Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Celebrate Woods’ spirit with cleanup

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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Who was Ryan Woods, and how did he inspire such love and loyalty?

Just by being a regular community-minded guy with deep faith and a great big heart. That’s according to Sunrise O’Mahoney, one of many downtowners who counted themselves among Woods’ friends and fans.

Make that many, many downtowners, O’Mahoney said.

Woods was an intentional community builder, she said.

“Ryan and his wife, Jessica, opened their home to anybody and everybody. Every Sunday, they had a potluck at their house,” she said.

You never knew how many might show up — it could be a handful, it could be upwards of 20 — but everybody had a sense that the Woods’ home in Arnada was their home, too, she said. Woods also began a church, a blog and what he intended to be a serious community-building effort for Vancouver called Grassroots Conspiracy.

“For whatever reason, he really opened his heart to everybody. He really loved hearing people’s stories and getting to know them,” O’Mahoney said. “It was just day-to-day conversations, just knowing your neighbors.”

It wasn’t anything all that deeply profound, she said — and yet, viewed another way, that’s exactly what it was.

“People really resonated with him,” she said. “It really became a needed thing, because people don’t have that connection and closeness with their neighbors anymore.”

So when Woods, a young husband and the father of two, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2011, “I really wanted to give something back to his family,” O’Mahoney said. “We wanted to tell everyone how much we valued his contribution.” That contribution even extended to blogging about his own slow departure from this world. You can still read Woods’ unflinchingly honest thoughts about dying — and living — at http://grassrootsconspiracy.com.

The Woods family was safely absent on an overnight getaway as O’Mahoney and many co-conspirators activated their secret plan one night in 2012. They projected a mural design on the side of what was the Mini Mozarts’ Preschool storefront in downtown Vancouver and filled in the design with donated paints. They started late and worked until approximately 1 a.m., O’Mahoney said. Dozens of folks — including Vancouver police — wandered by and came away enchanted. The mural depicts downtown Vancouver and a big, beautiful tree: the world Woods cared so much about, O’Mahoney said.

When the Woods family showed up across the street at Cafe Mon Ami the next morning, per their routine, the place was already stuffed with dozens of friends and other well-wishers, eager to take part in the big reveal.

Ryan Woods died in late 2012 at age 30; his widow, Jessica, and children, India and Jones, now live in the Hough neighborhood, O’Mahoney said. And the city of Vancouver has respected Woods’ dying wish to continue his community-building efforts in the form of the Ryan Woods Grassroots Community Award.

Today, Mayor Tim Leavitt will launch nationwide Make a Difference Day by honoring local caterer and noted community builder Hector Hinojosa, of the Stone Soup Community Meal, with the third annual Ryan Woods award. After that, everyone can get busy pursuing Woods’ dream by helping out with a huge volunteer cleanup of Uptown Village and getting to know their neighbors along the way. It all gets underway at 9 a.m. at 1919 Main St. Come help keep the spirit of Ryan Woods alive.


Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.