Project amplifies residents' ‘Voices'

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Last year, I lived in a rural Japanese town called Fukusaki, which translates roughly as "laugh and grow fat" town. I certainly laughed while I was there. I probably also gained some insulation pounds during the winter, since few places in Japan have central heating.

It took some effort to drag myself out of my warm bed. Eventually, I would settle down with a cup of coffee in front of the computer and read the news, still yawning and often a little grumpy about the frigid kitchen.

This was the routine for most mornings. Fridays, however, held a different promise. Every Thursday (because of the time difference, Thursday in the U.S. is Friday in Japan), the New York Times released a gem - a multimedia series called "One in 8 Million" that portrayed everyday New Yorkers in weekly episodes. The series revealed an intimate and human look at the city and its residents. I looked forward to the next week, when another New Yorker would be featured.

It struck me that unusual and talented people like those New Yorkers also lived in much smaller places. Before I moved to Japan, I had met dozens of such people in Walla Walla.

Now, I find myself lucky to be back in Walla Walla, once again among people who have interesting stories - stories of pitfalls and accomplishments, worries and joys, hobbies and callings.

Carlos Virgen and I are proud to present our newest project "Voices." This project showcases stories told by residents of the Walla Walla Valley. We will release one person's story every Sunday, beginning today.

As we began looking for people with compelling stories to share, we discovered that the people of the Valley are as diverse, mesmerizing and touching as anywhere else in this country, if not more. Every person we have met has a remarkable story.

We hope this series reveals the untold stories of people whom you see walking on the street, sitting in a park, working at their jobs, or returning to their homes. Some people you may have never seen, some you may recognize, and some may be close friends, but we hope these episodes reveal something new about each person.

At times, the Walla Walla Valley community seems quite small. The traffic lights flash yellow starting at 11 p.m. You recognize the cashiers at supermarkets. You run into neighbors and friends across town. You've memorized what nearby streets look like - a brown house, followed by a gray house with a red door, then the large white house, then a church.

But maybe once, while walking down the street at dusk, you may notice a family eating dinner together through an illuminated window. Or a young cellist practicing by herself. Or a face peering out of the window. For a brief moment, you notice something you never saw before.

We hope "Voices" gives you a glance inside an "ordinary" person, and you may see how extraordinary each person is. The Walla Walla Valley is more surprising than what you see at first glance.

Katrina Barlow can be reached at katrinabarlow@wwub.com.

Applegate is the focus of the first installment of Voices from the Walla Walla Valley, at wallawallavoices.com.


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