When Harmony Thomas was a fourth-grader at Sisters Elementary School in the 1980s, life was rough. But a teacher, Julie Gravely, took Thomas under her wing and helped her develop a love for art, which brought some positive results in the young girl’s life almost immediately — and which has inspired Thomas to establish a scholarship through Sisters Graduate Resource Organization (GRO). The organization distributes local scholarships to Sisters High School students to support further education after graduation.

“There was a drawing contest about bus safety and I decided to enter on Mrs. Gravely’s suggestion,” Thomas recalled. “I won the contest and ended up having the story published in the newspaper and my drawing put on display in Salem at the Capitol.”

Gravely’s nurturing along with the confidence she gained from the contest experience shaped her future, even from that tender age. 

“Mrs. Gravely taught me to draw and to write and was a wonderful mentor for me,” she said. 

Thomas, who lived in Sisters from 1982-92, purchased Bedouin three years ago and said that coming back to Sisters has inspired her to give back. 

“Just returning to my hometown I have felt excited to see how the high school has developed a wonderful community, because when I was growing up we all went to Redmond High School,” she said. 

“I have been looking for my own way to give back to the community and encourage younger people to go for higher education and to really trust their creative process,” she added.

Thomas says that Gravely’s encouragement in art “really opened up the creative in me and I definitely feel it is why I am here today as the owner of Bedouin.”

Thomas has not yet finalized the details of her scholarship, including what it will be called, but knows it will reflect her gratitude for Mrs. Gravely.

“I would love it to go to a student who is wanting and believing in themselves that they can be an artist and that they can use their creative force to support themselves, whether it be in literature, visual arts like painting and photography, or even something like journalism,” she said.

The award will be offered for the first time this spring for a 2022 Sisters High School graduate. 

Thomas hopes that her story will encourage others to follow suit and establish even more scholarships for the youth of Sisters through GRO. 

“I think that higher education is important and it certainly is not getting any cheaper, so anything we can do to support young people is good,” she said. “I am happy that I am in a position to give back to this awesome community that really nurtures kids. 

GRO awarded over $200,000 in scholarships last year to Sisters High School graduates, and the board is committed to growing the funding to a point where every graduate can receive support for their future in post-secondary education and training. In addition to individual scholarships like the one Thomas is establishing, the GRO board is looking to expand donations in the form of estate planning and other legacy-type

giving. 

Potential contributors can visit the GRO website at www.sistersgro.org or email info@SistersGRO.org to learn more about how to establish a scholarship. To be included in the 2022 scholarship cycle donors are encouraged to contact GRO before December 1.

Donors can also donate for a short time through a regional campaign called Central Oregon Gives. Details can be found on the GRO website.