Klamath Tribes Melita’s Hotel to provide temporary housing for tribal elders

The Klamath Tribes is expanding housing options to its tribal members at the former Melita’s Hotel and Restaurant on the southbound side of Highway 97 north of Chiloquin Boulevard. The Tribes purchased the property last year and began renovating it in January. Kenneth Ruthardt, the Klamath Tribes Housing Director, provided insight into the meticulous process, from acquiring funding to becoming a reality.

Melita’s Hotel, which will be given a formal name through an online poll, received final touches in mid-May with the furnishing of the units.

When entering a one-bedroom unit, the first thing one notices is the smooth vinyl flooring, along with sinks and countertops, absent appliances, on the opposite end of the kitchen/living area. To the left of the entrance is the doorway to the bedroom and bathroom.

“This is the living area,” said Ruthardt during a tour of the 14 units. “We’ve got Corian countertops, which are very nice, and soft-close cabinets.” In addition, each unit includes 16 cubic-foot refrigerators, induction cooktop burners, and microwaves. “We’ll also have pots and pans for them, as well as for the hotel guests,” he added.

Every bedroom has a queen-sized bed, and grab bars are installed throughout each unit’s bathroom to ensure easy access and mobility. The hotel project will accommodate solely tribal elders ages 60 and up. Guests need not apply for a hotel room or unit, but they do need to be housing insecure, Ruthardt explained.

A furnished apartment at Melita’s Hotel. (Ken Smith/Klamath Tribes News)

Seven studio units in the north building will be furnished and equipped with the same appliances as their one-bedroom counterparts occupying the south building. Each hotel room will accommodate no more than two elder tribal members or guests. Laundry will be on-site, and a no-pets policy will be implemented.

Citing a severe housing shortage in Klamath County and the financial obligations of securing housing, Ruthardt said guests can stay as long as necessary. “Some of them probably indefinitely because it’s so expensive [securing housing elsewhere],” he said. “They’re going to have to make a down payment. So, people who move in here are more than likely going to be here for the duration.”

Guests staying at the hotel will not have to pay monthly rent, providing them with financial flexibility and more peace of mind while they seek housing. Ruthardt stressed that the people they are servicing are able-bodied and self-sufficient but do not have a residence to call their own due to various circumstances.

“The Oregon Community Foundation purchased the property and also provided the million dollars to do the renovations,” said Ruthardt. “Then Oregon Housing and Community Services came through with some other funding to help us finish the renovations and provide permanent supportive housing.”

Ruthardt pointed out that the project at completion will have cost around $1.5 million. While over budget, he added that the north building had to be almost entirely rebuilt due to severe, unforeseen structural degradation. As a result of delays incurred, Ruthardt does not expect elders to move into the north building until the second week of June.

The building where the restaurant used to be will provide offices for the Klamath Tribes Housing Department and a community room equipped with a kitchen for guests to utilize. “In there, we’ll be putting the property manager and a navigator – who’s on staff to help guests navigate wherever they need to go,” said Ruthardt, explaining that a worker will be on staff to help guests with transportation needs who might not have their own means of transportation.

Extensive renovations are still taking place, and Ruthardt has pegged completion for phase one of the project, comprising the three buildings, sometime in October.

After the tour of the three buildings concluded, Ruthardt touched on the pace of construction as deadlines neared. “It was a lot of work,” he said. “Getting a lot of people here involved in coordinating the contractors. At one point, we had about 40 or 50 people here daily, tradespeople working because we had deadlines for the money. We got an extension and had that deadline to meet. And now we’re done because we’ve got to get new people in here who need a place to live.”

With the project nearing completion, Ruthardt offered a glimpse of future projects in the pipeline, one of which requires a couple of minor steps before construction can commence.

“We just were approved for a low-income housing tax credit project to build 30 units at Wilson Cemetery Road,” he said. “That’ll be 30 units under one roof – a multifamily building – probably about a two-year project. And that’s going to be very time consuming and a lot of moving parts. So, the first step is getting the tribal council to accept the award they were given that they applied for and we received. And then I think the second step is getting the General Council on board as well, to get their blessing. And if they say, ‘Yes,’ then we’ll go full-speed ahead because we do have people occupying that December of 2026.”

The Klamath Tribes Housing Department will not hold a grand opening for Melita’s, said Ruthardt, citing the need to get people housed as paramount, but an open house will be held July 1. Oregon Governor Tina Kotek is expected to attend, among others. “We’re going to invite all local dignitaries,” Ruthardt said, “state dignitaries, all the government agencies that have been involved, and other tribal housing authorities as well, so they can see what we can make realistic to help Indian people.”

Klamath Tribes Health & Family Services Dental Director oversees a state-of-the-art facility in Klamath Falls

Dr. Thomas Barratt is the Dental Director for Klamath Tribes Health & Family Services. He practiced for about 40 years in private dental practice in Arizona before moving into public health, working a year at San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation. Barratt provided a tour to Klamath Tribes News of the glistening, state-of-the-art dental clinic at the Klamath Tribes’ medical facility, the Healing Place, at 6000 New Way in Klamath Falls.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Barratt, commenting on his move to the public health sector. “I worked on an Apache reservation for a year. And then I was looking online, and they [the Klamath Tribes] advertised for a dental director up here in Chiloquin. And then June of 2017, I took the job. I’ve been here since June of 2017.”

Not long into our interview, it is evident that Barratt, 75, is a man who is very enthusiastic about his work. Seeing his work environment, as well as the equipment at his disposal, it is easy to understand his cheerful disposition. And Barratt is passionate about providing care to the people he treats.

“A lot of the patients come from less privileged circumstances,” said Barratt. “So, I really enjoy working with them and helping them – trying to get them to have confidence in themselves. That’s very important when we get confidence in themselves. And once you get their confidence and their trust, they’re the greatest people in the world.”

Barratt cited phobias as an impediment to a patient getting the necessary care. “Dental pain is just terrible,” he said. “And people have a phobia of dentists and you have to get their confidence. You have to get their trust, and they trust me. I’m kind of like your grandpa.”

At the time of this writing, the dental department had 15 employees between the Chiloquin and Klamath Falls locations: three dentists, five hygienists, three front office staff, and four dental assistants. Barratt said hiring two more employees would make operating the two locations even more efficient, before adding that the dental department overall is doing well.

At the early stages of the Klamath Falls facility’s grand opening in May of last year, the dental department only handled emergencies for its initial three months. In October 2023 the dental department began full services.

