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How a College Changed a City: The Story of The Evergreen State College and Olympia, Washington

Updated on July 22, 2014

A Look Back

In 1970 this writer had just graduated from Seattle University in Seattle, Washington. I was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, and my only real interaction with Olympia, the capital of the state, was when I drove through it on the way to Portland, Oregon.

What I knew of Olympia can be quickly summarized:

  • It was the capital of the state
  • It was a fairly small capital city with only 23,111 citizens at that time
  • It was the home of Olympia Brewing Company
  • It was a fairly dirty and old city, with sawmills and paper mills dotting its shoreline.

That was then.

Today, Olympia’s population is 47,000 people. At first glance, it appears much the same, although the paper mills, sawmills, and brewery are gone. From the freeway, driving south toward Portland, one would have no inkling that a major change has occurred in Olympia, and that change began in 1971.

Source

The Story

Actually, this story begins in 1964 when the Council of Presidents of Washington State Baccalaureate Institutions issued a report stating that another college was needed in the state to balance the geographical distribution of the existing state institutions.

In 1966, the Temporary Advisory Council on Public Higher Education concluded that “at the earliest possible time a new college should be authorized,” and that it be located within ten miles of Olympia, Washington. Legislation was passed stating that the campus should be no smaller than 600 acres, making it the largest campus in the state and the first four-year college created in Washington in the 20th Century.

In 1968 the name for this new institution was chosen, The Evergreen State College, and a president was named. The first day of classes began on October 4, 1971, with 1,128 students in attendance.

And the city of Olympia changed forever.

A Close Look at Evergreen

A quick glance through the curriculum of Evergreen will help us to understand how this change came to be. Bachelor of Arts degrees can be obtained in the following:

Aesthetics, African American Studies, Agriculture, Community Studies, Women’s Studies, Geography, Geology, Hydrology, Law and Public Policy, Marine Science, Maritime Studies, Native American Studies, Natural History, Outdoor Leadership and Education, Philosophy, Sociology, Sustainability Science, Theater, Visual Arts, and Zoology to name a few.

The Evergreen State College is also the home of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center, whose public service mission is to promote indigenous arts and cultures through education, cultural preservation, and economic development.

But that’s not all. The Evergreen Organic Farm comprises 38,000 square feet, or about one acre. Produce from the Farm is sold to the Evergreen community and also at a farm-stand on campus. Proceeds from the sale of the crops are used to finance farm projects, as well as purchase seeds and equipment.

In addition, the College has 1,000 acres of land that is mostly second-growth forest and 3,300 feet of untouched beach, and this area is used for scientific field research and as inspiration for creative work.

In other words, a new culture was introduced to the Olympia area.

That was forty-three years ago.

Today……

A new Olympia
A new Olympia | Source

A New Olympia

My best friend’s brother attended that first class back in 1971. I remember visiting him on campus, and I clearly remember thinking at the time that The Evergreen State College was unlike any college campus I had ever seen, and I also remember saying something like….”this is too radical; it will never catch on here.”

Well just how wrong can one person be?

Those early classes that attended Evergreen fell in love with the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and after graduating they decided to stay in this lovely area and make their vision of a new society happen along the shores of Puget Sound. Small farms began to appear. Sustainable agriculture became more than a catch-phrase few had heard of. Artists moved into the area, as did musicians. Concern for the environment became a priority.

Early Evergreen graduates decided to become policy makers, so they joined planning committees and commissions, and spearheaded much-needed change to an area that had suffered economically.

Those graduates got married, and had children, and those children were raised to believe in the sanctity of the earth, and to protect the environment, and they flourished in this new cultural center, and lo and behold, those children married and had babies, so that today, in the year 2014, we have many third-generation Evergreen graduates, and a new Olympia has indeed emerged.

Community gardens in Olympia
Community gardens in Olympia | Source

And What Does That Olympia Look Like?

