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A breath of HOPE.

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Correction (published Oct. 5, 2009): City/Region: Doris Towery is chief operating officer for United Way of Lane County. Towery's last name was misspelled in a story on Page B1 Sunday.

"Blow!" Conrad Williams said.

Sharie Long blew carefully into a black mouthpiece. In front of her, at the end of a long metal tube, a piece of glass began to expand.

"Now blow more," Williams said.

Long blew more, and the hot glass began to assume the shape of a tall skinny pumpkin.

Long, an 18-year-old senior at Junction City High School, was having her second glass blowing lesson Saturday afternoon at Studio West, the downtown art gallery and glass studio owned by Williams and his wife, Erin Dougherty.

But the young woman wasn't here just to learn to make glass pumpkins. The pumpkin, you might say, was a stand-in for the larger mission at hand. She was spending the afternoon with Doris Lowery, her mentor through a United Way of Lane County program that puts together adult female mentors with young women living in foster homes.

Lowery, the chief operating officer here for United Way, would also make her own glass pumpkin. The two women were put together by the HOPE Project - the acronym stands for "Helping Open doors by Preparing and Empowering young women" - which has put together nine at-risk Lane County girls who are aging out of foster homes with successful women who have committed to meet with them several times a month over the next three years.

"We get together about three days a month and usually spend an afternoon or so," Lowery said. "We've done movies. Sharie loves movies. I do too. We've gone to restaurants, to sample different kinds of food she's never tried before. We had Thai food and Indian food recently. Okay, Indian didn't fare quite as well with her ..."

Beyond the mentoring, the project also offers financial literacy training, a matched savings program for specific goals - Long is saving to buy a car - health and relationship education, work experience and even self-defense training.

Partners in the project, which began in January, include such organizations as Planned Parenthood, Committed Partners for Youth, Lane Workforce Partnership, Looking Glass and Ophelia's Place.

Lowery, who has her own 5- and 9-year-old children, was paying for the glass blowing lessons from her own pocket. She thinks it's important, she said, to connect young women coming out of foster situations with older women who can help them navigate grown-up life.

"We try to offer a positive adult role model," she said. "Someone who is connected into the community and can take them out to do things like this."

Long is a slightly shy but friendly young woman who grew up "everywhere" before her current foster placement.

She does love movies, she says, and has enjoyed getting to know Lowery.

"She gives me guidance, mostly. To be like a functional adult," Long said. "We go out to eat. We go to movies. And we do this," she added, gesturing around the glass studio.

Long plans on studying at the University of Oregon next year to get a degree in psychology or sociology. She would like to work in mental health or drug rehabilitation.

The small glass pumpkins the two women made Saturday afternoon, with a bit of help from Williams, of course, were slowly cooling as they got ready to go. Last time out, the two women had made glass flowers.

"It was really fun," Long said. "It was great actually, to accomplish that. It's very beautiful."
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Title Annotation:Arts and Literature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 4, 2009
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