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— Jeannemarie Halleck, Director of Development & Communications, Classroom Law Project
"Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.' Support for organizations that work tirelessly to make education accessible and engaging for students of all ages is the most effective—and important—investment we can make in our future."
“She lives and breathes the presence, compassion and willingness that are the foundation of the curriculum we teach the teens. She is a uniquely talented educator, able to engage teens from all walks of life. She connects authentically and in a way that inspires trust and willingness.”
—Caverly Morgan, founder and director, Peace in Schools
The room in which Janice Martellucci teaches mindfulness studies at Lincoln High School feels more like a yoga studio than a classroom.
Students take off their backpacks and shoes before entering. They leave their cellphones in a basket at the front of the softly lit room. Some wear jeans, and others, sweatpants. But they all sit on the sage green yoga mats that encircle the space.
“What’s the most important thing to remember when we begin our mindfulness practice?” Martellucci asks the students before they begin a walking meditation
“That there’s no wrong way to do it,” one student replies.
“That’s right,” Martellucci says.
Martellucci, 27, is a teacher for the Portland nonprofit Peace in Schools. Founded in 2014, the organization created the first for-credit mindfulness classes to be taught in public high schools in the United States.
Peace in Schools offers classes at Wilson, Franklin, Lincoln, Madison, and Alliance high schools in Portland, and at Rosemary Anderson High School in Gresham. Martellucci estimates that she teaches 1,000 youth a year, both through instructing high school courses and through leading Peace in Schools’ bimonthly teen mindfulness nights and summer retreats. The program aims to be district-wide in Portland Public Schools within the next few years.
Martellucci discovered mindfulness six years ago, during what she says was a particularly difficult time for her. Her father had just passed away; she was experiencing health problems of her own; and her sexual orientation was shifting—she found herself in love with a woman.
A friend recommended she try mindfulness meditation, so Martellucci started attending classes, going on retreats, and beginning an at-home practice. In no time, she was hooked.
“Mindfulness gave me the tools to alleviate the stuff I was experiencing,” she says. “I could finally see the patterns and processes going on in the mind, and getting space in that was hugely transformative.”
Before long, she says, her confidence increased, her relationships improved, and her life simply became easier — even though hard things were still happening.
Now, Martellucci is teaching those skills in Portland. Her students learn different kinds of mindfulness meditation and are invited to explore their emotions and attitudes in a safe space.
“Many of the teens tell me that this class is the most useful class they’ve ever taken in school,” Martellucci says. “We’re giving teens tools to cope.” Tools, she says, she wishes she’d had when she was in high school.
“I felt deeply insecure and had so much stress,” she says about her high school experience. “It never occurred to me that I could have a different relationship with my thoughts.”
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
Janice Martellucci teaches free mindfulness classes to more than 1,000 teenagers in Portland through the nonprofit Peace in Schools. Mindfulness has been shown to increase emotional and mental well-being, even alleviating depression and mood disorders.
Here prize is generously sponsored by Revolution Hall.
“Jasmine’s heart is with this population of young people who quite literally have no other advocates. We can’t imagine her doing anything else simply because she values the youth so much. She has already made such a huge impact in the programs that she has worked for and the youth she has connected with, but she will continue to do that same mission-driven work over the course of her career.”
—Kathy Oliver, executive director, Outside In
Jasmine Pettet’s office at Outside In is a judgment-free zone.
On any given day, the homeless 18- to 25-year-olds she works with could be watching Netflix under her desk, nodding off from heroin while propped up against her wall, getting help finding services or asking for outfit advice.
“I’m just providing a safe, quiet spot,” says Pettet. “On the streets, there’s no comfortable space.”
Outside In, located in downtown Portland, has been providing social services and health care for homeless youth and other marginalized people since 1968. Pettet works as a peer mentor supervisor, drug and alcohol specialist and administrative coordinator. She works with more than 200 youth a year, helping them access services and find stability.
