Tehama Country Visitor Center
● By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Alexis LeClair
Step into the new Tehama Country Visitor Center in Red Bluff and you’ll find that people are valued just as much as the showcase of remarkable places to experience in Tehama County.
A project of North Valley Services, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide opportunities to people with disabilities in the environment of their choice, the new visitor center spotlights clients’ ability to serve their community while it celebrates the olives of Corning, the wines of Manton or the county’s crown jewel, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
CEO Lynn DeFreece has been with NVS for 39 years and is always on the lookout for new ventures to integrate the people he works with into mainstream society. He tries to meet “the need to be more involved in the community, the need to be engaged.”
Three years ago, the genesis of the visitor center developed as DeFreece, a former board member of the Red Bluff-Tehama County Chamber of Commerce, took note of what was happening within the Tehama County Branding Project, a movement to develop quality of life through tourism and increased revenue streams.
As community members began creating events and infrastructure based on the myriad experiences that make Tehama County unique and worth visiting, DeFreece started paying attention to how the people of North Valley Services could become involved.
He started developing his clients to be ambassadors. “The purpose behind it is not to teach them how to be a tourist person, but to show them how to work,” he says of their new efforts.
“Investing in them is key,” DeFreece says of the people he works with. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re investing in them in attempt to make things better.”
The Tehama Country Visitor Center is an apex of many people’s desires to make many things better: to enhance the tourist experience, to promote the recreational, agricultural and retail experiences unique to the area, and to offer a new line of work to people who often struggle for inclusion.
For Crystal Rogers, the visitor center is an opportunity to develop skills to interact with the public in a way she never has. She’s held a job before, but it was behind a desk with limited face to face interaction. “Here you actually get out, meet people and give tours,” the 31-year-old says with confidence. She also gets to develop an understanding of her community while earning a paycheck.
It’s now her job to know about places like Lassen Park and The Tehama Trail, an agri-tourism endeavor. While she stresses that she’s still learning everything, her skills have developed well enough that she became a television spokesperson for the center when it was featured on the local news during the grand opening celebration in August.
The tour she offers winds through various eye-catching and interactive exhibits developed locally by Joe and Heather Vine and staff at the Copy Center. A highlight is a partial replica of the Chapter House at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina. An actual sacred stone accompanies the exhibit.
“I’ve spent most of my life here, and I am learning so much about places I’ve never seen,” says Linda Bullock, manager of the center and front house manager of the historic State Theatre for the Arts in downtown Red Bluff. She’s excited to expand job opportunities for NVS clients to the State Theatre and finds promoting both places easier with their help.
Formerly several different restaurants, the visitors center had sat vacant and in disrepair for years. Using money earned through various income generating ventures, North Valley Services bought and renovated the building and has plans to expand to include a picnic area and a dog run for people traveling with pets.
The large photographic background at the visitors center entry invites guests to “Reach your peak!” At the ready with a warm welcome are some of the community’s most inspired citizens eager to make sure you enjoy your visit. “Giving somebody a little worth creates self esteem, which creates opportunity,” says DeFreece. Opportunity awaits all at the Tehama Country Visitor Center. •
Tehama Country Visitor Center
250 Antelope Blvd., Red Bluff
(530) 529-0133 • www.visittehamacountry.com