By Leon Espinoza

Timing is everything.

When the magazine team at Pioneer Utility Resources launched “Heroes Among Us,” we had no idea 2020 would be such a challenging year.

As it turns out, the yearlong series in Ruralite and Currents magazines, conceived long before stay-at-home and keep-your-distance became part of common vernacular, offered a needed break and source of inspiration for magazine readers. The series has spent the past year sharing the unique stories of everyday helpers who make a difference in communities across the rural Northwest and West.

The series was intended to inspire involvement. And it did.

Readers Celebrate Local Heroes

Brooklyn Hohman
Ron Jacobson

We invited readers to nominate their own unsung heroes to spotlight at the conclusion of the yearlong series. And we offered tangible recognition for the Adult and Youth Heroes of the Year.

The adult winner, an 81-year-old retired Marine from Ronald, Washington, known as Grandpa Ron (Jacobson), is a tireless volunteer at his local elementary. Ron, who was profiled along with other everyday helpers in January, received a $500 gift card and $500 to the charity of his choice from Pioneer.

Ron is so dedicated to helping kids — he serves hundreds of volunteer hours a year — that he timed pacemaker surgery for a spring break so he wouldn’t miss school. As he shared in the January story, “I’m still taking care of my troops, except they’re 70 years younger than I am (now).”

The youth winner, 12-year-old Brooklyn Hohman of Bend, Oregon, turned her love of cycling into a fundraising passion for kids with cancer. She kept rolling and raising money even after the pandemic shuttered riding events. Pioneer awarded Brooklyn, to the delight of her family, a $1,000 scholarship.

Lessons Learned

  1. In the worst of times, focusing on the positive has great power.
  2. It is ok to think out of the box.
  3. Forming unique partnerships pays dividends.

The “Heroes Among Us” series is the second yearlong magazine series we’ve published with funding support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, a private nonprofit foundation in Vancouver, Washington, serving nonprofits across the Pacific Northwest. Pioneer and Murdock share the same geography and aim of enriching life in rural communities we serve. For each of us, the initial partnership was unchartered territory.

The funding support, which began with a 2019 series called “The Changing Face of Rural Health Care,” allows us to do on-the-ground storytelling that makes a difference.

The special storytelling also gives us the chance to make journalism a verb, giving readers a way to react, participate and use the information received.

Starting in February we are at it again, launching a yearlong series called “The Heart of Community.” 

This time, the focus is on spotlighting the arts in rural communities, with a deliberate eye toward keeping the arts alive in these challenging times. Once again, we are receiving support from Murdock, and plan a new wrinkle in these virtual times, a limited series podcast. Stay tuned.