In the darkness, sparks flash, creating a bright glow and instant warmth.
That's what students and graduates of Walla Walla University (WWU) are creating — welcoming lights where they live.
"We are graduating people that see a need and realize that they can actually be part of the solution," says Paddy McCoy, WWU chaplain. "There is a world in need, and we don't have to go to Zimbabwe to make a difference."
All around our Northwest neighborhood, WWU students and alumni are lighting the corners where they live. The following are just a few examples of the glow.
The phone rings, and a real person answers. Messages chime in via email, and the doctor himself often sits down to reply. When people can't make an appointment during regular office hours, a quick exchange between office staff creates an after-hours solution.
At the medical office of Brett Robinson, these services aren't extras for a privileged few; they're standard care for everyone, whatever their financial status, insurance situation or country of origin.
After finishing his medical training, Robinson, a 1985 WWU graduate, spent eight years working at clinics serving migrant farm workers, homeless people, urban Indians and other underserved groups, before starting his own practice in Salem, Oregon. The goal to serve everyone equally, Robinson says, was inspired by his reading of Isaiah 58 and Job 29, and by his father, a physician who has worked in Yakima, Washington, for several decades.
"I always admired how he and my mother (his office manager) would accept patients that no other clinic in town would see, and how they had the freedom to discount or even write off charges when they felt it was appropriate," Robinson says. "For me, the greatest luxury of being a solo provider is the ability to provide services to others in need who may not otherwise have access."
In his practice, Robinson:
Provides bus-driver exams at no charge to the local Adventist school.
Waives all out-of-pocket charges for clients working on medical clearances for adoption.
Offers discounts to patients with no health insurance — even arranging with a local lab to provide steep discounts for the uninsured.
Robinson credits one of his WWU professors, Robert Noel, for modeling the spirit of service when Robinson was stumped on a computer science project.
"Even though Mr. Noel was busy, he left what he was doing, sat down and quietly helped me — as if, at that moment, he had nothing else in the world to do," Robinson says. "In my practice, I strive to sit down with people just as he did with me."
JUMPSTARTING A SCHOOL
The lights flip on and students scurry to their desks. It's a new day at Mountain View Elementary School in Missoula, Montana, and all nine students are present.
At the helm are: Jared and Jannetta Meharry. This young husband-wife team graduated from WWU on June 12, 2005, with elementary education degrees and then celebrated with a wedding ceremony the same afternoon.
The couple taught in Washington state for five years before they received a call from Missoula to restart an Adventist school that had been closed.
"We had just built a house in Brewster, Washington, and did not want to move right then, but we felt like this was where God wanted us," Jannetta says.
Now the school is thriving. Jared teaches fulltime and is excited about the enrollment.
"There are three first-graders, one second-grader, two third-graders and three sixth-graders," he says. "We started the school last year with seven students, and three of them graduated. An enrollment of nine is more than double what we had expected."
For her part, Jannetta does all the office work and teaches music, with a special focus on the chimes, which helps students learn how to work as a team.
"The students play for the church service at least four times a year," Jannetta says. "They also play for other functions for the church and the community. It is a great way for them to share their love of God with others around them."
Jared adds, "One of the most important ways we are a light is by changing the lives of the young people who attend here."
DIALING IT IN
If radios were lights, the Walla Walla Valley would be aglow because of Positive Life Radio (PLR). It is the station that plays "music with a message" from the WWU campus. And theoretically so would the rest of the world, as the signal spans the globe via five stations, 12 translators and a worldwide netcast.
Managing the station is Kevin Krueger, WWU alumnus, who graduated in 1987 with a degree in mass communications.
Krueger has helped grow a small station into an eastern Washington powerhouse network of full-power stations. Krueger not only functions as general manager but also produces a regular afternoon on-air shift. He is well-respected throughout Christian radio circles for his expert work at hosting on-air fundraisers across the country.
"It's been our premise for decades that a local station should be involved in the local community," Krueger says. "When we assume responsibility for a broadcast license from the Federal Communications Commission, we assume responsibility for serving the communities we're in."
To that end, Krueger and his team started an initiative called Hearts & Hands to keep the spirit of community glowing through events and services such as:
Local concerts by Christian artists;
Helping churches and other service organizations promote their events;
Food and blanket drives;
Raising money for rice to feed hungry families in Cambodia;
The Drive Thru Difference — encouraging drivers at fast-food venues to pay for the car behind them.
Krueger says he enjoys seeing WWU students who work and volunteer at the station mature in their understanding of outreach, both locally and worldwide.
"Mentoring the next generation is a very special part of my work at PLR, a part of my life commitment," Krueger says. "It's a privilege to instill in students a mindset of outreach."
MAKERS BUILDING COMMUNITY
It's June 5, 2011, a Sunday morning, and the Poulsbo (Washington) Church, school and surrounding grounds are buzzing with builders and makers. Among them are:
Remote-control plane builders;
Electronics and computer types;
Seamstresses, quilters and knitters;
Stained glass artists;
Robotics experts from WWU.
All converge for the Kitsap (Washington) Mini Maker Faire, a community event that was planned by WWU engineering alumni Murry Rexin (1989) and Caleb Kimbrell (2009), their families, and the Poulsbo (Washington) Church youth group.
The goal: To meet and interact with other makers, encourage teamwork, learn new skills, and have fun.
A woman with a wood lathe cuts toy tops and gives them to children of all ages. A local bicycle shop gives free tune-ups and fixes bikes to donate to local children. Pathfinders pour italian sodas. A sweets factory makes chocolate truffles. Seamstresses and seamsters sew new things and fix old things. Welding experts build a go-cart on the spot. A recycling company even collects old metal.
"The event was such a hit, we lost count after about a thousand people," Rexin says. "The point wasn't for us to be in the middle of everything but to facilitate learning and creating. It was exciting to see people connect with other people."
Rexin's 18-year-old son, Caleb, got in on the planning too. "It took pretty much four months of all of our lives," Caleb laughs, "but it was worth it. Our focus was on building a community of people who want to learn and make stuff."
Murry, Rexin and other event organizers had so much fun, they aren't stopping. Already they're working on this year's event, slated for June 3. And a few months after that, Caleb says he hopes to be heading for WWU.
"The bottom line is that students, alumni, faculty and staff care deeply about what happens in the community," says Troy Fitzgerald, Walla Walla University Church young adult pastor. "When we spend ourselves on causes that are bigger than us, our hearts resonate with how God designed us, which is to put others first."