In this grand old, helter-skelter world of ours there are times when young people with special needs sometimes fall through the cracks. Thankfully, there are educators who are aware of this and set about to make sure it doesn't happen on their watch.Tyler Winterholler, a Life Skills teacher at Mountain View HS in Bend is one of them, and so is Karen Gentry, Director of Discover Your Forest, in Bend. When those two got their heads together recently, positive things began to happen. Discover Your Forest—a subsidiary of Discover Your Northwest—is a nonprofit partner of the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests dedicated to promoting stewardship, conservation education, and volunteer programs. Discover Your Forest's goals include engaging youth to create the next generation of stewards, deepening community involvement through volunteerism, and providing programs and events that increase the number and diversity of visitors. Gentry is conducting similar restoration projects with other Bend schools and will be expanding the projects into Madras in 2016. Winterholler works with young people at Mountain View who have special needs, and the Life Skills program run by the school fits right into their lives like warm gloves on a cold day. In fact, that's exactly what the students were doing last week just off Skyliners Road, west of Bend, being fitted with work gloves—with hand warmers in them—in preparation for doing a much-needed restoration project. When Winterholler pulled to the parking area adjacent to several acres of torn up real estate, the Life Skills students piled off the bus, eager to get started on a tree-planting project. After everyone was outfitted with warm jackets, gloves, and hand-warmer, then safety glasses and hard hats, Gentry got everyone's attention and taught them the fine art of planting seedling lodgepole pines. After that was done, each student picked out a partner who was than issued five of six seedlings and a tree-plating spade. The idea was to plant each tree at least ten to 11 paces from each other, which took only a moment for the students to understand, then separate and begin planting. The weather that day wasn't what one could call friendly. There was a chilly wind blowing across the torn up, bare ground that made planting trees a little difficult, but the kids went at it like it was a warm day in May and got the job done. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eightnine, ten," could be heard all throughout the afternoon as the groups of Life Skills students spread out across the bare ground digging the holes and planting the trees that would someday become a forest. As they planted, Gentry and Winterholler gave them big compliments for their good work and reminded them of the future when they would some day return to see a healthy lodgepole pine forest standing there. Cory, one of the students taking part in the Life Skills project, said he enjoyed working with his friend Tim on the restoration project. "Going out to the restoration area to plant the trees was a lot of fun. It felt good to know we were helping out the environment and the recreational area being built over there. There's still a lot more to do over there and I hope to help out as much as I can. I'm excited to see how it will look years from now. And I know when that recreational area is finished all of us who helped out can go there and say "we did this...'" Cory said. "I also really enjoy working with Tim, we usually go off on our own during projects or jobs, like when we were planting the trees, we went off to areas that were untouched by everyone else. Working with Tim is a great experience, we have fun while getting our work done." The philosophy of teacher Winterholler's claim, "Whoever comes through the door, we'll find him a job," was apparent in the workmanship of his students. "They may not get into algebra," he said, "but restoration projects like these will have them looking forward to preparing themselves for the future." As it is with all community projects, it is the people who see projects like these for the positive contributions they are who get involved. Winterholler and his kids are always looking for new work projects that will provide the opportunity for these special kids to take part in what will help train them for their future lives when they step into the world of making-a-living.
If you know of, or have a project that will provide the opportunity for the young men and women of Mountain View HS to get involved, Tyler can be reached via email at