I was standing in the Olympia Urban Garden and Farming Center this past weekend, talking to the owner about gardening and raising quail, and the subject of sustainable agriculture came up, and we both agreed that The Evergreen State College is Olympia, and Olympia is the Evergreen State College.

I am fully aware of how unique this city is. I have traveled through quite a few states during my lifetime, and I am in contact with writers from around the world, and I can safely say that there are few cities in the world like Olympia. There is an energy that is exciting and contagious in Olympia. There is, in Olympia, a true understanding of how important the earth is, and of our part, as humans, in keeping the earth safe and vibrant.

There is a firm belief in sustainable living here, and there is a marvelous sense of community. Drive or walk though the neighborhoods and you will spot community gardens where all share in the work and the bounty. Drive or walk through the neighborhoods and you will see vegetable gardens in front yards, vegetable gardens in backyards, and vegetable gardens in every other spare lot of land. Drive or walk through the neighborhoods and you will see neighborhood parks a’plenty, and bike paths, and hiking paths, and a general sense of happiness and contentment among the citizens.

Are there problems in Olympia? Most definitely! Homelessness is still an issue that needs to be addressed. Unemployment could certainly be lower. Still, there is hope, and there are forward-thinking people who are committed to making it all happen.

If it can happen in Olympia.....
If it can happen in Olympia..... | Source

Located in Olympia, Washington

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Final Thoughts

I have written often of my belief that a small group of dedicated, and motivated, people can make a huge difference in society. In 1971, that group numbered 1,128, and forty-three years later, they changed the capital city of a state.

If it happened here, and it did, could it happen where you live?

I believe it can, and I believe there are a great many people in this country who would welcome such a change….and I also believe that they are all waiting for someone else to spearhead the movement. Hopefully that wait will not be for too long in your town or city.

Sustainable living…urban gardens….edible forests….you will not see these causes and ideas promoted by major corporations, and therein lies the problems. Our society revolves around business, and business feeds government, and government passes favorable legislation for major corporations, and round and round we go.

But, on a local level, change can happen….if you want it badly enough.

Get involved. Get active. Take back your city, your government, and your way of life. Use Olympia as an example of what can happen when people are willing and eager to see positive changes in their community.

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Deb. They really do wonderful things for the environment and they deserve to be touted.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Horray for Evergreen College. Glad to hear that Olympia is and was a forward thinking city. It isn't perfect, but it sure is better than a lot of places. Will be sharing this in the time that it takes me to sign onto Facebook.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Flourish. I think you would love it here.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari! I do believe we can make a difference. I get frustrated because more people do not try, but we have to keep raising awareness and hope we convert more. Thank you for your thoughts.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      People united can always make a positive impact. I like that they took back their community and decided what it was going to be.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      You are quite right annart. We can definitely make a difference, one by one, two by two, score by score. Very well said. But most of them do not realise this. They keep on complaining somebody or other. But they will not move. Our billybuc is great in stimulating people and at least making them feel if not act. Because, it is not in our hands to make them act. We can only try to touch their hearts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ann and of course I agree with you. Daddy didn't raise a fool, and as proof I try to agree with you as often as possible. :)

      I have no faith in government. I have no hope for government.

      But I do have faith and hope in mankind.

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Now I understand why your area is so good at sustainability and why you are so keen and so active in this field. The roots of a city are based on such ideas and that is amazing; the more amazing for having been started by so few people. Inspiring indeed!

      It's no good us complaining about government even though we do feel helpless sometimes, as though we're not in control. We can make a difference, one by one, two by two, score by score. It's the only way this world is going to improve and the only way we can survive.

      Great hub; brilliant!

      Hope you & Bev have a great evening, bill.

