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"I am grateful for my community," reads the headline over the above photo of a drawing by a Parkdale Elementary student. Students created projects aimed at recognizing "people you don't usually thank" as part of a Hood River Valley pilot project. Students were encouraged to recognize “unsung heroes” in the community, said creator and organizer Sara Rose Donahue.

Gratitude University, a program that teaches the importance of gratitude and how to incorporate a gratitude practice into one’s daily life, launched for the Hood River Valley community after a pilot program at Parkdale Elementary. 

The program began with more than 60 students in the ExCEL Program, providing classroom-style and one-on-one education to students on the importance of implementing a gratitude practice into their daily lives, according to creator and coordinator Sara Rose Donahue. Gratitude journals were distributed to each student; writing and related activities were themed around Unsung Heroes “and were met with energy and great ideas,” Donahue said in a press release. Due to the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were closed, and the project was cut short. Inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and the local and global need for gratitude during this time, the program will continue via a community platform to extend the reach beyond elementary school students, according to Donahue.

The Gratitude University Community Project was created to honor all our essential and front-line workers and Unsung Heroes, said a press release. Anyone can join in submitting a letter or drawing to ​letters@gratitudeuniversity.org  expressing your thanks and gratitude. Entries will be made into a digital book and will be shared with the community.

Donahue is gathering entries and plans to compile the book later this spring.

“The hope is that this brings joy and alliance within Hood River and surrounding counties and that our essential and front-line workers will realize how thankful we are for their bravery and their work during this time,” Donahue said.

“During this difficult time, practicing gratitude has an even greater impact. Simply expressing gratitude is scientifically proven to make you a happier person,” Donahue said.

“It has the ability to rewire your brain, kickstarting the production of dopamine and serotonin —  our 'feel good' neurotransmitters to create a feeling of happiness and contentment. What better time than now?” said Donahue, herself a Parkdale alum, and 2010 Hood River Valley High School graduate. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design and lived for a few years in New York City. She relocated to Hood River a year ago and started her own company, Creative Co by Sara Rose, doing design and marketing for women-led companies.

“Having a daily gratitude practice has had an immensely positive impact on my life,” she said. “Every day poses its unique set of challenges but committing to gratitude daily has helped me tackle each day with a new mindset. I am more thankful for what I​ do​ have, understand what it means to be happy and live in the present, and live more positively — I honestly see the world through a new lens. So, this got me thinking. What if we were taught this practice at a younger age? What would change?

“It was such a bummer when school got cut short but I wanted to figure out something to do with the community,” Donahue said in a phone interview. “It has shifted so much of my perspective, and I thought it should be something to open to the community, that it would be so much more impactful for people of the community to know they’re risking their lives every day.”

How to get involved

  • Submit a letter or drawing to ​letters@gratitudeuniversity.org​ ​addressed to any and all essential and front-line workers and Unsung Heroes.
  • Submissions may be an email or photo of a handwritten letter or drawing.
  • Encourage everyone in your household to participate, including and especially children.
  • All Gorge residents e are invited to participate.
  • To see past projects, learn more about Gratitude University or to stay up to date with the Project, follow on ​Instagram​ and ​Facebook​. 

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