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Gift Of Giving Volunteers Work Countless Hours For One Common Goal - To Make A Difference In Their Community

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 1997

It’s late Friday afternoon, and Sandy Mamola is cooking up a batch of her special chili for guests.

Piles of freshly chopped tomatoes and celery wait patiently on the cutting board as a skillet full of ground beef simmers.

Mamola rummages through the inventory of spices above the stove. Garlic powder, cilantro, chili powder … she inspects each container, then fearlessly adds large portions of spice to ingredients bubbling away in a 28-quart pot.

Behind her, one helper tends to the salad while another checks on the vanilla ice cream destined for chocolate sundaes. A third offers to slice watermelons.

All is going well, except for one catch: No one has a clue how many guests will show up for dinner.

Usually, Mamola can count on anywhere between 30 and 75 dropping by the weekly St. Pius Hospitality Kitchen. But on this recent Friday, a Catholic youth rally has brought 200 teenagers to the Coeur d’Alene parish, and some have already noticed enticing aromas emanating from the kitchen.

A burly young man with a disarming smile pokes his head through the swinging doors. “What’s for dinner?” he asks optimistically. Mamola’s answer is greeted like an epiphany. “Chili! All right!” he says as he turns to rush off and share the good news with his fellow pilgrims.

Considering that her guest list may have suddenly quadrupled, Mamola’s own reaction borders on angelic. “I guess I’d better add more ground beef,” she says with a laugh, and picks up where she left off before the interruption.

Mamola, co-founder and executive director of the free Lake City Health Care Clinic, passionately believes that individuals can make a difference in their community. And she’s spent countless volunteer hours proving her point.

During the past 10 years, Mamola and her unpaid helpers have cooked and served more than 25,000 church-funded meals at the St. Pius Hospitality Kitchen - nourishing the poor and lonely, and, in the process, enhancing Coeur d’Alene’s sense of community.

Over 1,000 volunteers did the same for Spokane last weekend by pulling off another successful Hoopfest, the world’s largest three-on-three basketball tournament.

Later this month, Colville tribal member Pierre Louie will build community by hosting his 19th annual Sobriety Campout on the shores of Lake Roosevelt.

All these efforts contribute to something Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam calls “social capital” - the collective good will generated by volunteerism, social interaction and civic involvement.

In his oft-cited 1995 essay “Bowling Alone,” Putnam wrote that “for a variety of reasons, life is easier in a community blessed with a substantial stock of social capital.”

Unfortunately, according to Putnam, America’s social capital is falling fast. As evidence, he points to declining civic involvement - membership in PTAs, church groups, unions, service organizations and even, as the essay’s title suggests, bowling leagues.

But others point to encouraging signs. Utne Reader magazine’s June issue featured “America’s 10 Most Enlightened Towns,” places such as Ithica, N.Y., and Portland, where “informal groups, from activist coalitions to neighborhood associations to book clubs and cooking classes, abound.”

These are communities that celebrate regional products and support cultural institutions. Places with clean parks and thriving downtowns. Places where the strong look out for the weak.

Most of all, these are cities that get things done.

Nicholas Lovrich, director of Washington State University’s Division of Government Studies and Services, says a city’s level of social capital is a strong predictor of whether civic campaigns can succeed.

For instance, “Many places you try community policing, it’s an enormous success. Three weeks after the police chief says, ‘We’re going to do it,’ there are a million volunteers, block watches everywhere. They make it look easy,” Lovrich says.

“Other places, you pump in tons of federal and state money, you announce all these avenues for citizen involvement, and nobody shows up.

“Why do you get such different reactions from place to place?” Lovrich asks. “It all has to do with Putnam’s concept of social capital - how much people are in contact with one another within families and with the overall community.”

Encouraging civic engagement in Pocatello, Idaho, is a cinch, says Lovrich. The same for Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. “In Salt Lake City, it’s practically a done deal” because of that community’s strong church ties.

Spokane is a different story.

