"It made me aware of what that was like, how people treated you. Some people cared. Some people treated me like a number," she said.
Things are different for Hutton now. She spends her days on the other side of the social services table as the deputy director of NeighborImpact, an organization that helps the impoverished. Her own experiences sharpened her sensitivity to those seeking help. She constantly reminds staff to prioritize the people, to not get distracted by the paperwork.
"Holly interacts with compassion and understanding with our clients," said her boss, NeighborImpact Executive Director Sharon Miler.
NeighborImpact, a private nonprofit organization that serves Central Oregon's economically disadvantaged, started in 1985 (then called COCAAN). It aims to break the cycle of poverty and help people become self-sufficient.
"My mom really instilled in me to be an advocate for those who don't have the same rights as others," Hutton said. With American Indian heritage on her mom's side, "I've always been acutely aware of inequities," she said.
Friends and peers describe her as determined, organized and ambitious. When someone else has an idea, Hutton pulls people and funding together to make it happen - such as the Empty Bowls fundraiser and hunger awareness program. She's a visionary, a facilitator, a planner.
"She's an interesting character," said Bob Sant, a long time friend, neighbor and fellow artist in Bend. "People who don't know her could see her as kind of stand-offish at times."
"There's a toughness to Holly, but she gets things done," he said. "It comes off as tough but it's all about passion."
Hutton, a trim, stylish, 53-year-old, with a purple splash of hair and a couple of small facial piercings that hint at her artistic side, came from a military family and grew up in Wichita, Kansas.
She married at 18. They had a son, who is now 30. They moved to Eugene, where she earned a bachelor's degree in fine art from the University of Oregon in 1979. Then, she said, "I tried to do just art but I felt I needed to do something to contribute to the greater good." For two years she worked at a day treatment center for emotionally disturbed adults, before she went to grad school and finished two more degrees at U of O: a master's in educational psychology and a master's in art.
It was during this time that her marriage ended and, struggling financially to support herself and her son, she needed help.
She recalled: "I remembersitting at the desk ofa staff (member) at the Department ofHuman Resources who not only talked down to me, but didn't feel like I should be in school and applying for employment-related day care. I explained that I worked 15 to 20 hours a week preparing and teaching college level classes and I didn't see why that didn't qualify as work. She denied my application, which is when I appealed the decision." Hutton won that appeal.
Also during grad school, she volunteered for and then worked for a domestic violence shelter. And, she met her current husband, Paul Claeyssens. They blended their families. His U.S. Forest Service job moved them to Central Oregon in 1989. She and Claeyssens had another son, Perris, who is now 17 and plays in the local band Space Hoax.
She started at NeighborImpact as a VISTA volunteer, kicking off what's been an almost 20-year career there so far. Hutton has built programs such as: childcare resources and training; transitional housing to bridge homelessness to permanent housing; a homework club for kids in the Healy Heights housing complex in northeast Bend; renters education and assistance; food recovery, collecting leftovers from grocery stores for shelters and food pantries.
Hutton has a life as an artist, too.
For some local artists, her name debuted during what her friend Bob Sant called the "pope chair controversy." In the early days of Mirror Pond Gallery, the gallery held a chair-themed show. Hutton entered a chair with the pope's picture on the seat. It was supposed to be funny. Sant remembers, "It had some edginess but not a bloody, dripping cross," he said.
It was censored from the show. That rebuff sparked lively discussion in the art community and inspired some artists to splinter off a new contemporary art group called Artists Local 101, Sant said.
Hutton was one of Artists 101's original board members and served as board president twice.
Hutton's latest personal artwork uses "digitally manipulated mixed media" -- scanned photos and her own painting -- to portray images of inspirational women in the community, in a tarot card style. The pieces, one of which appeared on the cover of this newspaper last year, currently line the entry of her home.
She lives on a large lot that feels like an oasis amid some of east Bend's newer neighborhoods. Solar panels testify to her claim that the house and adjacent art studio are about half solar powered. Between the buildings in the driveway sits a green, renovated, 1970 Thomas school bus turned RV. It's for trips to the Burning Man art and self-expression festival in Nevada, and would be ideal for traveling in Mexico, a dream she has for retirement, she said.
A greenhouse and garden sit behind the art studio. Her husband gardens food; she's consumed with planting herbs. She's studying to be a certified herbalist through a correspondence course in her spare time.
But for now, she's busy at NeighborImpact. With the current economy, the organization is inundated and overwhelmed. She said she believes social service jobs are "recession proof," and fortunately, "I enjoy my job and the people I work with."