Most people pay their respects to our military veterans on Veteran’s Day with good reason…our freedom, our liberty, and for some our lives. There are a few individuals that have made it their mission to go out of their way to thank and treat veterans throughout the year. One of those people is local resident Drea Huck. She does it by sending coffee care packages from home to our troops with inspirational notes and messages. Huck currently supports eight active military personnel groups weekly.
Huck’s ties to the military are not by chance. She is from Slovakia, and her father was in the military there. Her father rose to the rank of Major although he is now retired. She said her connection to the military is “in my blood.” She described herself as a “child of the world,” and her first trip to America was with an exchange program to California over 15 years ago.
Now she is a permanent resident and like many in this area, she has a career with Starbucks. She started as a barista, then she managed her own store for a few years where she said, “you see it all.” In her current position as a Facilities Representative at the SSC (Starbucks Support Center), she handles orders from the field with suppliers and vendors. Although she misses seeing her regular customers day in and day out and the great connections she made with them, her new position allows her to make an impact in a different way.
Huck has embraced the “Adopt a Unit” program. She personally packages up about 125 pounds of coffee, and often other treats, for shipment and travels to the post office weekly to ship to deployed troops. She noted that Starbucks donates the coffee for the packages.
You can hear the emotion in Huck’s voice when she speaks of the program and how she cares for the troops she supports. She wants them to know that they have not been forgotten. “I always tell them to be safe,” she said. Huck receives notes, emails and even gifts from soldiers. One recently sent an email that said, “You have no idea how much it means to us to have you support us.”
Huck also shared her pleasure with the fact that her employer’s support of the military goes far beyond the Adopt a Unit program. Starbucks is committed to veterans and military spouses and in the past five years have hired over 17,000 to work in many different capacities for the company. Huck said that this Armed Forces Network program helps soldiers transition from the military to the corporate world. Soldiers most often make terrific employees as “they are disciplined and make great leaders,” she added.
She is also very proud of her involvement in the Marine Raider Foundation. The foundation was established to provide benevolent support to active duty and medically retired Marine Raiders and their families, as well as to the families of Raiders who have lost their lives in service. Huck stressed that many members of the special forces at times are forgotten because “technically they don’t exist.” She wants to be sure they aren’t forgotten. The foundation aims to meet needs unmet by the government with an emphasis on building resiliency and supporting the full reintegration of Raiders and their families to civilian life.
Huck has become a Miles for Marsoc community athlete raising money for the foundation in memory of a fallen soldier Staff Sgt. Sky Mote and others. Mote was awarded the military’s highest honor, the Navy Cross, following his heroic death in Afghanistan in August of 2012. She says of her involvement, “It is the most incredible thing I have ever done.”
As we wrapped up, I asked what her message was to our readers about soldiers with Veteran’s Day approaching. She said, “We can truly live our lives because of them. Don’t forget about them.”
Marine Raider Foundation, https://marineraiderfoundation.org/
Drea Huck’s page, https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/drea-huck/milesformarsoc
Starbucks Veterans Programs, https://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/community/veterans
I had a vision of the “Dynamic Duo” when I sat down with Melaine and Chris Thompson recently to chat about their new partnership and how they got to this point.
“It has been a 25 year evolution,” Chris said. “This business is the natural next step.”
The business he is referring to is Thompson Design + Build. A culmination of their talents pooled into a business that is reminiscent of Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame.
Melaine was described to me as “a blogger, home designer (self taught), creative genius…” by Leigh Henderson from Alexa’s Café. After that introduction, I knew I’d better meet her.
Melaine’s blog “My Sweet Savannah” (mysweetsavannahblog.com) started over 15 years ago with primarily hand painted furniture and signs that she was selling to supplement her income and hobby. It has evolved since then to include home design, recipes, DIY projects and more. She also has a very popular Instagram page (also mysweetsavannah) with over 58,900 followers at press time. Country Living Magazine named her one of the Best Design Blogs and her work has been featured in numerous other design sites.
It’s clear that Melaine has a real eye for design but its more than that. She shares the look and the DIY steps for those wanting to give it a try. “You can learn to get a high end look without spending a lot of money,” she said.
To stay relevant and on top of things takes a lot of work. Following our morning coffee at the end of September, she was heading home to bake Christmas cookies for some upcoming blogs for holiday preparations.