Full services cover what a dental patient would expect at any average dental practice: conducting routine check-ups and teeth cleanings, filling cavities, ordering and interpreting X-rays, and repairing or removing damaged teeth. Though Barratt pointed out that patients requiring special extractions may be referred to an oral surgeon, special root canals to endodontists, and some young children may require a pediatric dentist.

The facility in Klamath Falls has seven operatories, like the dental clinic in Chiloquin at the Wellness Center, with up to date equipment. Prevailing impressions are the Klamath Tribes has spared no expense in assuring quality access and care to its tribal members.

“So, these are our seven operatories and each one of them is exactly the same,” said Barratt while providing a tour of the New Way dental facility. “And they all have the most up to date equipment. “They’re the most modern – I’ve never had anything this nice,” Barratt said glowingly. “This is what you’d see in a private office. Everything is up to date – modern and new.”

Most dental drills, or handpieces, are driven by air and cause a high whirring sound that pervades dental practices, highly off-putting to most dental patients, Barratt explained. “These are quieter, softer,” he said, displaying the electric handpieces he uses as opposed to air turbine handpieces. “And electric doesn’t torque down. With an air-driven handpiece, if you torque it down, it slows down or you put too much pressure on it, but electric handpieces just keep turning.” And the result is a more relaxed patient.

There are seven operatories in the Klamath Falls’ New Way facility. (Ken Smith/Klamath Tribes News)

There is a separate room each for the sterilization of tools and carrying out particular X-rays, but otherwise most everything is done within each operatory. X-rays are digital and they are interpreted from a computer screen within the operating space so there is no need of chemicals for developing the image, said Barratt.

Panoramic X-rays are carried out in a separate room. Instead of doing an X-ray for each bite, which can get quite exhausting on the jaw of the patient, a panoramic X-ray machine will rotate around the patient’s head, capturing a 3D X-ray image in the process.

Barratt also described a pilot program, the Dental Therapy Program, in which his dental department is involved. The goal is to instill interest in the dental field amongst tribal members. “They’re creating schools in Washington,” he said, “where tribal members can go to school to become dental assistants, dental hygienists, and they have one program called Dental Health Aide Therapist which is like a dentist. They can take a tribal member. And they can do some of the things that a dentist does, like they can do some fillings. They can do some extractions – simple fillings, simple extractions. And they’re supervised by the dentists.”

In public health – and particularly the 43 tribes in Idaho, Oregon and Washington – minimal invasive dentistry is practiced, Barratt said. “There are certain chemicals you can paint on a child’s teeth when they get a small cavity and you don’t have to fill it. You put this chemical on it, and it stops the cavity.”

This minimally invasive technique is not yet widely adopted in private practice because, according to Barratt, there is no profit to be earned, yet. “With public health, we’re here to help the people, not make money,” he said.

Barratt has practiced in the dental field for decades, and his sense of duty and appreciation shows no signs of waning.

“It’s great,” he said. “The tribal members can come here. It’s free. They don’t have to worry about financial involvement. This tribe is so generous to its tribal members and to its employees. I’m an employee, and I so appreciate Klamath Tribes Health & Family Services because they are so generous to their employees – so kind and just a wonderful organization to work for.”

Klamath Tribes Behavioral Health Department strives to provide mental health services for tribal members

In 2021, 22.8 percent of U.S. adults experienced a form of mental illness, equivalent to over 50 million Americans. According to Mental Health America, 46 percent of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life, and 93.5 percent of individuals with a substance use disorder are not receiving any form of treatment. Every American community is affected daily by this pervasive mental health crisis, and The Klamath Tribes is no exception. Susan Lawlor, Director of Behavioral Health for The Klamath Tribes, coordinates the various programs provided by the Behavioral Health Department.

Lawlor is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she previously worked for Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe of Washington State as a behavioral health manager. “I really like working in tribal health,” she said. “One of the reasons is we have lots of resources always available to us. Prior to that, I worked in a lot of county programs where we had good ideas for programs but really had a hard time securing funds for the things that we wanted to do. So, one really refreshing thing about tribal health is that we have – between grant monies and other funds – we have money to do some really great programs for people.”

Under the Klamath Tribes Health & Family Services umbrella, Lawlor manages six departments or programs and 35 staff members. Although she acknowledged that keeping the programs adequately staffed can be a challenge, she expressed optimism about their future.

Lawlor touched upon one program provided, Recovery Support Reentry, run by Devery Saluskin, which supports incarcerated tribal members. The goal of the program is to keep incarcerated tribal members connected to their culture by holding tribal events, such as powwows and purification ceremonies, more commonly known as sweats.

“We also really want to focus on recovery,” said Lawlor, elaborating on the reentry program. “We got approval this last year, 2023, for an incentive program that we could run under one of our grants. So, we have a peer support person. I think this has kind of taken over, but the person will meet with the peer support or the case manager and develop some goals. We have worksheets that they can fill out whether their goals are employment or education or working to reconcile or reunite with their families – anything that’s a positive thing. That can include even physical health, like getting to the doctor or dentist.

“They kind of set their goals,” she said. “Then, we provide them with a worksheet, and for every five activities that they do, we enter them into a drawing. And so that’s how the incentive program works. We’ve had really good participation and interest in that. We purchase things like warm gloves, sleeping bags, and jackets – things that people really want to work toward. So, we’re able to offer them incentives for developing a plan for reentry, and doing activities every week, to help them move along.”

As of this writing, Behavioral Health is seeking to hire a reentry case manager for the Recovery Support and Reentry program. The successful applicant, Lawlor said, will be tasked with managing the transitions for people coming out of prison or jail, supporting them with housing and other needs that they might have.

Lawlor added that the Tribes already have three case managers who support mental health and five substance use disorder, or SUD, program counselors, as well as four part-time and full-time mental health counselors. In an effort to expand services to tribal members, the Tribes recently added two telehealth providers. “They’re located outside of the area,” Lawlor said, “but they are licensed in Oregon to see Oregon clients. And that program has gone really well. We weren’t sure in the beginning how that would be received, but their schedules are very booked up. I think part of it is just a convenience for people of being able to connect with providers from their home – if they have a quiet private space at work, they can connect with their counselor. A typical case often involves some trauma that people want to work through.”

Tribal members facing a crisis can call the Youth & Family Guidance Center, said Lawlor. Y&FGC has a behavioral health consultant, similar to an urgent care walk-in clinician. If an individual is in the middle of a crisis but doesn’t want to come in and do an entire assessment – a typical prerequisite to getting into regular counseling services – they can see a behavioral health consultant who will help them stabilize and manage the crisis, develop a plan for whether they want to do ongoing counseling, or whether they want some support during the crisis. After hours, clients are reminded that they can access the 988 phone number for mental health crises and support.