With her neon pink hair, knuckle tattoos, sarcastic sense of humor and open-minded approach, Pettet, 32, stands out from a lot of care providers whose more formal methods can be alienating. She builds rapport first, only directing her young clients to services when they’re ready.
“I think the fact that you aren’t so formal is what makes this place so successful,” says Jamie, one of the youths Jasmine works with, who’s been coming to Outside In for seven months. Jamie, who is gender non-binary, found the welcoming nature of Outside In a positive change of pace after constantly being judged by adults.
Pettet understands what it’s like be alienated from the mainstream. She was home-schooled in a small town in Indiana and never felt as if she could fit in, even with other home-schooled kids. Then, after moving to Portland at 17, she had trouble getting satisfaction from her jobs, including stints at bakeries and porn shops.
She started working at Outside In almost on a whim—a friend told her that the organization was hiring entry-level employees as peer mentors.
She wasn’t sure how well she’d do peer mentoring people her age—and younger—with drug and alcohol problems. While she didn’t have experience with addiction, she soon found she had plenty in common with the young people with whom she was working: She could identify with their struggles with isolation, poverty, trauma and mental illness.
“That’s the time of your life that sucks the worst,” Pettet says. “You’re expected to have things figured out.”
Ten years later, Pettet can’t see herself working anywhere else. “People are convinced that they are alone in the world,” she says. “If I’m able to connect with youth going through that and make it easier, everything is worth it.”
Bottom Line for Portland:
Outside In provides services to more than 11,000 homeless and otherwise marginalized people every year. Through Outside In’s Recovery-Oriented Support and Engagement project, Jasmine hires, trains and supervises peer mentors and provides support to more than 200 homeless youth annually.
This prize is generously sponsored by Willamette Week.
“When we interviewed Daisha for this position she spoke strongly of her decision to move out of the private sector and into nonprofit work. She’s a woman of strong principles who cares deeply about her community, and I have no doubt her commitment to the nonprofit world comes out of this love for the health of her community.”
—Suzy Jeffreys, executive director, North by Northeast Community Health Center
For Daisha Tate, operations coordinator at North by Northeast Community Health Center, it’s important for health care to be personal. That’s because, as she says, “This is not the typical doctor’s office.”
North by Northeast is the only medical clinic in Oregon focused on African-American health, serving 450 African-American adults every year. Many of the clients have in the past felt underserved by traditional health care providers.
“I think mostly a lot of our patients don’t feel like they’ve been listened to,” Tate says. “They feel silenced and lost.”
Tate, 30, knew from a young age that she wanted to work in the health care sector. She completed Benson High School’s health occupation program and began her career in traditional health care offices doing human resources, recruitment and research. But the work didn’t do much for her.
“Working in the back office is fine. But my personality, I’m more like a people person,” Tate says. “Just being stuck at a desk and a computer eight hours a day gets kind of boring.”
Tate transitioned to the nonprofit sector, working at the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest for five years. In the process, she came to realize how much she loves being able to serve her community through nonprofit work.
She came across North by Northeast by chance. One day in 2015, when she had taken her two sons to get haircuts at Champions Barbershop on Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard, doctors from North by Northeast were there, offering free blood pressure checks. Tate was inspired by their mission and hands-on approach. Then, she found out they were hiring—and applied right away.
Now, Tate’s been at North by Northeast for a year. One of her primary roles is working with patients to make sure their insurance is up to date—even if that means sitting with patients while the insurance company puts them on hold for an hour or more, or calling patients regularly to remind them to get scheduled with the office’s Oregon Health Plan specialist.
Tate says that’s what makes her clinic stand out from traditional health care systems—the readiness of everyone working there to listen to the clients.
“Even if you come to our office and aren’t able to meet with your provider, you still have a whole room full of people to talk to,” she says. “Even if I can’t necessarily give you medical advice, I can listen to you and hear what it is you have to say.”