“Spokane ranks pretty low in trust,” Lovrich says, which may explain why Expo ‘74 and the Arena both encountered strong skepticism before eventually winning public acceptance.

But many smaller local projects have succeeded, thanks to the tireless efforts of individuals. Ronald McDonald House, the Centennial Trail and Bloomsday are glowing examples of visions realized.

“The mood is changing,” admits Lovrich, a longtime Spokane observer, “and things like Bloomsday are what distinguish communities that can get their act together and make progress.”

Kelsey Gray, an organizational specialist at WSU’s Spokane campus, says individuals can have a big impact on a community’s quality of life. “All you need are two people and a name,” she says.

Fourteen years ago, Spokane Valley residents Denny Ashlock and Joe Custer didn’t even have a name when they began exploring ways to increase the Valley’s meager recreational opportunities.

“The more we thought about it, though,” Ashlock says, “the bigger the dream grew.”

Today that dream-come-true - the Centennial Trail - stretches 37 miles from Coeur d’Alene all the way to Nine Mile Falls.

Ashlock’s latest cause is Mirabeau Point, an ambitious 70-acre, $33 million community center proposed for the former Walk in the Wild zoo site.

Ashlock isn’t one to wait for the social capital gauge to give a clear “go” signal. “The project I learned the most on was the rehabilitation of Liberty Lake,” he says. “Our kids were threatened, and there are neighbors in the lake community who still don’t speak to me.

“What Liberty Lake taught me,” Ashlock says, “is that it’s OK to be hated. If I’m really committed, I don’t have to make everybody happy.”

What’s important, he says, is that you have a vision.

Colville Indian Pierre Louie’s vision changed the focus of his life.

“It came to me in a dream,” 64-year-old Louie recounts. “When I sobered up 19 years ago, I had this vision of gathering all the people together to share, closing the gap of racism and prejudice” and overcoming drug and alcohol abuse.

Unsure how to follow his dream, Louie started by hosting a small encampment near the Inchelium-Gifford Ferry landing.

“About 25 people showed up that first year, so I thought to myself, ‘That must be the way,”’ Louie says.

Since then, the annual gathering has grown beyond anyone’s expectations, due, in part, to exposure on the Internet by participants. Several years ago, 3,500 people from as far away as Germany and Australia joined the five-day combination powwow and group-therapy session.

This year, Louie expects 2,500 campers when his Sobriety Campout opens July 23.

“We get people from all walks of life,” he says. “Most have some sort of drug or alcohol problem, family problems, teen problems. Some people use this camp as their goal, to stay sober another year and come back to camp.”

Louie worries about his health, and wonders whether his days of building community are numbered.

But Nine Mile Falls resident Joe Poss is just getting started.

Poss, 22, began volunteering in his community as a high school sophomore, serving on the Chase Youth Commission’s Teen Advisory Council.

He quickly racked up hours of public service, and recognition to match. At 17 he was chosen Spokane United Way Volunteer of the Year. At 18 he was elected to the Nine Mile Falls School Board, unseating the board chairman.

Last month, Poss chaired the annual Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation leadership seminar, which brought together 80 high school students from across Eastern and Central Washington.

“Today’s youth don’t give themselves enough credit for what they can contribute to their community,” says Poss, a recent Gonzaga University grad. “Young people are more than our future. They are our now. Why wait to be a leader? Jump in at age 13, 14, 15.”

Busy with two jobs, Poss says volunteerism is what makes life fun. “It’s what keeps me going.”

Back at the St. Pius Hospitality Kitchen, the chili is done, and 73 guests - including many regulars and, luckily, only a handful of the unexpected teens - are lining up in eager anticipation.

After hours of preparation, chef Mamola has time to catch her breath and imagine out loud how great it would be for the community if every church in Coeur d’Alene took a turn providing free meals for the needy.

All it would take is vision, commitment … and maybe a little nudge.

Like the time, 10 years ago, when Mamola was visiting her mother in Southern California, and the two got talking about how awful it was that so many people couldn’t afford a decent meal.

“I commented that somebody ought to start a soup kitchen in Coeur d’Alene,” Mamola recalls. Her mother’s response has guided Mamola’s philosophy ever since.

She asked, “Why isn’t that somebody you?”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 color photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: YOU CAN MAKE DIFFERENCE Want to make a difference? The following tips may help: “You need three things to make your vision a reality,” says St. Pius Hospitality Kitchen founder Sandy Mamola: “Conviction, commitment and courage. “Conviction must come first - you need faith that what you envision is going to make life a little better for someone else. “Then comes commitment, which is the most difficult part. You must be absolutely committed to the project. Be willing to stay with it through the ups and downs. “And finally, courage. Not everyone will embrace your vision. You need the courage to show opponents what’s possible, and not burn any bridges - not be angry at people who don’t support you.”

“Find out who are the stakeholders,” recommends Washington State University organizational specialist Kelsey Gray. “Identify the people who might be most affected positively or negatively. We have a tendency to ignore the negative, and then get blind-sided when someone steps forward and says, ‘I don’t like your idea!’ “If you ask opponents, ‘What’s it going to take for you to play with us?’ that forces them to lay the ground rules. If you live by those ground rules, then they become supporters.” Also, says Gray, “Move the group’s leadership around, or it will just be one person’s project. “And decide how decisions are going to be made. Some groups die because they can’t even agree who’s going to bring the coffee.”

CITYLINE Launch a summer Shakespeare festival … help low-income families organize a day-care co-op … plant lilac bushes along the Bloomsday route … What grass-roots project or service would make your community a better place to live, and what would it take to make it happen? We’re eager to hear your ideas and share them with SpokesmanReview readers. Call our Cityline in Spokane (458-880) or Coeur d’Alene (765-8811), enter category 9892, and leave a detailed description of your idea, along with your name and a phone number where we can reach you for more information. (You’ll need a TouchTone phone.) Or write to us at “Making a Difference,” Features Department, 999 W. Riverside, Spokane, WA 99210-1615. We’ll publish a list of your suggestions in the near future.

This sidebar appeared with the story: YOU CAN MAKE DIFFERENCE Want to make a difference? The following tips may help: “You need three things to make your vision a reality,” says St. Pius Hospitality Kitchen founder Sandy Mamola: “Conviction, commitment and courage. “Conviction must come first - you need faith that what you envision is going to make life a little better for someone else. “Then comes commitment, which is the most difficult part. You must be absolutely committed to the project. Be willing to stay with it through the ups and downs. “And finally, courage. Not everyone will embrace your vision. You need the courage to show opponents what’s possible, and not burn any bridges - not be angry at people who don’t support you.”

“Find out who are the stakeholders,” recommends Washington State University organizational specialist Kelsey Gray. “Identify the people who might be most affected positively or negatively. We have a tendency to ignore the negative, and then get blind-sided when someone steps forward and says, ‘I don’t like your idea!’ “If you ask opponents, ‘What’s it going to take for you to play with us?’ that forces them to lay the ground rules. If you live by those ground rules, then they become supporters.” Also, says Gray, “Move the group’s leadership around, or it will just be one person’s project. “And decide how decisions are going to be made. Some groups die because they can’t even agree who’s going to bring the coffee.”

CITYLINE Launch a summer Shakespeare festival … help low-income families organize a day-care co-op … plant lilac bushes along the Bloomsday route … What grass-roots project or service would make your community a better place to live, and what would it take to make it happen? We’re eager to hear your ideas and share them with SpokesmanReview readers. Call our Cityline in Spokane (458-880) or Coeur d’Alene (765-8811), enter category 9892, and leave a detailed description of your idea, along with your name and a phone number where we can reach you for more information. (You’ll need a TouchTone phone.) Or write to us at “Making a Difference,” Features Department, 999 W. Riverside, Spokane, WA 99210-1615. We’ll publish a list of your suggestions in the near future.


 

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