A slew of programs exists under Lawlor’s purview, and she touched on the funding for some of these programs while heaping praise on Behavioral Health’s prevention team, previously run by current Behavioral Health Manager Mandy Roberson. “Our prevention, recovery-reentry, and street outreach programs, those are pretty much 100 percent supported by grants,” said Lawlor. “So, when we get various grants from the state, we work to develop programs to meet the criteria for the grants and then offer that. Our prevention team is amazing. They do so many events and reach so many populations. They work with the elders, they work with the youth, they work with the veterans, and they do a lot of work in the schools. They’re amazing. They just do so much.”

Lawlor cited activities their programs offered to tribal members to keep them connected, like sweat lodges, boating trips, rafting trips, and trips to significant cultural sites. “Our big motto is that ‘Culture is prevention,’ she said. “And that’s really true, and it also is good recovery support when we can get people connected to their culture and their tribal activities. It really helps them along with prevention and recovery.”

Another mental health-related crisis affecting American communities across all demographics is the opioid epidemic. Decades ago, Purdue Pharma began aggressively marketing OxyContin, a powerful prescription painkiller, which has become synonymous with kickstarting the current nationwide epidemic. Pharmaceutical representatives persuaded doctors to prescribe the drug with little concern for patients developing potentially fatal addictions. After a series of lawsuits and fines, Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019. The following year, it was reported that Purdue had reached a settlement potentially worth $8.3 billion.

“We’re going to be getting a lot of money from the opioid settlements,” said Lawlor. “So, I think one of our biggest challenges right now is to be able to create something meaningful from the fund – something that really will make a difference in the opioid crisis – rather than just kind of spending money, to really figure out some ways to make an impact with those dollars. So, we’re working on trying to create some project budgets, some ideas, and plans with the management team of what we would really like to do with that.”

While plans for programs are continually laid out, Lawlor praised her current team. “I have to say that I have a very, very good group of managers for each one of those departments.”

If you or a loved one is facing a mental or substance abuse crisis, the Klamath Tribal Health Youth & Family Guidance Center can be reached at 541-884-1841. Its hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed on federal holidays and tribally observed days.

Hog Creek Ranch purchase paying dividends for Klamath Tribes’ wetland restoration efforts

Last year, The Klamath Tribes purchased Hog Creek Ranch, northeast of Chiloquin, and a short drive through forests to Klamath Marsh’s southern boundary in an effort to restore historical watersheds feeding into the Williamson River, near Kirk Reef. The project is formally called The Hog Creek Palustrine Restoration Project. Serving as a ranch for decades, historic channels’ paths were manipulated into irrigation ditches to better serve livestock, with little regard for environmental integrity. Reclaiming the land for First Foods is also a strong motivating factor in acquiring the land, and hints of success are already presenting themselves with the discovery of the Tui chub – a native species of fish believed to no longer exist on the property until now.

According to The Klamath Tribes’ Ambodat Department, the property consists of 1,256 acres, primarily categorized as Palustrine – a wetland/marshy environment – defined as either emergent, scrub-shrub, or forested.

The Hog Creek property location is very unique in that it is almost entirely surrounded by USFS providing for an opportunity to address an entire watershed. “We had an opportunity so we talked about it, thought about it,” said Bradley Parrish, Ambodat Water Rights Specialist. “It was Planning Director Jared Hall and myself and our understanding of the area, which you’re not going to get from anybody else but a tribal member or somebody that’s been in this area for a long time. Eventually, the hope of the project is to add water to the currently dry Williamson River near Kirk Reef.” 

Parrish said the location is ideal, noting that the perimeter of the property is primarily bordered by Forest Service land. The grazing allotment associated with the property also compelled Parrish and Hall to vouch for a purchase. “So that was an added bonus,” said Parrish. “We knew that if we got that property, we would then have the grazing allotment and have some control over a wider area other than just that base property.”

Parrish described the property, in its original form before management, including cattle grazing and timber harvesting, affected the landscape, as broad, flat wetland. He speculated that small channels, nothing huge, may have originally crisscrossed the property.

“Prior landowners effectively drained the property with management actions in an attempt to control water. Ditches were dug and effectively drained all of those wetlands,” said Parrish, before adding that indigenous wetland-dominated plant species have been replaced by other species. Re-introducing wocus, a Klamath Tribes’ staple and First Food, is a component of the project along with many other first foods. 

On the property, Parrish pointed out what had been the irrigation ditch – which accelerated the expulsion of water from the system – and his eight-man crew’s successful attempts to plug it with dead trees and soils in an effort to slow the water and redirect it into its historical channels; but he acknowledged some structures will require adjustments.

Multiple methods and features were utilized to return water to its historic channel and elevation.   Groundwater elevations have increased throughout the project areas and wetland vegetation is re-establishing itself and transforming the landscape back to what it once was. 

Willow trees are being planted along the sides of the channel to help shore up the structural integrity of the channel. The roots of the tree act as a kind of binding mechanism, holding soils in place and preventing quick sediment runoff.

Parrish added that he would like to perform an elevation survey in the form of a longitudinal profile to better accommodate this reemerging wetland’s specifications and requirements.

There is no shortage of issues facing the Tribes when it comes to restoring and curating this newly acquired property, despite boundless optimism. Approaching the property, the vegetation becomes thick with young lodgepole trees, and Parrish duly noted this unfortunate circumstance. An overabundance of young trees today compared to the past – with aerial photography from the 1950s to substantiate this claim – perpetuates a major issue: trees absorbing massive amounts of water.

According to Ambodat, selective harvesting practices have effectively removed the majority of large Ponderosa pine from the landscape and resulted in stands of overstocked lodgepole pine. This change in species composition increases the loss of water via increased evapotranspiration.  These modifications and management practices have prohibited the landscape from functioning to its potential and allowed for conifer encroachment as well as the loss of emergent-type vegetation for the majority of the area. 

“Fire needs to be put back on the land, healthy fire,” said Parrish, adding that the issue cannot be addressed with logging alone. “The trees that we have – they’re all young, they’re all taking water. This needs to be addressed on our property and on the Forest Service property as well.”

A severe lack of fire on this landscape helps young trees proliferate. Absent an overstock of trees, the wetland and its small, sinuous channels would likely flourish, according to Parrish. Regardless, the efforts Parrish and his team have expended are already paying dividends.

