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Ashland boy's art project brings community together

For Bridger Foss, like millions of other kids caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic, life’s been a little redundant lately.

The Ashland 12-year-old has passed the time by bouncing on his family’s trampoline, riding his bike and playing outside. Recently, he added another activity to that short list: spreading joy.

Tasked with an assignment from his Ashland Middle School art teacher, Christine Boyd, to create an art project that can be heard or seen by others, Foss decided to challenge his neighbors in the Tolman Creek Mobile Home Park. His request, written as a flyer and posted on the park’s bulletin board, was simple:

“I kindly asked all of you to put one positive word on a piece of paper and put it in your window or front yard so it can be seen from the street. By doing this I want to give our neighborhood some positive hope during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Foss, the oldest of five kids, wasn’t sure what to expect, so he was pleasantly surprised when he started noticing signs pop up throughout the small community. One read “safe.” Another, “harmony.” Still another, “giggle.” The Fosses displayed “Love.”

“I was just thinking of ideas and just kind of being positive and seeing how many people I could get in the community to join together and go along with it,” he said.

Foss has counted 15 signs so far, a number he’s happy with considering his instructions were attached to a bulletin board that probably didn’t attract a lot of eyes even before there was a deadly virus to worry about.

Less visible but present nonetheless is the impression Foss’ project has had on his neighbors, including Judith Hanson, a 78-year-old retired woman who lives nearby. Hanson says Tolman Creek Mobile Home Park is a lot like any other small community, filled with busybodies coming and going. But after the sign was pinned up, she said, it became a ray of light in the neighborhood.

“It kind of gave us a sense of being together in this, that would be the easiest way to say it,” she said.

Hanson knows a little about staying positive. She’s a gardener who deals with extreme allergies, but she has a sense of humor about it, she says, because it’s obvious that God does. For Hanson, wearing a mask is nothing new — she breaks one out every spring. So what, she says.

“I love gardening and I have a small backyard,” Hanson says. “So I can go out in my backyard, and that makes a huge difference for me. I can’t imagine what it must be like. I have a friend in a nursing room and they’re locked down in their room. They get breakfast, lunch and dinner dropped off but they can’t go out. The only way they can communicate is by phone, and it’s really hard for them. But in here, we have small garden areas, some are as nutty a gardener as I am — that’s my most favorite thing to do.”

Hanson wrote “Love Love Love” on one sign, and because she has a corner lot and had room, wrote “friends” on another. She’s also noticed “blessed” and “believe” signs posted on other houses.

Melissa Ryan, 66, said Foss’ post sparked her creative side, and after she read it she started brainstorming words.

“I take walks around the park here and it was just a very uplifting thing,” she says, “not only for cohesiveness of the park because I don’t know as many people as I used to — people passing on and other people moving in. It made me feel very good. Just like when somebody tells you everything’s going to be all right.”

Mary Nelke, 82, says Foss’ project has brought the park together, and she compared its momentum to a snowball going downhill. And while there’s no way Foss could have known, the timing for Nelke couldn’t have been better. Since mid-February, she’s lost two jobs — both coronavirus casualties — endured the death of her dog and was surprised by a water leak that ruined her kitchen floor.

So which word did she pick? “Blessed.”

“I feel very blessed to be here and I feel very blessed to have people thinking of these kinds things,” she said. “Because what else can we do? We’re all just trying to keep our wits together.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Bridger Foss, 12, shows off a sign in a window of his home on Tolman Creek Road Wednesday. Bridger has convinced numerous neighbors to post positive, one-word signs to help people keep their spirits up. Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings