Medical students with Western University of Health Sciences teamed up Saturday afternoon with guests at the Helping Hands homeless shelter of Albany to clean up and beautify Monteith Riverpark.

They picked up litter, planted flowers and otherwise spruced up the grounds, improvising when they found they didn’t have a promised set of garden trowels.

“You might be doing surgery on me someday, so don’t break your hands,” shelter guest Tim Meacham joked to COMP-Northwest first-year student Vanessa Majeski, as she used her fingers and a large rock to dig out sections for violets, marigolds and petunias.

First-year student Maranda Herner organized the cleanup. Community service hours are required of students at the Lebanon-based medical school, and Herner has made Helping Hands her particular partner.

She has helped organize resume seminars, anger management classes and a job skills workshop for residents. She also worked with a specific guest who needed a health advocate, and surveyed shelter residents in general to see what other services they most wanted to see.

That data is still being analyzed, she said, but so far it looks like one-on-one attention would be particularly beneficial.

Herner said she has worked for similar shelters and felt drawn to help at Albany’s.

“I saw some opportunities for making things grow there, and I just jumped on them,” she said.

Ten shelter guests volunteered to participate in Saturday’s cleanup, and said they often do similar ones around Ninth Avenue and Jackson Street, where Helping Hands is located.

Meacham said he came to “show that we’re not using the city.”

“The city does a lot for Helping Hands,” he said. “We’re giving back for what they give us.”

Jennifer Moody is the education reporter for the Democrat-Herald. She can be reached at 541-812-6113 or

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