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Ovation award recipient is driven by peace, hope

Aleita Hass-Holcombe to receive college Impact Award for commitment to social justice

Jacob and Aleita

Aleita with her son, Jacob Holcombe, during a Mt. Hood climb

Aleita is volunteer director of the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center, where she responds to the significant needs of individuals, especially those experiencing homelessness, low income and mental health issues. She also serves on the board of Corvallis Housing First and is part of the Housing Opportunities Action Council. This year’s annual Ovation event will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. More information and registration

Synergies: Tell me about yourself … where you grew up, what you wanted to be, anything that may have influenced your decision to pursue your particular career.

AHH: I grew up mostly in Grayslake, Illinois. When I was in eighth grade, my family moved to Tigard, Oregon, where I attended Twality Jr. High the first year it was open. That of course means I was part of the student body that chose class colors (black and white) and many other important things (like what is an appropriate disciplinary measure when underwear is sent up the flag pole). My family moved back to Grayslake where I completed grades 10-high school graduation (class of ’65).

What to be when I grew up was no doubt influenced by my love for physical activity. My mom loved dance, so I took dance lessons at a young age. Besides ballet, tap and toe dance, the teacher also taught tumbling and baton. Lots of fun! Having grown up on the cusp of Title IX, girls’ sports were much different than now. The GAA (Girls’ Athletic Association) would have a basketball day where four or five schools came to play and mixed teams were made up when the girls arrived.

Aleita at Mt Hood

Aleita climbing Mt. Hood

When it was time to head to college, I wanted to be a physical therapist, but Northwestern University was the only PT choice and only as a master’s program. So, I enrolled at the University of Illinois as a physical education major. (The men’s and women’s programs were separate at that time). Upon graduation from in 1969, I took my first teaching job at Lamar Jr. High in Laredo, Texas. It was there that my eyes were truly opened to diversity, poverty and issues of social justice.

In 1974, I moved back to Oregon, taught elementary P.E. and coached gymnastics in Sherwood, married Alan Holcombe, and on December 30, 1979, welcomed Jacob into our lives.

The 80s saw me headed back to school to earn a Master of Arts degree in Education for Human Values from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1980 and a Master of Science degree in Teaching from Portland State University in 1982. In 1985, I received a Master of Education degree from Oregon State University having studied Adapted/Special Physical Education with John Dunn and crew. In 1984, I began an 18-year relationship with the Corvallis School District, where I served as an elementary PE teacher and an Itinerant Certified Adapted Physical Educator.

All of these experiences have certainly shaped and prepared me for the work that I do now.

Synergies: What are you doing now – and why? What challenges do you face, and what keeps you going?

AHH: Currently, I am the volunteer director of the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center (CDDC). Our mission is “to respond to the significant needs of individuals, especially those experiencing homelessness, low income, and mental health issues by providing a dignified environment for recovery through practical assistance and advocacy.” Our vision is to be the place “where needs are met.”

I am also on the board of Corvallis Housing First (CHF), which just completed year 11 of sheltering folks who are homeless. CHF will be focusing on transitional and supported housing options for the very poor, and next year’s cold weather shelter will be the responsibility of a group called The Housing Opportunities Action Council (HOAC).

CDDC volunteers L to R: Annie Bowen, Aleita and Teanna McMahan

I also serve on the HOAC, a county/city group with representation from many community agencies. As part of an ad hoc committee on legal camping, a white paper was just submitted with recommendations for a continuum of options, including tiny houses and Conestoga Huts.

To answer the “why,” I am a peace advocate. Having been on the National Witness for Peace Board for many years, I have come to believe in this statement from martyred Oscar Romero, who said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” The issues of the poor in our country, and in our community, are justice issues. The skills I have acquired in my educational experiences, my teaching and my other life journeys are truly relevant to those needed in my current work.

Every day is another opportunity to connect with someone who may need something that the CDDC can provide. I love knowing that what I do contributes to this resource. Every day presents challenges that are just that – challenges. Looking for solutions or just standing with someone as they experience their challenge is important to me.

Hope is what keeps me going.