A Tui chub, thought to be expatriated from the property, was recently discovered. (Courtesy of Klamath Tribes Ambodat Department)

The rediscovery of the Tui chub is a very encouraging development in the restoration of the Hog Creek system, which feeds into the Williamson River system. This is especially surprising considering the dry nature of the spring at ground level upon purchase of the property.

Parrish expressed astonishment at the re-emergence of this species. “It amazes me that that fish, or any fish, would have survived,” he said. “So, what we’re going to do is get a population estimate and then monitor that over time. If treated properly with restoration and exclusion of cattle, you could bring back a population of fish, including many other first foods.”

“I want to address the entirety of this watershed,” said Parrish, reflecting on the inspiration he hopes to instill in an increasingly environmentally-conscious populace, “and I want to get water flowing back in and say, ‘Hey guys, look if you treat this land right, this is what it can produce.’”

Klamath Tribes opens new transitional emergency shelter

The Klamath Tribes opened its new transitional emergency shelter at 310 South Fifth Avenue in Klamath Falls. It has been three years in the making, and plenty of tears of joy were shed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony as the facility was formally dedicated on April 2. Many tribal leaders and city representatives were present to celebrate this momentous occasion.

“Not only is this a longtime vision of the Klamath Tribes, but it’s also one of my personal goals in my career was to open a transitional emergency shelter,” said an emotional Chanda Yates, General Manager for Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services. “So, I’m thrilled to be able to be part of this today.”

The facility’s programs assist struggling tribal members by providing housing and direct access to mental health, substance use, medical, dental, and pharmacy services, thus enabling participants to regain their dignity and become self-sufficient.

Klamath Tribes Chairman Clayton Dumont conveyed the significance of the shelter’s opening as he spoke to attendees prior to the ribbon cutting. “I want to make sure that everyone here knows that the Klamath Tribes has spared no effort and no expense to do our due diligence here,” he said. “The folks who are moving in here are going to have wraparound services. They will have access to medical care and behavioral health care. They will have access to substance use disorder treatments; they will have help getting driver’s licenses, filling out employment applications, basically doing anything that will help them to overcome unemployment or underemployment.”

The facility will initially shelter eight people and add two more people every two days until it reaches capacity, accommodating 20 participants in 14 pallet shelters.

A pallet shelter at the Klamath Tribes new transitional emergency shelter. (Ken Smith/Klamath Tribes News)

Dumont acknowledged the challenges still ahead. “What we’re trying to deal with here is a big, big problem,” he said, highlighting the homeless crisis affecting the entire nation. “It’s bigger than the Klamath Tribes. It’s bigger than the city of Klamath Falls. It’s bigger than Klamath County. It’s a state problem. It’s a national problem. But I am so proud of the Klamath Tribes. I’m so proud of the city, Klamath Falls, and Klamath County for coming together to take the lead with this new facility. You’re here, and you’re with us, and we’re going forward together.”

The city of Klamath Falls showed its support with Klamath Falls Mayor Carol Westfall attending. “It’s incredibly inspirational and something very well needed in our community and we are happy for them [the Klamath Tribes] and for the transitioning of these wonderful people,” she said.

Phil Johncock is the CEO of Technical Assistance, based in Ashland, Ore. His mission is to reduce homelessness. He has been active in Ashland and Medford, providing technical assistance, consulting directly with communities interested in reducing homelessness, and increasing capacity at shelters. He praised the people involved in making it a reality for the Tribes and Klamath Falls.

“We work with communities, helping them reduce homelessness and different plans in different ways,” Johncock said. “And we like to see programs adopt the secret sauce, which for us is case management and peer support and helping them get on a path to self-sufficiency. And they’re doing that here. And that’s the plan. And so, it’s exciting to see, we’ll be excited to see how this works out.”

Community involvement with the shelter is possible through donations, which will be accepted at the Klamath Tribes Health and Family Service Engagement Center at 633 Main Street. Items such as travel-size toiletry items, clothing, shoes, gloves, hats, and socks are welcome. Citizens can also donate food through a meal train that will be activated. The public can sign up on different days of the month to provide a meal for up to 20 people at the shelter.

“One of the biggest things we want to do is give these tribal members their dignity back,” said Marcie Chronister, Homeless Services Director for Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services. “We’re wanting them to be able to build a life and be successful. We’re kind of coming alongside them, helping them address whatever barriers they have, and just getting them able to integrate back into society.”

For individuals seeking shelter, applications can be sent in via email to the homeless services department at [email protected] or dropped off in person at the KTH&FS Engagement Center at 633 Main Street, Klamath Falls 97603. Participants applying have to be at least 18 years old, a Klamath tribal member or descendant, and they have to meet certain criteria on a background check – though there are opportunities for adjudication, depending on the offenses. The priority is for participants coming out of detox, hospital, or jail.

Klamath Tribes woodworking craftsman Turtle DeLorme makes caskets for tribal members

Suffering the loss of a loved one is a pain too familiar to bereaving families. The price of burial can be another setback to a family already coping with its loss. With the average price of a casket exceeding $2,000, Klamath Tribes member Turtle DeLorme looks to alleviate the financial stress mourning families face when a loved one passes.

DeLorme, 69, is a retired carpenter – a profession he occupied since the age of 17 – and he now builds caskets for families and individuals seeking financially-friendly alternatives to exorbitant prices offered by the market today.

The price of a casket deters many families from pursuing a traditional burial, opting for cremation instead. However, before settlers encroached on the Northwest, it was common practice for Indigenous peoples of the region to bury the deceased.

According to DeLorme, some tribes of the north left the deceased out to be consumed by nature before burying the bones. Similar practices, known as sky burials, are more common today than most people realize and are still deeply ingrained in Tibetan culture.

DeLorme does not advocate for a return to such a ritual, though he does believe “Native people would prefer to go back to Mother Earth.”

“This is the third,” said DeLorme, displaying a recently finished casket ready to be shipped the following day. “I call them boxes. I don’t consider them caskets until somebody’s buried in them. But my family, all my Elders, were buried, and traditionally, the Klamath buried their loved ones in the family. And we’ve gotten away from it. It’s not traditional anymore.”

DeLorme makes his boxes, as he prefers to call them, out of Oregon alder wood from the coast. He can obtain the wood at a reasonable price and, therefore, afford to make the boxes very inexpensive.

“I don’t even like the word ‘sell,’” DeLorme said. “I’m trying to get the boxes at my cost, the cost of labor, the cost of the shop. This is not my shop, so basically, I’m renting the tools in the shop; that’s all figured in the price.” The shop DeLorme works out of belongs to his close friend, Jeff Bush.

