The miracle of volunteers at Emerald Heights

By Shirley Rosen

High on a hill in Redmond, what the locals call Education Hill, lies the Life Care community of Emerald Heights where miracles happen.

A child gleefully pulls “Blue Eyes,” an articulating brilliant orange dinosaur, down the hallway; another little one looks up and whirls around, making the whirring sound of his slick new wooden helicopter; a little girl excitedly arranges the furniture of her new dollhouse — all meticulously handmade with love by residents in the shop at Emerald Heights. This year, 800 plus handmade wooden toys of all sizes and shapes will make a child’s Christmas happier because of these volunteer angels who will never see the child recipient of their gift, but who give of their time, labor and resources to benefit children less fortunate in our Northwest community. Much of the wood is donated by Canyon Creek Cabinet Company. This year children at Children’s Hospital, Mary’s Place, Ronald McDonald House, Union Gospel Mission and Child Haven will have a happier Christmas because of these unsung heroes at Emerald Heights.

Or you may enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of pie as a thank you for making soft warm hats, mittens and scarves of all sizes for children of all ages. And on the large stage at Emerald Heights you will see piled high hundreds of new toys that residents donate and come for their annual “Treats for Toys” thank you celebration.

There is a crunch beneath one’s feet as you enter the mile-long meandering trail surrounding the 38 acres of Emerald Heights. Soon, there is a soft carpet of decomposed slough underfoot as the rustle of the wind blows through the ravine with brilliant fall leaves making their way down to nurture the ground below. Along the way, there are neatly piled split wood from fallen trees. The trail, built and maintained primarily by volunteer residents of Emerald Heights, is shored up by splitting the wood further and laying it neatly along the edge of the trail, where brilliant green moss covers some of the small logs. Further on, there is a babbling brook with water rushing on to some unknown waterway. A small wooden dam has a cascading waterfall and a small bridge where one can look down at the sparkling water as it rushes on its way. There are benches along the trail, some made of wood from fallen trees where you may sit near the bottom of the ravine and see or hear an owl swooping and hooting its way down into this wonderland of a forest. Residents have seen bear, coyotes, a bobcat and, of course, deer wandering about this special place. As you walk on, you come to a clearing where on one side is a retention pond and the other a garden for residents. Large drooping green tomatoes remind one of mom’s green tomato relish; and colorful dahlias and a sun flower lifting its head for the last rays of summer. It seems far from the bustling city where the forest can be a time for quiet reflection.

After the walk, one enters the main building where down the hall the aroma of coffee fills the air and one can purchase a latte, or a cup of coffee. Open from 9-11 a.m. to the community as well as residents, the baristas of Emerald Heights are all senior volunteers. On Monday, you may feel like having a pancake with blue berries, Tuesday French toast, Wednesday it’s waffles; and available daily perhaps buttered raisin toast, or an English muffin with sausage and cheese. Next door is the country store where all types of food can be purchased and gifts or sundries necessary for daily living. All the profits from these two shops, manned with volunteer buyers and workers, goes directly to the Benevolent Fund at Emerald Heights for residents who have lived there and may have run out of resources.

And then there is “The Train.” Just inside the foyer are the magnificent trains with their surrounding villages, including Redmond to scale, North Bend, Issaquah and the many towns and farms surrounding the hills below Emerald Heights. The trains, grounds surrounding them and villages, are all built and maintained by volunteer residents of Emerald Heights. The train has its last run on Halloween where children may come and share in the joy of hearing the sound of the locomotive or steam engine as it rounds the bend and goes through tunnels and over bridges. Easter will bring these engineer volunteers back to put out some of the small buildings that have been refurbished and put away for the winter. Several women and men work and maintain the surrounding miniature gardens along the grounds of the trains.

Down another hall there is a 70-foot-long wall with photos of the 119-plus men and women who proudly served in Korea, Vietnam and even World War II. These proud heroes of Emerald Heights became engineers, pilots, nurses, lawyers, doctors, dentists, homemakers, PTA presidents, writers, artists — all with a yearning to do more. This wall rotates as volunteers decide on another venue to display. Further on down the hall there are four large display cases filled with items of the residents. Most depict the season; or you may see a video of the train.

What makes Emerald Heights special are the 535 residents. They may be retired but not done living and realize by giving how much richer their lives have become.

Shirley Rosen is an author (“Truman of St Helens”), a free lance writer and new resident of Emerald Heights.