Bottom Line for Portland:
Daisha Tate assists North by Northeast Community Center’s 450 African-American adult patients in ensuring that their health insurance is active and that they understand their benefits. The clinic provides personalized health care for patients often underserved by traditional health care, with a focus on chronic health conditions affecting Portland’s African American community.
This prize is generously sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine.
“Cole is a joy, he is a rock, he is a ball of fun and yet always heart-centered. It’s clear that Cole’s work isn’t a job. It’s a calling, a way of life, a vocation, a love and a passion. He’s integrated his whole being into his work life, without sacrificing his whole being as so many of us social workers do! It’s a profound and yet simple magic to watch at work. We are lucky.”
—Jessica Larson, director, Welcome Home Coalition
Cole Merkel, vendor program coordinator at Street Roots, manages the 150 homeless and low-income people who sell the weekly newspaper “for those who cannot afford free speech” on corners throughout Portland.
That means that Merkel wears many, many hats—often at the same time.
He’s a barista who makes pot after pot of coffee for the Street Roots sellers who use the office on Northwest Davis Street as a home base. He’s an editor who sits down with homeless writers to line-edit their stories for publication. He’s a shoe salesman willing to track down a pair of donated size 13s in the storage room for a homeless man who needs a new pair. And he’s a friend and confidant who chats about Deadpool with a vendor whose backpack is emblazoned with the superhero.
The vendors Merkel coordinates buy copies of Street Roots for a quarter apiece, and then sell them for a dollar. They get to keep the profits they earn, which helps put them on the path to self-sufficiency. Merkel’s main job is to help his vendors make as much money as possible as they distribute more than 9,000 copies each week.
“Street Roots vendors are by far the hardest workers in this entire city,” he says. “They are up every single day at the crack of dawn. They are on their feet eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Merkel has never experienced homelessness himself, but he says he understands what it’s like not to fit society’s norms. Growing up gay in a small town in Michigan, he didn’t feel safe coming out until after he graduated high school.
“That experience in itself—having to hide that really integral part of myself—helped me build empathy for people who are marginalized,” he says.
Merkel joined Street Roots as an AmeriCorps volunteer five years ago and never left. He loves being able to see people’s lives transform through selling the paper—like the vendor who got into housing after 30 years of living on the streets, or the newspaper seller who got his real estate license by studying for his exams on the public computers at the Street Roots office.
“Every single vendor is out there trying to make a better life for themselves,” Merkel says. “It’s what inspires me to show up every single day to work and to do my job the best that I can.”
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
Cole manages 150 people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and coordinates 90 community vending partners to sell 9,000 newspapers every week.
This prize is generously sponsored by Morel Ink.
“Casey cares deeply about education and the Portland community, and is taking a lot of steps to learn and grow so she can continue to give back. She attends conferences and webinars, seeks out mentorship, and creates long-term connections in the Portland educational landscape. She knows that making a better future for low-income students doesn’t take one or two years, and she wants to be part of a long-term solution.”
—Paige Hill, senior program coordinator, College Possible
Casey Block, program coordinator for College Possible, knows what it’s like to think your dream college is out of reach.
Neither of her parents attended college, and she grew up in a small Illinois town without a lot of money. Though a high-achieving student, she never considered looking for a college that challenged her or matched her interests.
“I don’t think my guidance counselor ever once talked to me about college,” Block says. “I knew a handful of colleges, and the driving factor in my decision was cost. Whichever one had the lowest sticker price—that was all I was I was thinking about.”
Applying to college is hard enough. First-generation and low-income college students face additional challenges, both when applying and attending. College Possible aims to make those students’ college dreams come true by giving them ACT and SAT test prep, taking them on campus tours, guiding them through the application process and, finally, supporting them once they go to college.
At College Possible, Block, 27, trains and supervises seven AmeriCorps volunteers who are currently coaching 250 high school students in the Portland area. These students increased their ACT scores by 26 percent last year—far exceeding their goal of 5 percent, and greatly increasing their chances of getting into more selective schools.