DeLorme also plans to make some of his boxes in kit form, which will be easily shipped and ready for the customer to assemble on delivery.

Before retiring, DeLorme’s specialty was custom doors, and two examples of his work are prominently displayed upon entering Mazatlan Mexican restaurant on Washburn Way and Lake of the Woods. But for the past 20 years, he knew he wanted to make “boxes,” fulfilling a desire to see his people reclaim a way back to a more traditional type of ceremony.

When DeLorme’s mentor, R. Scott Jarvie, fell ill and was diagnosed with cancer, DeLorme assured him he would make him a casket. “It’s really fancy, made out of burled Oregon myrtle, which is kind of a really exotic wood.”

It is not uncommon to continue working post-retirement, and DeLorme does so with an intrinsic sense of duty. “I’m not interested in being overwhelmed making boxes,” he said. I’m not doing this for profit.”

In the past, he trained individuals from all walks of life how to make custom doors. “I’ve successfully taught six, seven people, a couple of women how to make doors,” said DeLorme, showing a catalogue of some of his previous work. “And they helped me make these doors.”

Now, part of his long-term goal is to bring on apprentices and train them in building and providing caskets to families of the recently deceased.

“At my age, it keeps me busy, keeps me moving,” DeLorme said, reflecting on his motivation for building caskets. “It’s something that I can do for others, something I can teach – I have always been a good teacher. If I can pass this down to just a few, it would be a legacy enough for me.”

Klamath Tribes acquire Williamson River Methodist Church and a 2-acre lot on Modoc Point Road

Williamson River Indian Mission United Methodist Church, as it was named upon its dedication in 1876, is located on Modoc Point Road. The church’s original mission was to proselytize the indigenous inhabitants of the Klamath Basin, the Klamath and Modoc. Fast-forward nearly 150 years, and the Klamath Tribes can officially declare this historic building on their own.

“From the records we saw, it appeared that the Methodist Church donated this property to the Klamath Tribes,” said Klamath Tribes Planning Director Jared Hall. This sheds light on the long path the Tribes took before resolutely acquiring this historical building and the parcel of land on which it sits. While an error in accounting for the deed slowed the process of the transfer, Klamath Tribes members nevertheless expressed excitement. They reminisced about their fond memories of the church and its community functions.

However, a simple numerical error in the legal description prevented the deed from being promptly conveyed to the Klamath Tribes.

“So originally, the county just thought it was an error when we tried to correct the deed,” said Hall. “And when they saw that it wasn’t on the old deed that was conveyed twice – well, you can’t do that – unless you go back and unwind the old deeds.”

To unwind the old deeds, it was necessary to find the original Methodist Church author who signed the deeds over. In 2019, the Klamath Tribes Planning Department reached out to the Methodist Church. In turn, the Church put the Tribes in contact with some individuals in Idaho who were able to identify the signatory in the deed. Regardless, the signatory could not be tracked down, stymieing plans to acquire the church and its lot.

More dead ends followed before the Planning Department once again contacted the County, inquiring who or what entity possessed title to the land and church. The answer was simple: The Forest Service. “They just rolled it into the same lot as the Forest Service’s lot that surrounded the property,” said Hall, explaining the County’s decision to grant the Forest Service rights on the allotment.

The Forest Service then had no reservations about ceding the land to the Tribes. “They basically told the County that the parcel that the Tribes is claiming is not theirs and that it needed to be transferred back into the Tribes name,” said Hall.

Georgene Nelson, Director of the Klamath Tribes Language Department, was elated at hearing about the Tribes’ recent acquisition and shared with the Klamath Tribes News some of her fond memories of the church. “That church used to be filled,” said Nelson, “and it’s tiny to begin with, but it was filled to capacity with people even standing outside for funerals, or oftentimes for Easter celebrations, Christmas celebrations, and of course, the weekly Sunday services.”

The church site played a major role in Nelson’s childhood, functioning as a major point of community get-togethers. “We used to go out there, and there would be big dinners,” she said. “People would bring potluck foods like fried chicken and fry bread, casseroles, and pies, cookies – you name it, it was there.”

Nelson got married at the Williamson River Church, though she admits she was a regular attendee of all the local Methodist churches. “I was the kind of kid that went to any church that served food,” said Nelson with a hearty laugh.

Nelson said her grandmother played a significant role in her faith. “My grandmother actually is the one who taught me to rotate churches,” she said, ‘God is everywhere.’ So, it didn’t matter what building we went into.”

“My brother, Harold, asked, ‘What are they going to do with that church?’ And he goes, ‘They should turn it into an art sanctuary.’ And I go, ‘They should turn it back into a church,’” Nelson reminisced.

What becomes of the newly acquired property still needs to be hashed out.

Inside the Williamson River Church. (Ken Smith/Klamath Tribes News)

The county has a tax exemption for nonprofit organizations, which include church organizations. “Since that property got conveyed to us, and it wasn’t owned and operated as a church or nonprofit anymore because we’re a tribal sovereign government, they went ahead and enrolled it back in the tax system,” explained Hall.

The County reappraised the former church’s value in excess of half a million dollars, dramatically increasing the taxes on the building and land. How the County arrived at this figure is befuddling to some, as Hall acknowledged that parts of the property are beyond repair, though he does believe the main chapel is salvageable.

“Part of it will probably at least need to be reconstructed because you can just see the structural integrity of the building’s failing,” said Hall. “Certain parts may not be, but there are certain parts that are – you can see rooflines and hip joints have started to sink and sag.”

“We have a lot of tribal members who live out there towards the lake,” said Hall. “To them, they have a family history, whether as a kid, they participated in some events or whatever. I think there’s some interest. Maybe one day, we can sit down and discuss what the need and what the motivation is to get that property enhanced,”

Parts of Klamath County irrigation system require major overhaul; Upper Klamath Lake and endangered suckerfish stand to benefit

The irrigation canals snaking through downtown Klamath Falls, from Upper Klamath Lake to the city of Merrill and beyond, rely heavily on the technology utilized by the ancient Egyptians. Upgrading and modernizing the system falls under the purview of Klamath Irrigation District’s Executive Director Gene Souza. He provided Klamath Tribes News with a tour and an opportunity to understand the challenges the District faces, as well as his vision for the future of the system. With Souza’s proposals, Upper Klamath Lake and its endangered c’waam and koptu suckerfish also stand to benefit.

