Many acts of kindness
We came together in ways that were patient, kind, compassionate
The billboard off the interstate near Roseburg boldly proclaims “I am UCC” next to a graphic of a Riverhawk, the college mascot. For a jarring moment I wondered, How was that billboard put up so quickly? I was driving into Roseburg to help, just hours after the shooting at Umpqua Community College.
Then, I remembered: The billboard was part of UCC’s recruiting campaign. It had been there for months.
But at that moment, I felt the slogan spoke directly to me. Others who saw the billboard experienced the same connection. All of us that day were UCC.
We felt the pain of victims and their families, and the pain of a community that was deeply shaken. But we also felt the kindness of a community that had come together around the senseless loss of life. People were extraordinarily patient, kind, and compassionate in the following days.
Hundreds waited in long lines to donate at a local blood drive. Roseburg residents were joined by others from across the state. A teacher came from Silverton, two hours away, to donate. “I took the day off because I felt it was the right thing to do,” he said to a television reporter.
Reader boards for local businesses transformed from advertising messages to messages of support for the victims, their families and the college.
Tattoo parlors offered UCC- and Roseburg-themed tattoos for a donation to help victims. Tattoo artist James Walls inked more than 40 people with “Roseburg Strong” tattoos in one day.
“I just wanted to help,” Walls said. “I just wanted to do something positive and help the community, bring more people together.”
Justin Troxel, a graduate of the welding program at Umpqua Community College, responded by creating metal signs in the shape of Oregon. A cut-out heart marked the spot where Roseburg would be. He planned to make about 50 signs, sell them for $10 and donate the proceeds to the UCC Strong fund.
But the project quickly expanded. Propelled by social media, neighbors and strangers came to help produce the signs. Within a week, he had sold 3,000 signs nationwide. He stopped counting after the number reached 7,000.
“I never in a million years thought we’d have so many people help, so many businesses contribute materials,” he said. “We raised over $134,000 for the families, but the biggest positive thing to me is that this community now knows how much we care for one another.”
Troxel’s neighbor Jennifer Norman was one of the volunteers who helped and remembered how Justin’s front yard became a gathering place. “Family members of victims came and stood in the driveway telling stories. People cried together and laughed together. It became a safe place to be with one another.”
Meanwhile, the phrase “I am UCC” that spoke to me on my drive into Roseburg became a rallying cry for many. Seven13 Studios, a local graphics business, created artwork and printed 10,000 decals. The employees of Oregon Serigraphics kept its hand-operated T-shirt screening equipment going deep into the night. They eventually produced 4,500 “I am UCC” shirts, which were given to volunteers and UCC students when they returned to campus.
Today, the community has moved into the difficult phase of long-term recovery. The feelings of support we had and acted on should help make that transition easier. Tragedy can bring out the best of the human spirit and strengthen the bonds of community.
The “I am UCC” billboard is still near the freeway. A new one has gone up nearby: UCC Strong.