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Giving Back: Harney Country Community Center

There are few things more satisfying than putting the finishing touches on a worthwhile project. And through the years the Cycle Oregon Fund has been able to do just that in terms of funding, helping several noteworthy projects with the final infusion of cash to complete the task. If we’re not able to fund the entire project, it’s wonderful to provide the ending to what others have started.

Such was the case with the recently completed Harney County Community Center, recipient of a $35,000 Cycle Oregon Fund grant. Thanks to the collective effort of citizens all over Harney County, plus Cycle Oregon’s help, there’s a new hub for Burns and surrounding communities in this spread-out part of Oregon.

But let’s back up a bit. This all got started when former state representative Bob Smith and his wife Kay wanted to donate a building in Burns, which had no community center. Residents rallied behind the idea and formed the nonprofit Harney County Opportunity Team (HCOT) to see the project through.

“We didn’t have any kind of large facility the community could use,” says Linda Johnson, office coordinator for HCOT. “There was a definite need there for all of Harney County. With the Smiths’ donation of the building, we started building community support – and grant writing.”

A great example of that community support came in the face of a lack of complete funding at the project’s kickoff. The contractor on the project generously volunteered to start work and let the fundraising catch up to the costs.

As far as grant writing, Linda remembered when Cycle Oregon came to town in 2001, when she was director of the local Chamber of Commerce. “I understood a little about the grant process from that experience,” she says. “Then I was researching grants last summer, came across Cycle Oregon again and thought, ‘What a great fit!’ And we had such a wonderful experience when Cycle Oregon was here.”

The rest is a success story. The Harney County Community Center opened in December 2008 with the Chamber of Commerce as its anchor tenant, but it still needed plenty of work to be a finished product. The Cycle Oregon grant was enough to pay off the final financial piece of the project, the “Cap-Off Campaign,” and ensure some much-needed touches for the building, which now also houses a Visitors Center.

According to Linda and Bill Wilber, the Community Center board president, among the elements Cycle O’s funding will help are signage, window coverings that will lower utility bills (it gets cold in Burns in the winter), exterior lighting so the Visitors Center is visible from the highway, computers for meetings and for visitors to use, an expanded interpretive area/visitors library, new conference tables for more configuration flexibility, kitchen supplies and an enhanced sound system. That’s a lot of bang for the bucks.

“We wanted a hub for events, meetings and organizations,” Linda says. “The center has been very successful in meeting that goal. It’s getting a lot of use.” That includes hosting the Crane senior prom, weddings, event dinners and town-hall meetings. Citizens use it, as well as the Forest Service, the BLM and other organizations, and people coming in for events have a positive economic impact on the community as well.

“It’s become the hub for Burns and Hines, and also for outlying communities like Diamond, Frenchglen and Riley,” Linda adds. “When there’s a meeting, it happens here. It’s like an old-fashioned Grange Hall – a place where you can visit with neighbors, know what’s going on. It makes us feel like a family.”

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