For millennia, a circuitous water route existed, beginning in Clear Lake – residing at a higher elevation in California – and making a 175-mile journey northwest via Lost River before heading south again and depositing into Tule Lake, in which there has been no outlet for over 7,000 years. This water essentially became stuck in the basin, naturally creating some of the world’s most fertile soils.

Before the Reclamation Act of 1902, so-called “reclamation” projects would help irrigators “reclaim” arid lands for the production of food and fiber for human use; much of the area was marshland. During wet periods, Tule Lake grows from all the drainage. In the late 1800s, to prevent excess water from leaving the Klamath River, the people at the time built a dike across the Lost River Slough at the Klamath River to prevent the waters of the Klamath River from spilling into the Tule Lake Watershed. In the 1880s, private landowners and investors had already started laying the groundwork for a vast system of canals to augment what nature had already developed, Souza said.

In 1905, after the Reclamation Act was passed, the people of Klamath County voted to bring in the federal government to help them expand agricultural production in the area. Private entities, hoping to gain or improve arable land in the process, sold their interests to the federal government. Most of Ankeny Canal, built by private landowners, was expanded by the federal government in 1906 and was based upon plans initially developed by local investors.

Klamath Irrigation District, or K.I.D., expanded its role to take over operations and maintenance of the system in 1956 as a government entity under the state of Oregon. Souza currently oversees 58,000 acres in Klamath and Modoc counties. Today, K.I.D. acts as an intermediary between the federal government and water users – collecting taxes, or assessments, from irrigators while ensuring the irrigation system is regularly maintained through the assessed funds gathered from the District lands and upgraded by acquiring funding from a variety of sources.

Souza’s biggest challenges lie within A-Canal, which runs from Upper Klamath Lake through the town of Klamath Falls, and D-System, formerly known as the Adams Canal, which runs west to east above the town of Merrill.

For decades before 2001, excess water flowing into different destinations in the Klamath Basin was recognized as problematic but manageable. As conflict over water amounts increased, upgrading the irrigation system became necessary.

“Since 2001, the demand has been K.I.D. needs to be more efficient with your water,” Souza said. “You need to be taking less out of Upper Klamath Lake; you need to reuse what you have. And, so what we’ve done is maximize the use of a series of recirculation pumping plants.”

Pumping stations like Stukel and Adams allow Souza to recirculate water that might have ended up unwanted in Tule Lake to evaporate or be pumped to Lower Klamath Lake at a significant cost. “So instead of just taking the water from Upper Klamath Lake, allowing that water to do its natural thing and end up in Tule Lake,” Souza explained, “I’m now able to use these pumps to take that water and recirculate it, and put it back in the system and have less water I’m taking out of Upper Klamath Lake.”

However, these pumps were devised as early as the 1940s and installed shortly thereafter. They lack variable-speed drives and are not efficient power-wise.

“So, what I’m looking at for both these pumping plants, as well as the ability to control flows, is turning them on and off,” Souza said, explaining the importance of automation and variable speeds. “Right now, if I turn them on, it’s going full rate until I send someone physically to the site; I don’t have the ability to back it off to, say, half or 25 percent.”

These inadequacies severely inhibit K.I.D.’s ability to quickly and effectively manage flow rates between Upper Klamath Lake and Tule Lake, as water can take anywhere from 72-160 hours to make the 47-mile trip. Manually tending to the pumps is unrealistic, cost-prohibitive, and a safety issue.

Part of the D-System improvement plan is to upgrade these pumping stations to ensure better efficiency. Upgrading Stukel and Adams stations to Souza’s standards would require $1.2 million and $1.7 million respectively, Souza said. Updated sensors are being purchased for installation, and updated control modules are being designed. The updated sensors will be installed at 18 different locations, amounting to a $1 million project.

Adam’s Canal, built in 1884 and located just north of Lost River High School, forms a large curve in the D-System at Adam’s Point and is currently experiencing uncontrolled seepage. Souza, with input from engineers, recommends lining one mile of the canal to remedy the situation.

“The reason why I’m not piping that section is because currently the technology for pipe to get around that curve, trying to bend pipe or cut pipe,” Souza said. “It’s a little tough for the technology today. And I’m hoping that technology in time will give me a different option, one in which we can pipe it in the future. But I’ve got an immediate problem; I don’t want to wait too long.”

Earthen canals, like those maintained by K.I.D., are especially vulnerable to degradation, from animal burrowing to evaporation to saturation of soils. Souza suspects the seepage issue in D-System lies with clay materials, originally compacted against the rocks, being dried out and stripped away from the rocks.

Water can flow through Adam’s Point at 300 cubic feet per second. A robust system controls and data acquisition program replete with sensors will help Souza quickly recognize when a problem arises. “If I’m running 300 cubic feet per second, and something happens at two o’clock in the morning, how soon is someone going to notify me that I’ve got a problem,” he said, acknowledging the current state of the system.

Laterals extending south from D-System were originally built to spill water into Tule Lake. Souza wants to pipe 11 laterals through sandy soils in an effort to improve water flow. Water passing through the laterals as currently constructed faces resistance from vegetation. Piping the laterals will ultimately eliminate evaporation, seepage, and most spill. “I put water in the pipe, farmer needs water, he opens up his valve, and water comes out.”

Souza estimates $35 million will be required to address the select problem areas in D-System: updating the pumping plants, lining Adam’s Point, and piping 11 laterals extending south from D-System’s canal. He is seeking multiple funding sources for these projects – from federal sources like Public Law 566, which established the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, to the state of Oregon. A cost-benefit analysis proved that it would be wisest to fix the D-System at present, according to Souza. “I’m going to have a water savings that’s measurable,” he said.

According to Mark Buettner, Director of the Klamath Tribes Ambodat Department, Souza’s proposals for upgrading D-System would also benefit endangered c’waam and koptu suckers, as agricultural water deliveries from Upper Klamath Lake can impact water levels that are needed to protect different life stages of the fishes.

“K.I.D.’s proposal for infrastructure improvements and canal lining in the D-canal system will lead to better water operations and less water diverted out of Upper Klamath Lake,” stated Buettner. “With less water available in the Upper Klamath Basin over the last two decades as a result of climate change and competing uses of the limited volume of water available in UKL to support c’waam and koptu, Klamath Irrigation Project farmers, Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuges, and anadromous fishes in the Klamath River, projects like this are very beneficial to achieve sustainability and minimize future conflicts over water.”

The issues are abundant for A-Canal. In 2019, upon assuming his role as Director, Souza intended to address problems in the system from top to bottom, north to south. A-Canal was his first priority, with D-System being secondary.