Just recently Melaine partnered with Molbak’s Garden + Homes on a front door display. “Molbak’s wanted to make it easy for customers to have a beautiful entryway,” she said. Melaine’s design was featured on Molbak’s website and the store as well as her own blog. Customers could go in and purchase all or part of the display or they could even have it delivered. Many of the pieces of the display sold out in a couple weeks. Melaine plans to continue to work with Molbak’s in the future on projects like this and possible workshops.
Chris has been a contractor and builder his entire adult life. He had been considering branching off on his own for quite a while and he said, “I continued to ask myself, can you do this?” He would be leaving a comfortable corporate job and that prospect was scary.
They knew they had the components of design with Melaine and build with Chris so they decided the (natural) next step was working together. He said, “We want it to be fun. A place where we can showcase our work.” That is how Thompson Design + Build was formed.
Before they even got to this step, they already had a great success “Design + Build” story…their own house.
The Thompson’s were high school sweethearts at Woodinville High School and married 22 years ago. They had a daughter, Savannah, namesake of course of Melaine’s blog and a son, Cody. They loved the Crystal Lake area were Chris’s family lived and knew they wanted to be in that neighborhood but also knew it would be difficult to afford.
They opted for a small affordable 900 sq. ft. fixer upper home and went to work. “The house is a cool story of evolution,” Chris said. I saw the before and after photos of their home renovation and what they did is simply amazing. Melaine added, “We want to inspire people. There are still [affordable] places out there.” Referencing projects in the Eastside that they can definitely help with.
They love the aspect of the business that they can make decisions that are right for them and their family. The challenge to get creative and not spend a fortune (within a clients budget) feeds them both.
When asked about their passions, Melaine said, “Family first.” Then added, “I love inspiring people.” Chris said, “That we’ve always been part of the community.”
Thompson Design + Build
To say I was only a little amazed after stopping by the property of Ron Alessandrini and Mike Osterling would be a huge understatement.
The RAM (Ron & Mike) studio/shop, yard/gardens, and home in Woodinville has so many wonderful features I hardly know where to begin.
But instead of beginning with the place, I should start with my gracious hosts, Ron and Mike. They both can be described as truly the “hosts with the most.” The positive aura and energy that you feel around them is present from the minute you are acquainted. I felt as if I had known them both for years. Genuine, sincere, and caring are just a few of the attributes that come to mind to describe them. (Thanks for the introduction Larry!)
Ron is the Vice President of an import company with an office in Monroe. He visits China often, which is reflected in much of the art I viewed during my tour. Mike is a Realtor. They both are caregivers to the property, artwork and home where they live.
John Clise whose family developed Marymoor Park built the home in 1965. The home was surrounded by 15 acres and “was praised by architects nationwide and recognized for its unique design,” according to Ron. When John Clise passed away his wife Mary sold the property and it went through many hands before Ron bought it. It had been subdivided to the current (close to) two acres and had fallen into almost complete disrepair. Ron said, “[The house was] two weeks away from being tore down.” Ron visited the house with the Realtor. He walked into the living room, with its’ floor to ceiling windows covered in boards, and said he’d take it. Many neighbors, and likely the Realtor, thought he was crazy, but he wanted a place that he could sink “sweat equity” into.
That was 15 years ago, and Ron and Mike have sunk a ton of sweat equity into every area of the (RAM) homestead.
We started our tour in the shop/studio, which has become quite the gathering place for the neighborhood and friends since a snowstorm in 2012 according to Mike.
The studio side is a place where creativity is encouraged. There are antiques and collectibles everywhere and a large counter/table graces the middle to use for work projects. I would call it “art projects” as everything I saw was a unique work of art. There are chandeliers varying in size and design covering the ceiling and wood disks from tree stumps ready to form tables. “We are big on repurposing,” said Ron.
They are not sure as to when it began, but people started bringing stuff in and it has snowballed from there. One thing is certain; they both agreed that it is a lot of fun working on the projects. I asked if they had an outlet to sell their (RAM) art. Ron admitted that they have thought about it but hasn’t happened. For now, they enjoy giving items as gifts or donating them to local auctions that support area schools.
Just off the studio is a big shop area that is more for storage at this time to house the future projects. There are plenty of back up supplies housed here to keep them busy for years!
We next ventured out and around the yard and gardens.
