Faith and service come together to redeem the day

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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It was an occasion to celebrate the heroes.

It was a chance to break down barriers — including some that drew blood.

It was an opportunity to redeem the day.

On a weekend when the nation is pausing to remember the lives lost 10 years ago, people in Clark County found hometown ways to observe 9/11.

Some put on gloves in an interfaith effort to help a neighbor spruce up her home.

Others gathered at the regional 911 dispatch center to meet local first responders — including some with their own connections to 9/11.

The interfaith effort took place in the Hough neighborhood, where members of local Methodist congregations and the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington helped rehabilitate a 91-year-old home.

Barrier-busting wasn’t just a figure of speech Saturday. The Rev. Dave Tinney, pastor of Vancouver’s First United Methodist Church, recognized the symbolism in one phase of the project. The back yard was swallowed up by a blackberry thicket, with just a narrow path through the barbed brambles.

Two groups of workers started at opposite sides of the yard and kept clipping away until they met in the middle.

“You knock down barriers and come together,” Tinney said.

Volunteers also pruned trees, cleared brush and cut back shrubs.

“This is such an improvement,” homeowner Barbara Donohoe said Saturday morning as she admired the new view from her living room.

The previous night, her view had been blocked by shrubbery that was “this high,” Donohoe said, holding her hand over her head.

“I haven’t been able to see out the window,” said Donohoe, who bought the house from her grandparents — the original owners — in 1968.

Tinney said he’d been part of similar projects at his previous church, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Bellevue.

“We started an annual building project with Habitat for Humanity,” said Tinney, who is in his fourth year at First United Methodist. “About 10 faith communities — Jewish, Christian and Islamic — started building homes.”

A few months ago, he decided to give it a try in Vancouver.

“I connected with the Islamic community here and said we’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and is there something we can do together?”

Tinney talked with Khalid Khan, a board member of the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington.

They set up Saturday’s collaboration in partnership with Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.

Hassan Abdalla thought Donohoe, his neighbor on West 23rd Street, was a worthy candidate for the project.

“They were looking for a site, and I suggested Barbara’s house,” Abdalla said.

“It’s been a long time since I could pay somebody to do yard work,” Donohoe said.

Tinney, who was photo editor at The Columbian before going into the ministry, said the participants benefitted as well.

“Khalid and I have been trying to find ways to bridge our two communities,” Tinney said. “When you work together, you not only accomplish a task, you share fears and doubts and desires. It’s an amazing process.”

It’s something positive on a weekend marking the anniversary of a national tragedy. It’s a way to, as Tinney put it, “Redeem the day.”

“‘Redeem’ means new meaning, new worth,” Tinney said.

“On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I thought this was an awesome idea,” said Dave Gray, with Habitat for Humanity. “Show that the community can work together.”

Another annual commemoration has taken on a new aspect since 9/11, said Cheryl Bledsoe, manager of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.

Each Sept. 11 — which is 9-11 in calendar shorthand — has offered an opportunity to honor 911 operators and the first-responders they dispatch to emergencies.

“That was important before 9/11, and it’s more important now,” Bledsoe said during the CRESA open house on West 13th Street. “It’s a special weekend to honor responders and volunteers.

“Any time an officer or firefighter is injured, we feel that personally,” Bledsoe said. “We’re often the first to hear ‘Officer down.’”

About 400 first responders died in the collapse of the Twin Towers, including 343 firefighters.

“That puts in perspective what people are willing to do for their neighbors,” said Matt Woodford, a firefighter with Clark County Fire & Rescue.

Woodford didn’t just salute the firefighters who responded 10 years ago: He followed them.

“I was a college student on 9/11,” Woodford said. “That’s why I became a fireman.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or tom.vogt@columbian.com.