However, renovating A-Canal to Souza’s vision is a $1 billion project. There are numerous stakeholders who receive benefits from the A-Canal, and many are not subject to the annual assessments levied by the District. “On the cheap, a $50 million project may mitigate some risk of canal failure,” Souza explained. “Unfortunately, $50 million will not resolve the larger issues of water seepage, evaporation losses, reducing the costs of maintaining bridges and utility crossings for the state, county, and city, nor increase public safety, nor address noted issues with the state, county, and city drainage. Getting investors to address the A-Canal has been challenging when various funding programs simply look at a cost-benefit analysis.”

The A Canal is an earthen canal that goes through an urban area, Souza said, elaborating on the technical difficulties of comprehensively addressing A-Canal’s problems. “The urban area wasn’t there when the canal was developed,” he added. “This was all farmland when it was developed. So, all the risk analysis: the cultural, the NEPA, the under crossings, the utilities, the bridges, working with the state; because Oregon State’s water runs off into the canal, the county’s water runs into the canal, the city’s water runs into it; the city’s bike path also has an element to it; another irrigation district, Enterprise Irrigation District above the A-Canal, has all their drainage coming through under it, so, it is complete chaos that’s up here.”

Fault lines traverse many of the canals, allowing hot springs and groundwater to seep into and out of the canal. Animal and even human burrowing is also a significant problem, weakening the canal bank structure. Earthen canals have seepage, and the location of the A-Canal on top of the natural hardpan allows the water that seeps out of the canal to move to unwanted locations instead of straight down to recharge the deeper aquifers.

Souza said the best option would be to pipe the entirety of A-Canal while putting solar panels and parkscapes on top. There are financial hurdles to clear before Souza can realize his vision.

“I’m lobbying,” Souza said, regarding finding the funds for A-Canal. “I’ve been working with Senator Jeff Merkley, staff, and others to try to find funding. I’ve been applying for all types of grant funding just for engineering. I’m working on trying to find multiple funding solutions.”

Healing Place approaches one-year anniversary of grand opening; staffing medical clinic remains a challenge

Healing Place, located at 6000 New Way in Klamath Falls, is owned and operated by the Klamath Tribes under the Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services (KTH&FS) division. It is used as a satellite clinic for medical, pharmacy, and dental care and as a primary clinic for behavioral health services.

At a May 8, 2021, General Council meeting, the Council voted to approve the 6000 New Way remodel, plan, and $11.9 million budget. Services at satellite locations will expand to ensure sustainability and accessibility for tribal members. New Way first opened to tribal members on May 19, 2023.

The COVID pandemic shone a light on the shortage of healthcare professionals throughout the nation, and Chiloquin was no exception. In a 2023 October national address, American Medical Association President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH, stated, “The physician shortage that we long feared – and warned was on the horizon – is already here. It’s an urgent crisis… hitting every corner of this country – urban and rural – with the most direct impact hitting families with high needs and limited means.

“Imagine walking into an emergency room in your moment of crisis – in desperate need of a physician’s care – and finding no one there to take care of you.”

“We are struggling to recruit and keep both clinics staffed for all services,” said Chanda Yates, Health General Manager for the Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services. “We are in a health care staff shortage crisis. And what we have decided to do in-house is that the Chiloquin Wellness Center in Chiloquin, Oregon, will always be our primary care medical home, and it will be staffed first.”

Currently, the medical clinic, pharmacy, and dental services in Chiloquin are completely open and functioning all business hours. The dental clinic at New Way in Klamath Falls initially opened only two or three days a week for dental emergencies. It opened up full-scope, five days a week, in October 2023. The dental team worked to set up the new clinic and ensure the workflows were identical to the Chiloquin Wellness Center.

The medical clinic in Klamath Falls originally followed a similar approach to its dental clinic. It was open two days a week until temporarily ceasing operations in February 2023 due to the lack of providers to staff that location.

Two-thirds of KTH&FS’s service demands come from Klamath Falls, while the remaining one-third comes from Chiloquin. “So, we’ve staffed according to those demands,” Yates said.

“We are short-staffed, we’re getting up to staff, but everyone is new. And there’s a pretty steep learning curve with providers,” Yates explained, describing part of the process of hiring primary care providers. “And they need to be working out of the Chiloquin clinic to get that full experience and then full orientation before they can work independently at a satellite clinic location. So, in the meantime, when we cannot meet minimum staffing measures, we have to close it. And that’s just not a business model that I’m interested in operating; consistently being open is critical. So, we’re really going to have to pull back and reassess to meet minimum staffing levels.”

As of this writing, KTH&FS has one direct-hire medical doctor, Dr. Susan Sparling. She sees patients full-time.

Part of the reassessment relies on hiring locum tenens physicians, who are essentially traveling doctors. KTH&FS partners with various locum companies, screens, and interviews locums, and if they think the candidate is a good fit, he or she is brought on for temporary hire.

“It’s really important that we’re serving the community with medical doctors,” stated Yates, while acknowledging that relying heavily on locum companies is not an ideal model—a model employed widely throughout the inadequately staffed healthcare industry. Patients across the nation are losing trust in the health system, and the same is true here. We have a lot of work ahead of us to bring as much stability to our health system as possible.”

There are some inherent barriers to recruiting primary care physicians to the Tribes.

“One major factor is that a lot of the medical doctors and physicians, primary care providers, have their choice of wherever they want to be in the United States. And it is very difficult to recruit to a rural location,” Yates said.

She also cited a less-competitive salary the Tribes could offer – being an Indian Health Service-funded 638 contracted tribally-owned community health program – and the small pool of medical doctors across the nation as impediments to recruiting talent.

A small percentage of Native American people go into the healthcare field. Yates pointed out that Oregon Health and Science University’s Northwest Native American Center of Excellence program is working to address this problem, as well as the healthcare needs of all people, by increasing the number of American Indian/Alaska Native individuals in the U.S. health professions workforce.

The pharmacy at New Way is not yet open for services, and Yates does not anticipate it opening until at least one more clinical pharmacist is hired. “So, when they are open, the pharmacy will provide the needful scope of services,” she said.

“The Klamath Tribes will always have a primary care medical home, meaning all of those programs and services in Chiloquin will always be there, and they will always be fully staffed,” continued Yates. “It’s going to be difficult for us to staff the satellite clinic here in Klamath Falls. We will not even be able to open the medical clinic until we increase our staffing. We first ensure successful training happens, and then we will be able to open that location fully.”