While Block values her college experience, she would have liked to have had the kind of support College Possible provides. “I wish my path had been a little different,” she says. “I wish I’d looked for a school that fit me well and where I felt comfortable.”
College Possible doesn’t just aim to get low-income kids into college—it helps its students find a college that will be a good fit, ultimately increasing their likelihood of success. It also helps participants navigate the costs of attending college, keeping debt manageable.
Most important: College Possible gets results. Nationwide, 98 percent of its students are admitted to college — and are two times more likely to graduate than students not in the program.
“I see education as being such an important key in breaking that cycle of poverty,” Block says. “I really do think that education is the best way for individuals to be able to advocate for themselves and choose a path that makes them happy.”
Bottom Line for Portland:
College Possible is guiding 1,762 low-income students in the Portland area through the college application process and supporting them throughout their higher education. As a program coordinator for the organization, Casey Block leads the team currently coaching 250 low-income students at six Portland-area high schools.
This prize is generously sponsored by Grady Britton.
“Leticia has an uncommon knack for blending visionary thinking with feet-on-the-ground realism. Her remarkable emotional intelligence allows her to intervene in crises with the right degree of warmth and firmness to get girls back on track.”—Bridget Cooke, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Adelante Mujeres
When Leticia Aguilar joined Adelante Mujeres part-time as the Chicas administrative assistant in 2009, she wasn’t certain she was cut out for the job.
“I didn’t want to be the person that says, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’” she now says.
At the time, Aguilar was a young, married, pregnant high school graduate who hadn’t gone to college and was working the desk at an insurance agency. Her parents—migrants from Mexico to Forest Grove—feared deportation after realizing Aguilar’s financial aid applications required a social security number they didn’t have.
But she was hired, and after being trained to mentor elementary school girls, Aguilar realized she was indeed meant to serve as a role model for young Latinas. Now, one community college degree, three promotions and six years later, Aguilar serves as the Chicas Youth Development program coordinator.
Adelante Mujeres translates to “empowering women,” or “moving women forward.” The Forest Grove-based organization does exactly that. Adelante Mujeres served 411 Latina students during the 2014-2015 school year. All 19 of the seniors from last year are currently enrolled in college. Of the elementary and middle school girls, exit surveys show improved self-image, deeper confidence and better grades than Latina counterparts not in the program.
Aguilar, 28, has had her hands in nearly all of this. In six years with the program, she has led nearly a dozen after-school groups. She stuck with one of these groups from third through ninth grade. Her sessions cover topics from alcohol-abuse prevention to STEM to LGBTQ support. Aguilar repeats one particular session with nearly every group she has mentored: “Why you should appreciate your Spanish culture.”
“I want them to love who they are, not be ashamed,” she says, explaining that her girls often feel they are ugly, unsupported or hated by their peers. The low-income girls Adelante Mujeres serves have working parents, several of them with field labor jobs, according to Aguilar. When they leave school, these girls return home to assist with cooking and cleaning; only then can they attempt their homework.
“Girls come in [to the program] with anger, blaming their parents for things,” she says. “But they leave here with a completely different mentality. They begin to appreciate the hard work.”
Aguilar is no stranger to the topic of hard work. In addition to mentoring, she takes high schoolers and their parents on college visits, for which she coordinates the transportation and on-campus experience.
“I like taking the girls,” she says. “But I like taking the families more. Often times they are afraid to let their daughters go to college. They don’t want them to go out of town.”
Visits to University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Western Oregon University, Linfield College and PSU usually mean all-day Saturday trips. At Aguilar’s urging, colleges facilitate student panels with other minority students, lunch with Latinas attending the school, admissions workshops and dorm tours. Aguilar aims to show parents and girls what helpful services the school can provide.
“We can enroll our girls,” she explains. “But then what? Who’s going to be there to make them feel connected to the college? That is what I want them to know.”
