-  Woman's mission to support Reynolds High students, staff proves epic

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Longtime community volunteer Susan Bowkers first reaction to the tragedy at Reynolds High School in June was to bake cookies. Three thousand cookies was unreasonable, she said, so instead, she launched a Postcards of Hope campaign asking people to write an inspirational message of encouragement on a postcard, which would be delivered to students and staff at Reynolds the first week of school.

Like most women, Susan Bowker wears many hats.

Depending on the task, she’s a wife, daughter, mother or longtime community volunteer of Energizer Bunny proportions.

Yet the hat the 64-year-old Troutdale resident wears with the most pride is simply “Nana.”

So in the aftermath of the shooting tragedy at Reynolds High School on June 10, Bowker’s first reaction was to do what Nanas do best.

“I wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies to take to the kids and hug them,” Bowker said. “I’m a Nana! That’s what we do — bring food! I couldn’t make 3,000 cookies, but I decided I could send hope.”

Bowker wasted no time trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. Instead, she launched a project intended to generate hope among students and staff at Reynolds High School as they return to campus for the new academic year. Like the proverbial pebble in a pond, Bowker’s grassroots effort far exceeded anything she could have imagined.

In late July, Bowker wrote a guest column in The Outlook. She candidly wrote of her emotions while awaiting news of her grandson Jesse Martin’s safety that day, as well as her profound sense of loss over the deaths of two Reynolds students.

Bowker then asked the public to join her in jotting down a happy thought or message of encouragement on a postcard and mailing it to students and staff at RHS. She set up a post office box specifically for the project and single-handedly spread the word to everyone she came across.

“I’m only one person, but I walked door-to-door, talked to people at my church, businesses,” she said. “When I went to the post office, I told the woman I needed a big post office box. She told me the biggest ones were for businesses and asked what kind of business I had. I said, ‘I’m in the business of hope.’”

Within a matter of days, Bowker received her first postcard — a man from North Carolina, who offered prayers and best wishes. Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Bowkers post office box in Troutdale has been stuffed with postcards the past couple weeks, hailing from all corners of the United States and Canada. Teachers from Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Wash., wrote personal notes to RHS teachers, while some postcards are written in Spanish. Bowker calls the response wonderful.

Then came the deluge.

“We’ve received over 3,700 postcards, from all over the United States and even Canada,” Bowker said. “It’s time for a new story in our community, and this is it. The entire country is reaching out to hug Reynolds — the teachers, the students, the custodians. It’s wonderful.”

A basket in Bowker’s living room overflows with individual postcards, carrying sentiments including, “Today I will be happier than a bird with a French fry” and “Happiness is a form of courage.” There’s a stack of cards written entirely in Spanish and another group written teacher-to-teacher.

“Teachers in the Evergreen School District (Vancouver, Wash.) got together and wrote cards to the teachers at Reynolds,” Bowker said. “We even got 100 postcards from the people who work at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center. When I go to the post office these days, the box is stuffed to the top. It’s really exciting.”

Bowker said she knows firsthand the power a simple sentiment can hold on the road toward personal healing. Ten years ago, while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, she received a greeting card from a friend containing a scripture verse that became a personal inspiration for strength.

“I read it every day because it gives me strength, courage and hope,” she said. “That’s why I chose postcards for the kids. I wanted them to have something they could physically hold and read and take with them.”

Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Among Bowkers favorite postcards is one that reads, 'Today, I will be happier than a bird with a French fry.' As of press time, it was still unclear how the postcards will be distributed to the students and staff at Reynolds High. Bowker said there has been talk of putting them out during lunch periods, where students would be free to take one with them. Bowker’s dream, however, is bigger. She envisions the postcards as a giant Nana hug for the entire school.

“Think about what it could mean to Reynolds if we could connect all the postcards into a ‘chain of hope’ and surround the school,” she said. “Happy thoughts all around the school. Wouldn’t it be grand?”

Bowker’s postcard project isn’t intended to end with the beginning of a new school year. She sees the venture as ongoing and hopefully spreading to other schools in East County. “I want to be able to take tons and tons and tons of postcards to the school,” she said.

All you need to do is write down a happy thought, your favorite inspirational verse or simply, “Raider Strong” on a postcard and mail it to HOPE, P.O. Box 9, Troutdale, 97060.

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