New hires come with all of their training and licensure. KTH&FS has its own training and shadowing program in the clinics for new hires so that they are trained on all clinic workflows. New healthcare providers have to learn about KTH&FS’ environment, workflow, and electronic health records.

“They’re trained on how to use the electronic health record,” said Yates. “They’re trained on all of the referral agencies that we work with, such as all the specialty referral services that we refer to, whether it’s Sky Lakes for an MRI, or the local orthopedic clinic, or to a cardiologist. We have to make referrals out to specialists.”

Part of the training program also includes two videos, produced by Klamath Community College and the previous KTH&FS Behavioral Health Manager, on cultural orientation, history, and trauma of the Klamath Tribes.

The 43,300-square-foot facility at New Way was designed based on the Klamath Tribes’ culture. The quail, highly regarded by the Klamath Tribes for its familial bonds, features prominently throughout the lobby.

“And our patients and staff really love that representation,” said Yates, referring to the quail and aesthetics of the building’s interior. “So, we have that in the building in our lobby. And we wanted to make sure that we brought into the lobby a lot of nature because that’s really important. The environment is important to this tribe. Everything we did is designed with Earth, forest, land, water, and flora in mind.”

Each area was designed following certain color schemes the architect and staff devised. The behavioral department has an earth motif inspired by the surrounding area and elicits feelings of strength and security. The pharmacy reception area’s yellow-accented walls represent the wocus, a staple food and flower of the Klamath Tribes. Dental department finishes are blue, representative of water, and a Crater Lake mural is situated in the waiting room. Medical department finishes are all green for plants, landscapes, and trees.

It is worth noting that the Quail Trail bus provides free service to Klamath Falls and Chiloquin. There are five routes a day, Monday through Friday. Two routes stop daily at El Dorado Avenue’s northern terminus, the closest stop to Healing Place. While the Quail Trail does not run directly to Healing Place, KTHFS does offer medical transport to the facility. Additional staff have been added to transport patients to 6000 New Way.

As of March 18, the KTH&FS Medical Clinic is open five days per week at the Healing Place.

Klamath Tribal member and Eagle Ridge School instructor inspires next generation of construction workers

Klamath Tribal member Dominic Herrera has been running construction crews off and on for about 15 years. This past September, he inherited the position of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Construction Instructor at Eagle Ridge High School in Klamath Falls, where he has been instructing and inspiring students to pursue their interests. In the process, Herrera feels confident that he has found his calling, forfeiting more lucrative jobs in favor of inspiring the next generation of America’s construction workforce.

The program Herrera runs provides students with the opportunity to acquire credit hours to put towards Klamath Community College’s apprenticeship, among other institutions. “We’re a pre-apprenticeship program for KCC’s apprenticeship program,” Herrera said, “but part of their credit hours is on-site work.”

For a majority of their senior years, the students are to be on job sites working in order to get their foot in the door to companies and future opportunities. Herrera coordinates with several construction companies, three of which are Modoc Contracting, Bogatay Construction, and Diversified.

Contractors will provide options regarding open positions depending on a student’s interests, abilities, and preferences. The work varies from general labor to more advanced tasks, such as framing concrete drywall tile and just about any other aspect of the job a student can imagine.

One particular student is working with Diversified Contractors, Inc. on the new building currently being constructed on the west side of Eagle Ridge High School’s main campus. The new building will house Herrera’s classroom and workshop.

Students’ prospects of working for a contractor and getting paid – certainly an added perk for a high school teenager – are dependent on whether students are on course to attain all their necessary credits to graduate high school. “If they’re good on their credit hours, they can work all day,” Herrera said, citing the importance of students completing their core studies. “If not, then they’re encouraged to work at least a couple of hours. They’ve got to graduate. My class is an elective, bottom line. So, as long as they’re graduating, they’re doing all right. They can work as much as they want.”

Herrera’s students receive accreditation through the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER), which is recognized worldwide and by the construction industry as “the training, assessment, and certification and career development standard for the construction and maintenance craft professional.” Herrera’s funding for the CTE program comes through the Southern Oregon Education Service District (SOESD).

Upon completion of the program, students receive upwards of $2,000 worth of battery-operated hand tools and the option to continue with KCC’s apprenticeship program—the latter is covered by grant funding, so there is no charge to the student.

Herrera dishes his students a lot of tough love. He was formerly employed as a drug and alcohol counselor. With a master’s in forensic psychology and a degree in human services and chemical dependency, Herrera has a natural inclination for observing and understanding people.

“I gave them assignments, but their assignments were projects,” Herrera said, explaining his approach to engaging his students. “Everybody’s got to do one. If you don’t want to do one, I can understand, but you’re still going to have to do something by the end of the two weeks, or else you’re going to fail your two weeks. I told them, ‘You’re going to fail, or you’re going to pass, which means you either want to be here or you don’t. So, show me that you want to be here or you don’t have to be here definitely don’t have to be in this program. I guarantee there are other students that do want to come over here and learn some stuff.’ So, by the end of it, every one of them had some cool projects that they did, and they all fell in love with the tools.”

Herrera gives his students options for projects while also encouraging them to find their own. He cited one young man’s enthusiasm for constructing a weight bench with an attached weight rack made out of two-by-fours as especially impressive.

Students are not limited to individual projects. While students are given the opportunity to develop their individual skills, whether it be building a weight bench or rough-cut lumber furniture, they can also engage in cooperative projects. One such project was a two-story A-frame clubhouse, gifted to a staff member’s grandchild after its completion. The project also proved to be a good opportunity for Herrera to teach the students wiring: “And we put lights in there,” he said. “I showed them the basics of wiring and how to wire a switch.”

In an ever-changing world, where necessary skills in seemingly any industry ebb and flow, Herrera is intent on making sure his students understand potential fluctuations in the construction industry. In regards to 3D-printed homes, Herrera said his students were initially dismissive of the idea gaining traction in Klamath Falls. “I told them, ‘Well, maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.’ Regardless, the world doesn’t revolve around the Klamath Basin.”

Tiny homes, in particular, have long been of interest to Herrera’s. With a glaring housing shortage throughout Klamath County, Herrera is doing his part to correct course by encouraging his students to initiate change.

“We just put it in for a grant for some tiny homes,” he explained. “So, we’ve got approval from SOESD and Oregon Housing Authority to build as many as many tiny homes as we can commit to. They’re going to be 12-foot by 16-foot cottages, and we’re going to be building sheds for those cottages. We’ll be producing them here in the classroom.”

And the importance of Herrera’s job is not lost on him: “Oh, it means the world to me,” he said, smiling.