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You betcha vkwok..thanks for reading it.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Great hub, Bill! Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alicia. I agree completely.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another inspirational hub, Bill. The effect of the Evergreen State College on Olympia is impressive and very motivating.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks breakfastpop....I'll be satisfied if I just change the thinking of several hundred people.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      You are very inspiring, billy. I hope you change the world, one planting at a time! Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much DDE!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You always say it the best and also very interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It will indeed, Nadine, and if it can happen here is can happen anywhere. Thank you my friend.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Great story and proof about planting a seed, especially if it is for the good of all to do with sustainable living like urban gardens, then with proper care and nurturing it will blossom. Voted up!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, our tomatoes aren't ripe yet either. Hey, if you want some potatoes, I think we have enough to feed several families. :) Thanks dear friend.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I can feel your pride through your words, and i believe every word and it could happen anywhere people care about their community. I would love to see more gardens. A church in Carmi, Il. ( six miles from me ) had a farmers market last Saturday, i bought green beans and tomatoes. ( Mine is not ripe yet. ) They were delicious.......

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you ologsinquito. I certainly think it is amazing. :)

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      This is a nice article. Washington State is an amazing place, and I can totally understand why people fall in love with the idea of living in the Pacific Northwest.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you ChitrangadaSharan....and you are right of course. We are capable of so much more than blaming others.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love it, Faith. I smile every single time I pass a Farmer's Mkt....hopefully it is a sign of better things to come. Thank you dear lady, and blessings always.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brian, the rain here is a myth...we only get 38 inches, much less than east coast cities....and the weather is mild year round....but don't tell anyone or they will move here. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Bill. The youth don't yet know their limitations....and look what they can do.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very inspirational story!

      You are right, instead of pointing fingers at others, we should ourselves try to bring positive changes in the society.

      Thanks for sharing this interesting hub!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      What visionaries they were there at Evergreen State College! I love how they stayed in the area, generation after generation and continued the vision. Fascinating read, dear Bill.

      We have many farmers in our areas and so many farmer's markets and such for fresh veggies, etc. Our universities and colleges here offer many such courses too.

      Blessings always

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Sounds like a school, and a town, I would love, aside from the 50 inches of rain per year.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. It really is amazing what has taken place there in Olympia. And how exciting for you to be a part of it. Leave it to a bunch of kids to start something big and make a change. Have a great week Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thanks Jackie. There are a lot of "me" in Olympia. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks MiztB...I think the timing was perfect for this college....late Sixties, alternative viewpoints...the stage was set in the right place...and look at what happened!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Sounds like a beautiful and heartwarming place to be Bill and it is people like you that make the heartwarming!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      I love the idea that a college is responsible for all this. I’ve seen colleges in my state flourish, but they are mostly ginning out computer programmers, teachers, medical personnel and chefs. Years ago, one state university tried to go solar and offer a degree in solar energy, but the time just wasn’t right. It was in either the late 70s or early 80s, I think.

      I also think it is wonderful that you have taken the time to write about it. Maybe if more publicity is given to this type of institution, more of these will come into being and flourish. Voted up++

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, I have seen both sides of that fence as well. If it can work in one place then it can work elsewhere. We just have to keep on keeping on my friend. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Dora. Purpose and perseverance for sure.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Wonderful story! Thanks for sharing, for sure! The statement that caught my attention was "a small group of dedicated, and motivated, people can make a huge difference in society." This is what it takes. Anywhere, anytime. I've worked where it worked. I've worked where there weren't quite enough for it to work. Always worth the effort... and may well pop up with another small group, later on. Keep working... toward the goal! ;-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      A great story of purpose and perseverance. Thanks for an actual illustration that change is possible.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Jamie. I'm just trying to use whatever gifts I have to spread the word.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Heidi. Now if we can only spread the word. I can't help but think a movement like this would benefit cities like Detroit.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 3 years ago from Reno NV

      Great Hub Bill, I like how you are bringing to light how others are trying to better our world. Jamie

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari. You summarized it perfectly.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      The sustainable movement is definitely alive and well in the Northwest! So inspiring to see programs like theirs. Thanks for sharing your community with us!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Greg. I hope others follow this lead.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      A very interesting success story. If, people are really interested and dedicated, they can change the whole world into a heavenly garden. The desire and willpower matters. Thank you for sharing such a great success story.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 3 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

      Great hub Bill.

