BEAVERTON, Ore. – When the volunteers arrived, the space in front of the build was barren, except for some tools, a table of drinks, and snacks. The concrete path to the back of the building had broken up by a jackhammer, producing what appeared to be around 200 new rocks, set to stacked into a wall. They’d build it behind the HELP office, around what would become part of a memorial garden. From street side and along the fence, to the property line at the back, it will become a space to remember Harley Rocher.
Rocher was an examples of what the Beaverton School District’s Homeless Education Liaison Program (HELP) could do. He had suffered from housing instability throughout the early part of high school experience, but thanks to the program, he was placed with a host family, providing a foundation through which he would finish school. By 2013, Rocher had earned his diploma, was pursuing continuing education in his vocation, and had a stable job in the automotive industry. He had a girlfriend, was living independently, and was reestablishing his relationships with his biological family. The toughest days, for Rocher, were behind him.
On January 15, 2013, Rocher, 18, was the victim of a hit-and-run, killed shortly after 8 p.m. while walking home from work after being dropped off by a TriMet bus. Efforts by the Beaverton Police to find the green or turquoise car responsible for his death were unsuccessful, despite public appeals and an investigation which, guided evidence at the scene, pursued answers with over one hundred auto body shops in the Portland area. To date, the person responsible for Rocher’s death has never been found.
Rocher’s memory has remained strong among people who knew him best, including those at the HELP center just east of Beaverton High School. The memorial garden, which will be officially commemorated on Rocher’s birthday, October 10, will not only honor the person he was but also serve as a reminder for today’s youth struggling with similar problems.
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“He had come so far and was just starting out his life as an adult …,” Lisa Mentesana, a Homeless Liaison at the Beaverton School District who works at HELP, remembers. “His mom came to me about a year afterwards, and she said, ‘I just want you to know how much the support that your department gave to Harley and our family meant to us, because we were able to reunify as a family and come back together before Harley had been killed.’ She said, ‘it just means the world to me that that had happened.’
“It’s just an example of how a little bit of support can go a long way. We wanted to honor Harley in this way.”
Though it’s over two months until the garden will be completed, Stand Together was able to help at this, its earliest stages. On July 30, 20 volunteers working as part of Stand Together Week built the wall at the building’s back, cleared brush and other vegetation from one of the garden’s future sections, as well reestablished two items which, taken down as part of an ongoing property makeover, will serve as small symbols of the office’s purpose. Community libraries and pantries, taken down temporarily before, were given new foundations and erected at HELP’s curb.
“We always wanted to do a memorial of some sort, in his name,” Mentesana says, “to help raise awareness of homeless, unaccompanied youth in the community, that we have support services available for all students and families dealing with housing instability, and then also raise awareness of the hit-and-run in the community, and to raise funds.”
The funds will go to two things, if HELP gets enough. At the site of the accident, Mentesana hopes a sign can be erected urging caution, awareness, or anything else that can prevent another situation like Rocher’s. If there’s money left over, a scholarship fund will be established in his name, hopefully providing the next Rocher a chance to pursue the opportunities he’d begun to engage.
“It just feels like as a community we need some way to create awareness of homelessness and housing instability challenges we’re dealing with,” Mentesana explains. “We always wanted to do something for Harley that is a visible way to honor him and really all our youth who are struggling to stay in school. They’re couch-surfing through the community. The inspiration is to help raise awareness.”
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The memorial garden was one of 32 projects helped during Stand Together Week, with those around the Portland Timbers and Thorns coming together in numbers exceeding 1,000 to volunteer across the greater Portland area. Like many of those projects, HELP’s was intimately personal. For years, Mentesana had hoped Rocher’s memory could live on as a physical part of HELP. Having something tangible in and around the program’s office may remind people of how many Rochers the initiative could help.
“Beaverton School District has had the highest number of homeless students in the state of Oregon for many, many years now,” she says. “Last school year, we served over 2,500 children, ages birth through graduation from high school. And all of them were homeless.”
Thorns defenders Emily Menges and Madison Pogarch were part of the volunteer party, as was one of the team’s assistant coaches, Richard Gunney. Other employees of the Timbers and Thorns were on hand, too, as were volunteers from KPTV, who had a reporter on site to document the event for FOX 12.
“I’m hoping that more people will know that our office is here for support and outreach, for students and their families who are living within the Beaverton School District attendance area, that they can come here and get help,” Mentesana says.
Undoubtedly, she’ll hope Rocher’s memory lives on. Thanks to the day’s event, a new set of people know his story, and how randomly his life was cut short. In his name, though, more at-risk student may learn how they can walk in a similar path. In his memory, and in the garden that will serve it, Rocher’s example may become a guide for those who’ll follow.