Living east of the Cascades is fantastic. Like so many other people I live here for about 150 good reasons and most of them included spending time outdoors. And I’m a rarity in this booming region; I actually grew up in Bend. Even old timers like me agree, this winter has been epic. Unparalleled snowfall has made for some amazing winter sports opportunities and some serious happiness for locals and visitors alike.
But you know what happens when you live here in the thick of record-breaking snowfall? For a couple weeks you’re smiling, making dates with friends to ski, snowboard and sled; then suddenly living your everyday life around huge mounds of snow becomes an inconvenience. Soon enough, after lots of snow days for the school district, I was grumbling around town. But then I noticed something unexpected above the long-lasting blanket of snow.
Bright orange banners were hanging around town with phrases such as “joy is an exercise,” “keep kind company” and “champion love.”
This was all part of the Bend JOY Project, a program initiated by Bend’s Old Mill District with a goal of “bringing joy in meaningful ways to keep the community happy, strong and beautiful.”
And the good thing about joy is it’s usually contagious. Many community members have developed their own ways of expressing joy and sharing, and the momentum just continues to build. What’s not to love about that?
Even Visit Bend, our local visitors bureau, has jumped on board to spread the JOY to those here chasing the powder. Visitor Center Manager Lisa Sidor, who often greets visitors as they arrive, said that people see Bend JOY Project signage in their large street-facing windows come in asking what it’s all about.
Visit Bend Marketing Director Nate Wyeth added, “After all, we’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and we could all use a little more kindness and joy. At the end of the day, if we can make a few more people smile and feel happy, then we’ve done our job.”
The Bend JOY Project also has little share cards that people can hand to others. One that I received said “find a way to play today.” Just that little message reminded me that I live in a place that’s custom-made for play. And all this snow just makes it easier to enjoy winter sports. So I got a smile back on my face, booked a Nordic ski schlep — a cross-country ski tour when you don’t look sleek or cool — with my twin sister and made plans to try fat tire biking with my adventurous oldest friend. (She just moved back to Bend from Alaska, so this winter barely phased her.)
And it wasn’t just locals like me that were touched by the Bend JOY Project. I heard one story about someone passing through who liked the project so much she wanted to learn how to implement in her hometown.
When Marlena Montaine visited Bend she noticed right away that the people she encountered were so cheerful and friendly. She soon started noticing banners in town for the Bend JOY Project and thought it might be connected to the great attitudes they encountered.
She said, “I was intrigued with this because we are currently living in a rather negative time. I am interested in starting something similar in my own community now! I found Bend to be a very exceptional place to visit.”
If the JOY spreads beyond Bend, I think this project has more than accomplished its goal.
For me, it was as simple as reminding me that I live in one of the best places on earth — and I’d better get out and enjoy it.