There are so many wonderful sites and hidden gems in their yard. It is really amazing! From monk guardian statues from the Ming dynasty (1,110 years old), to a koi pond, to a graffiti wall (that Ron commissioned to have painted), to sculptures (glass, metal, and wood), to secret sitting areas, a monkey paw tree, and flowers, flowers, flowers, there is much to behold and ponder. Ron and Mike do all of the yard work themselves. “It is a stress release,” Mike said. “It is a ritual and fun to work in the garden,” he added. They said start every morning and end every evening with a walk in the gardens – I would too! I must add that they presented me with a beautiful bouquet to bring home that I enjoyed as I wrote this story.
Ron mentioned that it’s not unusual for them to arrive home to find a yoga class or a bible study-taking place on the lawn or a neighbor picking flowers in the garden. There have been weddings of friends on the property as well. They encourage it all and are happy to share their blessings.
It is not surprising that the gardens/yard have been a favorite on the Woodinville Garden Tour in the past. Next year, they are slated to be a stop again.
We ventured into the house next where I admired a private art collection that rivals many galleries. Artists featured include Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Dr. Seuss, and the list goes on. “All art has a story,” Ron said. It’s important for him to be sure the art is on display for all to see and enjoy.
The house has definitely been “saved” and looks terrific. A big testament to that would be the kudos they received from Joslyn (JC) Clise, John Clise’s daughter, when she visited some 40 years after she lived there with her family. She drove up and introduced herself after the house appeared in a magazine article.
Ron says he is “very blessed.” He continues, “Look what life has given us…so much.” I would return that sentiment as these two gentlemen give so much back. The law of attraction is at work in a big way at the RAM homestead.
From her favorite production at Woodinville High School, Noises Off, to her current role as the young Darlene Snell on the critically acclaimed original Netflix series, Ozark, Brooke Butler is paying her dues and getting noticed.
I caught up with Butler recently to see how she’s faring with her new role and living the Hollywood dream so to speak.
When I mentioned that things seem to be going really well and asked if she feels like she’s paid her dues, she said, “Never. I never stop working to improve. You never think you are good enough. I’m always in class, writing or performing.”
“It [acting] is extremely cut throat,” Butler said. She is grateful to have found a group of wonderfully supportive friends and colleagues but that has taken time and it isn’t easily found in the industry. They are genuinely happy for each other when someone lands a role. “It is a big enough industry and there is a place for everyone if they are willing to work hard,” she added.
Butler knew from a young age that she wanted to be an actor. She said growing up in a smaller town with a “sheltered childhood” with Christian values has given her the foundation to fall back on when things got crazy. She credits her parents for instilling strong values and letting her know that you have choices in life and the path you take will determine the end result. She also praised others in her life that have been her support system and said, “I am grateful for my upbringing.”
Part of that hard work growing up in Woodinville involved drama classes, voice lessons, and dance classes.
She complimented Hjalmer Anderson from Woodinville Repertory Theater as her first acting coach. “He always believed in me,” she said. Butler went on to say that he taught “the method” and that is how she prepares to this day.
Butler fondly remembers Larry Bridges as her first vocal coach. She had to sing Ave Maria during a recent audition and said that Larry would be so proud as to how far she’d come.
Since I wrote a story about Larry this summer, I reached out to him about Butler and he said, “I loved teaching Brooke. She was always open to growing as a singer and actor. She had the drive and discipline. I never doubted she would do something special with her life. I am so proud of her success and expect even greater things from her.”
At WHS, she remembered the play Princess and the Pea and that she was initially disappointed for being cast as the Evil Queen thinking she was more the princess type. Now in hindsight she said, “It really helped in my future
career and is making things more interesting.”
Following high school, Butler attended University of Southern California (USC) where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Dramatic Arts and graduated with honors.
You might recognize her for her breakout role as the flesh-eating cheerleader, Tracy Bingham, in All Cheerleaders Die that premiered at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and is currently a Top 5 on Netflix. The role was especially fitting since Butler was nominated as a Top 20 cheerleader in the nation while at USC.
She went on to gain attention in theaters starring opposite Todd Lowe (True Blood) in the haunted house tale, The Remains. Butler has also acted in several television movies and is currently filming the pilot Queen Fur for Showtime.
The role of Young Darlene Snell in Ozark is has been great for Butler. “I love taking someone who is misunderstood and make them relatable. I like playing those characters.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked her if she had any advice for others wanting to become an actor and she said, “Be ready to work really hard. Believe in yourself. Be willing to give up everything for your dream.” Then she chuckled when she added, “Take back streets on the way to auditions to avoid traffic.”
For more about Brooke Butler visit www.BrookeSereneButler.com