,000
  • South Umpqua Historical Society, $5,000
  • Southwestern Oregon Veterans Outreach Inc., $4,500
  • Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board, $7,000
  • Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, $5,000
  • Sumner Rural Fire Protection District, $6,128
  • Triangle Food Box, $2,500
  • Umpqua Community Health Center, $20,000
  • Youth 71Five, $5,000

2019 Community Fund Grants

Tribe Invests in Stronger Communities

More than four-dozen community organizations received support from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund in 2019, with grants totaling more than a quarter-million dollars.

The grants, funded by revenue from The Mill Casino, support a wide range of community services. They range from $1,110 for a small-town church’s homeless warming shelter to $20,000 for a prenatal ultrasound machine.

Learn more in this news coverage: