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Love and losses spark all kinds of support

Community compassion fuels letters, Love Rocks and more

Forest Grove has seen a rash of unexpected, devastating deaths and accidents in the past nine months — most recently the mayor's serious moped crash. But it has also seen a community rallying to comfort and support the families involved. Here's an update on a few of those cases.

Grief + Joy = Love Rocks

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Susan Dieter-Robinson and Tom Robinson stock a container of Love Rocks at the base of the tree that has become a memorial for their daughters, hoping people will take the rocks and put them somewhere unexpected so they can surprise and encourage others.If there is an epicenter to this tragic year, it would probably be at the foot of a giant maple tree on Main Street, where Anna Dieter-Robinson, 6, and Abigail Robinson, 11, lost their lives in an accident last October.

In the case of their parents, Tom Robinson and Susan Dieter-Robinson, the kind of grief that could have collapsed inward and crushed them is instead exploding outward with death-defying, positive energy. Nowhere is that more obvious than with the “Love Rocks” phenomenon.

The idea started with Abigail and Anna, who cut hearts out of fabric and “Mod-Podged” them onto little rocks for Tom and Susan’s wedding in 2011. Family and friends who attended wrote messages to the couple on the Love Rocks and there were still enough left over for everyone to take home as mementos of the weekend.

After the girls “went to heaven” (as their parents always think of it), Tom and Susan began the lifelong task of keeping them alive by honoring their generous, loving spirits. For Valentine’s Day, Susan made Love Rocks for all the students in each of the girls’ classes.

“It made me smile to see the kids hold them tight in their hands as if they were holding Anna’s or Abigail’s hand tightly. Those smiles gave me an idea,” Susan wrote on her blog (love-drenched-life.com) in February.

“People know how Tom and I are hurting, but for most people their struggles and hurts are hidden. You never know exactly what people are dealing with on any given day. Giving and receiving love is very therapeutic and definitely good for the soul.”

She and Tom began creating Love Rocks and leaving them around town to surprise people and lift their spirits. Their hope was that the finders would pass them on to surprise and encourage others.

The practice has taken off as thousands of friends, well-wishers, students, Girl Scouts, families and more make, spread and find Love Rocks, or read about them on Facebook.

The little heart-stamped stones are flooding the community and beyond — sometimes way beyond, if you count the photos Susan and Tom have gotten from students creating Love Rocks in Philadelphia and Israel, or the friend who took them to South Africa.

This past Sunday, when people might have expected Susan to be curled up and incapacitated by grief, she and Tom instead spent the morning making Love Rocks.

“Happy Mother's Day!!!” she wrote on her Love Rocks Facebook page (facebook.com/lovedrenched?ref=br_tf). “I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of Love Rocks spread today … My girls are smiling at all the love that is being shared!!! Love Truly Rocks!!!!”

In addition, Tom and Susan have promoted organ donation, spreading the word about how Abigail was able to donate organs, eyes and tissues to save and improve people’s lives, including those of two children under 10.

Several people have signed up as donors because of their efforts. Others (who are already donors) have helped spread the word. Nearly 130 attended a Donate Life Northwest event the couple headlined May 3 in Forest Grove.

Susan and Tom also are coordinating a huge, creative upgrade to the playground across from their house, where Abigail and Anna spent hours playing. Toward this effort, they will use some of the thousands of dollars donated by community members in memory of the two girls.

“My heart aches every single second of every day. I miss my girls terribly,” Susan wrote Monday. “I did not have a choice on whether my girls were going to Heaven on Oct. 20th but I do get a choice on how I live my life now. I'm choosing to live by my faith, listen to God and to share love and joy. Love and joy ... that is what I think of when I think of my girls.”

Compassion goes both ways

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros awaits a deportation hearing in Tacoma.Cinthya Garcia, the 19-year-old Forest Grove resident who was convicted of "failure to perform the duties of a driver" in connection with the accident that killed Abigail and Anna, is giving and receiving her own share of comfort.

Garcia, who was brought to the United States illegally when she was 4, spent months in jail before her trial and was transferred to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Tacoma after her felony conviction wiped out her temporary legal status as a citizen.

More than 100 people have donated a total of $4,506 on the website youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/support-cinthya-garcia-cisneros/144398, which will be open through May 31. Others donated about $2,800 directly to an account at Premier Bank.

Some of the money is already going toward Cinthya's legal expenses as her attorneys work to keep her from being deported.

In addition, the Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres recently started a letter-writing campaign to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, asking them to intervene in Cinthya's detention, and to Gov. John Kitzhaber, asking him to pardon her.

Merkley aide Courtney Warner Crowell reports that his office has received some letters, although she puts the number at less than 20 so far.

Cinthya is also receiving personal letters of support from community members, including some who have never met her.

"She reads me some of the letters," said Bridget Cooke, executive director of Adelante, who has spoken with Cinthya by phone.

As she struggles with dreams and emotions related to her role in the fatal accident, Cooke said, Cinthya has also been finding ways to support the women around her.

At the ICE facility, Cooke said, Cinthya has been teaching English to people, including two young Chinese women she specifically befriended because she worried they felt isolated amongst all the Latinas. "They don't have any family here," she told Cooke.

Cinthya also found ways to bring "lightness and humor" into the lives of her fellow inmates at the Washington County Jail, where she and another young woman teamed up to give surprise hugs to "people they knew who were really sad," Cooke said.

Memorial Wrestling Fund

While grieving the death of their oldest son, 21-year-old Sheyn Higginbotham, Chris and Chantal Higginbotham found people wanting to know if they could donate to a cause in Sheyn's memory. The Higginbothams came up with the idea of donating to the wrestling program at Forest Grove High School because the program had done so much to help Sheyn mature and improve, both physically and mentally, during the four years he wrestled at the school.

They were a little late getting word out about the fund and have so far received two donations for $75. To donate, send a check to FGHS, Sheyn Higginbotham memorial, 1401 Nichols Lane, Forest Grove, OR 97116, or just bring the money directly to the high school.

Safety and scholarship

At Pacific University, friends of Kiden Dilla and Ayan Osman are discussing ways to honor and memorialize the two promising freshmen who died in a car accident April 7.

Ideas include creating a memorial bench or possibly a scholarship that could fund the kind of internship the two girls would have loved to get: working in Africa on public-health problems. The people involved are still trying to figure out timelines, fundraising and feasibility.

Meanwhile, said university President Lesley Hallick, Pacific officials will meet June 4 with representatives of the Oregon Department of Transportation to brainstorm about a safe-driving education campaign on campus next year, to help prevent any future accidents.

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