      It is amazing what a college/university can do to change a community. I agree that we all need to step up to make the local governments change for the good of the people.

      Great hub...Thanks for the insight.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Indeed my friend...long live it indeed. :) Thanks Eric!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Long sustain sustainable!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kim, I love it...canning jars go quickly at any sale, and I'm happy to hear your part of the country does so much of it. Come on out my friend, and we'll have lunch. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, so would I....lawns are a complete waste of time and energy, and they really should be outlawed from cities. Thanks for stopping by.

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Bill,

      Beautiful description of a lovely place that evolved into even more loveliness. I hope someday I will get to visit this part of the country for I have heard from you and others the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

      I think it is awesome that you and others are creating sustainable living in your own back yards. Where I live, gardens are the norm rather than the exception. I am grateful to live in an area where folks take pride in their gardens. When I had my yard sale, my boxes of extra canning jars were one of the first items to go.

      Best,

      Kim

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      This college reminds me of our local state college. Ours started out as a small community college about 30 years ago, and now it is quite large. My son is enrolled for the Fall to begin work on his BS in English.

      I am a great believer in preserving the earth in any way possible. I like the idea that so many communities there in Olympia grow their food. I'd like to see ever lawn in America replaced by veggies!

      Voted UP and shared.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Theresa, and I'm counting on you to spearhead some change in your little corner of the world. We need you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Steph, I think it's one of those things that happened so gradually that it wasn't noticed, but the change is obvious. Thanks my friend.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Bill - You have said it over and over (please keep saying it) we may not be able to sway the direction of our national government, but we can and should sway, improve, "greenify," etc., etc. our neighborhoods, towns, and cities. Those are both worthy and accomplishable tasks. Great Hub. Great encouragement. :) Theresa

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I have always loved Olympia! I love the laid back feeling, the farmer's markets and definitely the artist-y feeling you capture so well. Its always a joy to visit. I didn't realize the impact of the Evergreen State College on the City, but it makes perfect sense! Voted up - well done!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lizzy, we don't, but we'll work toward those goals, as lofty as they are. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I believe that as well, Trisha, which leads me to wonder why this sort of thing isn't done more often. Thanks for your thoughts.

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      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Oh yeah? Well do you have the most dangerous stretch of road in the country or the highest concentration of pawn shops in the US?

    • Trisha Roberts profile image

      Trisha Roberts 3 years ago from Rensselaer, New York

      Such a wonderful story. I do feel if there were a small dedicated group that wanted to make such a significant difference, I do believe it can happen every where.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Shyron. It really is remarkable and yet so easy to do. Blessings to you my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine. It fills me with hope that change can happen anywhere.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, we know we do, and we're not giving it up. In fact, we are a little nervous about sharing it with newcomers. LOL Thanks, hon, it's always good to see you.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      I wish all the states could take a less at your college, they could learn and then teach what they learned. This college has combined academics with common sense and teaches respect for the environment and all people.

      Voted up, UABI and shared.

      Blessings to you bill.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      I truly loved learning more about Evergreen State College and definitely didn't know much at all, so I loved getting the lowdown hear from you. Thanks Bill and hope it does catch on elsewhere now, too. Happy Tuesday my friend :)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I think it's awesome that Olympia went from an industrial city to an agricultural one. I was quite impressed with the degrees Evergreen State College offers. They all have to do with the environment or the arts. How cool is that?

      Now I have a better understanding of why you love Olympia so much. I don't ever seeing that change happening here in Central Florida. It's all about tourism here - not the residents.

      You have a little piece of heaven on Earth my friend!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It really does Dianna, and it has become a model for other colleges to follow. Thanks and best wishes as you chase your dream.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Frank! It gives an answer to a question I have had for twenty years.

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      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I am working on moving out so I can relocate and have such a lovely green space. I hope and pray this movement will catch on across the nation. Evergreen has a great mission statement for everyone.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      what an amazing story, conveys a story like the little engine that could, these sit down events really entertain too billy