Volunteers crucial to event

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - Helen Houts, left, and Holli Van Wert, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, look over tickets and VIP passes that they printed for the Collage.

   For Holli Van Wert and an expanding group of volunteers, the build up to the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce's biggest event of the year -- the Collage of Culture -- is at hand.
   The 15th Annual Collage of Culture, once again presented by Yarrow, will kickoff with a Brew Fest Friday, May 16, followed by a hot-air balloon launch early Saturday, May 17 -- the day of the Collage.
   But long before the big event unfolds, months of preparation by a small army of volunteers have already taken place.
   Seven months before the event, in October, Van Wert, the executive director of the chamber, begins contacting the event's sponsors, to ensure that they have adequate notice for their budgeting processes.
   "We run about a $200,000 budget," she said, noting that about half of that is in cash donations, and half in-kind donations of product, services and payroll.
   "Usually, money is done by February, but this year, I had to regroup and think about it," Van Wert said. "Some sponsors came in at a lower level because of the economy, but that made us think outside the box."
   At a meeting of the Collage committee on March 11, she informed them that they might have to cut costs. Two days later, the budgetary outlook had completely turned around.
   "The Central Oregon region and businesses within it stepped up to fill in that gap," she said. "We're higher cashwise than we were last year, and last year was a record-breaking year financially."
   A total of 72 sponsors have contributed to the annual event, which has continued to grow since its debut in 1994. As an example, she cited the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which actively participate in the event.
   "The Confederated Tribes have increased their involvement," she said. "It's huge."
   Media sponsors have also helped get the word out about the event. "Right now, we have $50,000 in free advertising," she said. "We couldn't do it if we had to pay them."
   While sponsors are acquired and entertainment signed early in the year, the physical work on the Collage begins in April.
   "We are taking the entire jigsaw puzzle and we are putting it together piece by piece," she explained as she sorted through signs and banners, which need to be cleaned, matched to sponsors, and sometimes updated.
   From the first of April through the weekend of the Collage, Van Wert is at the office six days a week, more than 12 hours a day.
   "Typically, April 1, I clear my schedule and only do what absolutely has to be done outside of the Collage," she said. "The last two weeks, I'm here seven days (a week); I don't leave because I can get a lot more done when the phones quit ringing."
   "Chamber business is taken care of during office hours and Collage is after hours," she said.
   Although there are about 150 volunteers who help with the Collage, in the weeks running up to the event, Van Wert is primarily assisted by a core group of 14 people who put in long hours.
   Doeshia Jacobs has assisted with the Collage since the beginning. Jacobs is in charge of all the volunteers.
   "I have always taken Friday through Sunday off from my work to volunteer at the Collage," she explained. "It's an important event. We want people to enjoy Madras -- to come visit Madras and listen to the music."
   Besides Jacobs, J.R. Brooks is the co-coordinator with Van Wert; Joe Krenowicz and Scott Smallwood are in charge of the site; Sue Matters, entertainment; Myrna and Ken Clark, the Teen Center; Hilary Hamilton, kids' activities; Helen Houts and Charitie Gamble, the command post; Spud Smith, backstage; Marsha Casey, hospitality; and Briana Groves, school arts.
   Van Wert's husband Parrish, who was chamber director from 1999 to 2006, serves as consultant for the event.
   Holli Van Wert is excited about the changes for this year's Collage. "Friday night has changed pretty dramatically," she said.
   For the first time, the Collage will be the venue for a Brew Fest, with Mt. Hood Beverage Co., of Portland, which represents Coors Brewing Co. The event, sponsored by U.S. Bank, will feature micro-breweries.
   "For $10 you will get a souvenir mug and wooden chits to purchase your first tastings," she said, noting that participants in the event must be 21 or older. "We will also have Eola wines for those of you with a different taste than beer."
   On Saturday, the Collage will welcome back the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry Science Fair, which will provide hands-on fun for all ages.
   Daytime entertainment will perform in the pavilion next to the food court.
   "We are proud to have a diverse group of entertainers, to include belly dancers, rock and roll, Hebrew and rap," said Van Wert.
   This year's headliner, "The Little River Band," will perform on the main stage at 7 p.m. The band, which became popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has sold over 25 million albums.
   The group's hits include "Cool Change," "Night Owl," "Take it Easy on Me," "Lonesome Loser," and "Lady."
   CDs and T-shirts from the various entertainers will be available at a yurt, where entertainers can interact with the community, and offer their items for sale.
   Some entertainers will also educate the public. "You can learn how to clog at the Juniper Clickin' Cloggers booth, or learn about heritage at the Celtic booth," she said.
   Motorcycling enthusiasts will be drawn to the Gold Wing Touring Association under the big tent. Cascade Motor Sports, Cascade Harley Davidson, Bend Euro Moto, Cascade Range Riders, the Abate Group, Silver Eagles and the Christian Motorcyclist Association will all be there.
   Representatives from the recently opened Lowes home improvement store, in Redmond, will be on hand with toy kits for kids to learn how to make wooden toys.
   The Collage is also welcoming back familiar groups. On Saturday, the Central Oregon Bass Club will hold its regional "Casting for Kids" contest, with the winner going on to the state competition.
   In the new Cultural Center, visitors can sneak a peak at the Museum at Warm Springs, the Jefferson County Museum and Historical Society, High Desert Museum, Central Oregon Community College and Oregon State University Extension.
   "Come and learn the history behind the cultures of our tri-county area," said Van Wert.
   A total of 13 hot-air balloons have been invited to launch throughout the week. Landowners who are lucky enough to have a balloonist land on their property will receive appreciation certificates, and be entered in a drawing for a special date for two.
   Tickets for the Collage go on sale May 1, at the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. Cost is $5 each, with kids 12 and under free. At the gate, tickets will be $5 until 4 p.m., and $10 after 4 p.m. Call the chamber at 475-2350 for more information.
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