Hood River and Portland are close enough, and far enough part, for rare things to happen in simple ways. Song and compassion brought Hood River students together with the homeless at Dignity Village in Portland in September. People from Dignity Village returned the favor on Friday. Eighteen residents of the facility arrived by bus to a hot dinner at a downtown church and then took in the play "Les Miserables" at Hood River Valley High School. In September, "Les Miz" cast members sang at Dignity Village, a community with its own Web site that has become a model that other cities and homeless organizations have looked to for help in dealing with their own homeless populations.
The "Les Miz" cast's performance at Dignity Village was the first time a theater production had taken place there. And Friday's visit to Hood River was the first time that a large group from Dignity Village had gone for an outing together. "We're here to root them on," Gail Reyes of Dignity Village said of the "Les Miz" students. "I think it's wonderful. We don't often get to get dressed up and go somewhere," said Elizabeth Spry of Dignity Village, over chicken casserole and apple crisp served at Riverside Community Church. Volunteers, led by Hood River's Joan Yasui Emerson, cooked the food and set the table with cutlery and china.
High school student Anna Thompson played the piano while Dignity Village residents and local folk dined. Emerson piled plates high with food and delivered them to the tables, while Elaine Thompson, Patti Tessmer, Kwasi Diehl, Connie Burton and other volunteers served food, roamed with coffee urns, and got acquainted with the visitors. Coincidentally, a homeless man unconnected to the group appeared at the door at the same time the bus arrived. The man dined at the church, and volunteers arranged a place for him to sleep. The event was a way to bring people together and to "put a face on the people who are homeless," Emerson said. "They're thrilled and so grateful to be here," she said. "For most of these people, life has been really hard, but these are people who are brimming with spirit," said Emerson, a long-time advocate of Dignity Village. "Everybody's connected by their humanity, no matter where we are," Emerson said. "If my father or brother was in their type of situation I'd want someone to reach out to them." Timothy McCarthy, outreach coordinator for the village, said, "What better play for a group of homeless people to watch than 'Les Miserables'?"