The well never seems to run dry when it comes to the generosity of Philomath's citizens.
Year after year, the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce and its business partners highlight the community's best with Samaritan Awards. Various organizations send in nominations to individuals they feel are worthy of recognition.
For folks who sit in on the annual evening program and listen to an emcee share all of the impressive contributions of the honorees, they can conclude in quick fashion that Philomath has no shortage of caring and kindness.
The latest edition of the Samaritan Awards Wednesday night in Philomath High School's auditorium recognized 23 individuals. Listening to all of their resumes only strengthens the notion that the community's identity continues to revolve around volunteerism.
Four of the recipients earned the First Citizen designation — Cary Oien (First Citizen), Marilyn Schmidt (Senior First Citizen), Royce Markley (Junior First Citizen) and Aundie McClelland (Future First Citizen).
Markley, 24, admits he wasn't even sure what the honor was all about when first contacted by the Philomath Youth Activities Club's Sarah Woosley. A University of Oregon student, Markley possesses one of the more intriguing stories that ultimately led to standing before the community with a noteworthy award in hand.
Back in 2012, Markley went to a conference hosted by Oregon Foster Youth Connection, a nonprofit based out of Portland, and it changed his life.
"I went and it was one of the first times I wasn't really opposed to being a 'foster youth' and that I actually liked these people and had a lot in common with them," said Markley, who was 15 at the time.
Yes, you read that correctly. Most of Markley's youth involved living with a series of foster parents, well, he said approximately seven if you're counting.
"I went into the foster care system just before I was 2 years old and then I went back to live with my biological mom for several years," he said. "I then re-entered the system when I was 14 years old and stayed until I aged out at 21. I was there for a long time with a lot of families."
Markley gained a firsthand perspective on foster children and some of the challenges that they face. The OFYC conference helped him realize that he could make a difference.
"My first conference that I went to with OFYC, we actually drafted a piece of legislation that ended up going through like a year later," he said. "So it was a pretty amazing experience."
As it turned out, OFYC's mission fit right in with Markley's aspirations.
"That was the one that made me realize I had a passion to advocate for foster youth and that I was actually pretty good at it," Markley said. "So that's how I got my feet wet and started getting going with it and I've continued to work with OFYC since then."
The legislation that his team helped pass mandated that a foster youth bill of rights be created and distributed to various agencies and all foster homes.
"The foster care system does a good job with some things and not such a great job with other things," Markley said. "The state of Oregon actually just recently put out their report on the foster care system and it was pretty evident that Oregon especially is not doing super well with foster care when you compare us to other states nationally."
Markley believes there's plenty of room for improvement across the state.
"I think it's really important that we have foster care, obviously, but there's a lot of improvements that need to be done and so that's why I'm trying to spread awareness and do the best I can to advocate for legislation so we can get some changes."
Markley writes a blog (fosterfight.com) that shares the kinds of experiences that foster children are going through and why the public needs to know and care.
"Foster youth are among you guys and we're failing at pretty high rates," he said. "And you should be concerned about it because we're going to go into society after we're done with foster care."
Being a foster child isn't easy anywhere at any age but can be especially challenging in a smaller community.
"I've always had somewhat of a love-hate relationship growing up in such a small town because of my circumstances mostly," he said. "You don't grow up in Philomath and hide much from people."
The love part of the equation came down to all of the people that influenced Markley and all of a sudden, he had goals that came into focus.
"People like my basketball coaches and Sarah Woosley at PYAC and teachers, it all came together and I realized that I wasn't going to make it without their help," he said. "So it was really a help to have that small community that knows everything about most of the young people's lives, especially with what I was going through. And they wouldn't let me fail."
Markley, a 2012 Philomath High graduate, is close to earning a bachelor's degree in psychology and he's applying to grad schools to pursue a master's in clinical mental health counseling. But he's enjoying his advocacy work.
"Later down the line, it would be really nice if I could somehow get on as a counselor for teens that are going through extraordinary circumstances or even foster youth specifically," he said. "But I'll continue to walk this advocacy path until the wheels fall off, I suppose."
Oien, the First Citizen Award recipient, volunteered at June's Kids Kloset for 12 years, the past 11 as program manager under the supervision of the Philomath Pastors Fellowship.
"Carey has worked hard to improve the operation of the program by developing policies and procedures, a strong long-term volunteer workforce, an inventory of good quality gently-used clothing and developed great relationships with local churches, the Philomath School District and other service organizations," Philomath Community Services said in its nominee notes. "In her years as program manager, Carey has increased the services provided by June's Kids Kloset to include the addition of teenage clothing several years ago and back-to-school supplies in more recent years."
Oien has also been very active at Living Faith Community Church and in the local faith community in general, including numerous projects involving youth.
Schmidt, nominated by the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo, took home the Senior First Citizen Award. She has been associated with the Frolic for four decades as a chairperson and volunteer. After several years, she came up with the idea of a Frolic holiday craft fair.
"She now finds herself organizing, promoting and scheduling craft retailers and customers to provide one of the most-like and attended holiday craft fairs in the surrounding area," the Frolic & Rodeo wrote in its nomination presentation. "As is fitting, Marilyn chooses to give all proceeds back to the local civic organizations."
Through the Frolic's holiday craft fair, $7,000 was donated to local charities, including $2,500 that went to the Philomath Community Foundation toward a musical program and $2,200 to Philomath Community Services. Donations to the local charities have increased each year.
Each year, Schmidt organizes a blood drive in partnership with the American Red Cross. She's also been associated with the Corvallis Moose Lodge and American Business Women's Association.
McClelland earned the Future First Citizen Award, the event's newest honor that made its debut at last year's ceremony. McClelland, nominated by the PYAC, volunteers at the youth organization with the "Fun in the Sun" and STARS programs.
"She loves to play games with the kids, push them on the swings, play with them on the playground and enjoys helping them with arts and crafts projects," PYAC said in its nominee notes. "Aundie also likes to draw and play board games with the kids in the program."
McClelland also volunteers in the classroom at Clemens Primary School and Zion Lutheran's preschool, as well as at Philomath Community Library for storytime.
Samaritan Awards also went out to 19 individuals. Police chief Ken Rueben served as emcee and chamber board president Kerry DeGuzman greeted winners and handed out awards.