‘Our voices are more powerful together’

Dala’s Blue Angels soar as volunteers in local community

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

For 73 years (with the exception of 2021, when COVID-19 choked out the gathering), the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce has honored and celebrated local individuals and organizations at its Distinguished Service Awards banquet.
These people volunteer their time to help organize popular city events, such as the Strawberry Festival and Holidays in the Park, or donate large sums of money to undergird organizations of vitality such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Santiam and Build Lebanon Trails.
Most are unsung heroes. They work behind the scenes, playing small roles as part of a team fulfilling a greater purpose, saying “yes” when there’s a need, and waking up early and going to bed exhausted. They might meet for nine months to hold a three-day event, work outside in freezing weather for eight weeks to bring cheer to the community, sit for hours in filth to trap and neuter cats to prevent overpopulation, clean graffiti or install trees and trails.
They drive to-and-fro, moving chairs and tables, maintaining large budgets, ordering ribbons and plaques, pricking their fingers on rosebush thorns, coordinating with other organizations and businesses, and/or accepting responsibilities otherwise left on the sidelines.
And they do it all for free. No one’s getting paid for their work. Instead, they’re sacrificing their own time and expense to create something special.
A few years ago, someone on social media reacted to the news that the Lebanon Community Foundation would no longer host the July 4 Star Spangled Celebration. There were few local events to look forward to, this person said, and one was now going away.
In response, Lebanon Local will present a series of stories this year that highlight organizations and people who do the best they can to make the city a great place to live. And yes, sometimes an event must be canceled due to a dearth of volunteers or donations. Their often-overlooked service reaches into a wide range of influence, from summer entertainment to health, from theater arts to reducing feral pet populations, and from feeding the poor to helping victims of child abuse.

In this first installment, we look at Dala’s Blue Angels, a nonprofit now in its 11th year. The group works year-round to support services for child abuse victims.
Founder Dala Johnson developed “Blue Angels” and annual Walk a Mile for a Child event after attending a candlelight vigil on the Linn County Circuit Court steps in Albany for 3-year-old Tesslynn O’Cull of Springfield, who died in 1997 at the hands of her mother and mother’s boyfriend.
Some 70 participants attended the first walk in 2012, helping to raise $2,000. At the 10th event last year, more than 240 people showed up, bringing in $25,000. Johnson and her volunteers have built upon their fundraising efforts from the beginning.
“Our children deserve and need to live their lives free from abuse, violence and neglect,” Johnson said at a past event. “Child abuse prevention requires our increased awareness as a community.”
To keep the matter relevant and fresh in peoples’ minds, volunteers promote National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April by wrapping blue ribbons around poles and trees throughout the city, place blue pinwheels at the Lebanon Police Department and highlight a local victim during their Walk a Mile.
They host the following fundraisers throughout the year: bell-ringing at Human Bean, “flamingo flocking,” a 50/50 raffle at Willamette Speedway and a Santiam Excursion Train ride. They also handle traffic control during a marathon [which marathon?] and work at the Strawberry Festival.

Blue Angel volunteers head up the 2022 Holidays in the Park Twilight Parade with a large banner.

They are also a key reason why Lebanon has an annual Holidays in the Park celebration. Most, if not all, of its volunteers are “blue angels.” They spend four weeks in the coldest and wettest parts of November hanging Christmas lights and decorations at Ralston Park, then take the decorations down after the end of the year. And, of course, they organize the parade and lighting of the tree, which requires coordination with the city and police and draws thousands of Lebanon residents downtown.
“Child abuse is horrific, and it makes people cringe,” Johnson said. “But just because it’s uncomfortable and not something we want to talk about does not mean we can avoid it.”
“Blue Angel” Ronda Vinson received a Frankie Gray “Answering the Call” award during this year’s Distinguished Service Awards Gala for her “tireless hours” of service for the nonprofit. She, herself, was sexually abused in her childhood by non-family members.

RONDA VINSON adds a Blue Angels ornament at Ralston Park.

“The reason I do what I do is if I can stop one child from going through what I did, it’s worth all the time in the world,” she said. “It’s the same with Holidays in the Park. If we see one smiling child, it makes us feel great after eight weeks of freezing to death out there.”
All donations are distributed to ABC House, the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV), Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Lebanon Area Mental Health Alliance Corp. and Family Tree Relief Nursery. Those organizations serve as child advocacy centers in Linn and Benton counties and provide education to raise awareness and prevent child abuse.
For all the time and money these volunteers invest into raising funds for and awareness about child abuse prevention, how much pay do they take home? None.
The next Walk a Mile for a Child walk and 5K event is scheduled from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 1, at Academy Square, 25 Academy St. For more information on how to register, visit Facebook.com/DalasBlueAngels.
“It takes all of us working together, doing our part in strengthening our community,” Johnson said. “Our voices are more powerful together.”