From across a conference table in Adelante Mujeres’ second floor office, she explains that many of her Chicas girls view her as “a second mom.” She is a mom to two of her own, (ages 7 and 2), a youth soccer coach, wife, daughter and member of Forest Grove’s Lions Club.
Does she sleep?
“You get used to it,” she says with a shrug and a laugh. “I can’t remember what it’s like to come home and not do anything.”
But doing nothing isn’t really Aguilar’s style. Her next goal includes finishing a second degree in human development.
“I want to provide more support to the girls and really understand the development stages they are going through,” she says. Steph Barnhart
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
Aguilar assists more than 400 Latina girls in Forest Grove annually by providing leadership education, mentorship and college prep.
Leticia Aguilar’s prize is generously sponsored by Grady Britton.
“Rebecca has an acute sense of the power of arts education. She galvanizes the community, turning passive supporters into activists working on our behalf.”—Marna Stalcup, Director of Arts Education, Regional Arts & Culture Council
“We’re not putting coats on the homeless, exactly,” says Rebecca Burrell, outreach specialist at the Right Brain Initiative in Portland. And she’s not. From a downtown corner office flooded with natural light, Burrell fights battles involving art in our schools.
Right Brain’s mission is to give every K-8 student in the region access to art regardless of neighborhood, language or income. Burrell and her team serve more than 60 schools in seven metro-area districts with limited arts education resources by training teachers to weave arts into core curricula. Right Brain suggests to teachers there are other—likely better—ways to harvest high math and science scores than having students complete worksheets.
“Teachers have the hardest job in the world,” Burrell says. “And they are underappreciated, amazing people. We help [teachers] meet the objectives that stress them out.”
Burrell, a 34-year-old Portland native, carries herself with a grace indicative of years of modern dance training. She’s poised, gentle and frequently flashes a winning smile. Her conviction that Right Brain’s work is imperative to classroom success is palpable.
According to Marna Stalcup, director of arts education for the Regional Arts & Culture Council, Burrell’s personal experiences with art allow her to excel in her role as the public face of Right Brain.
While most of the staff has “back of house” jobs like curriculum development, workshop scheduling or grant research, Burrell works the front of the house, spreading the word about Right Brain.
“Rebecca is truly the connector to the broader community,” says Stalcup. “She ensures that what’s out there publicly matches with the ethos of our organization.”
Burrell organizes more than 250 volunteers, who in 2014 completed 10,000 hours of advocacy and fundraising. She meets policy makers to show the measurable success Right Brain programs have on students, teachers and test scores. She develops Right Brain’s annual report by working with designers, interviewing principals and collecting data.
“Some kids need to hear the info through different mediums,” Burrell says of how integrated arts help in all other subjects. “Or maybe they don’t need to hear it at all. They need to see, or feel, or move the information physically, in order to understand concepts.”
So tools like Right Brain’s Brain Food Deck were born. Under leadership from Burrell, educators and Portland’s design community collaborated to create the deck. It’s a colorful collection of activities that require creative thinking, which typically occurs in the right side of the human brain.
When she’s not at work, Burrell stays busy filling her own life with creativity. In mid-September, she got married and threw a DIY wedding block party in her street to celebrate.
“It was quintessential Rebecca,” says Stalcup, who attended. “A true community gathering.”
While Burrell may not be putting coats on backs, she’s putting creativity back into classrooms. Right Brain’s work helps students believe they are good learners, and encourages them to stay in school in a city with an abysmal 70 percent high-school graduation rate.
“This could change everything,” says Burrell. “Everything.”
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
Burrell’s advocacy work has helped Right Brain serve 20,000 students from 63 Portland metro-area schools in seven districts and three counties.
Rebecca Burrell’s prize is generously sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine.
“Drew is passionate and driven when it comes to creating freedom from addiction in the youth of our community. He is particularly skilled at reaching a difficult-to-reach population.”—Erin DeVet, Director of Youth & Family Services, De Paul Treatment Center
A bulletin board hangs above Drew Gadbois’ desk in his office at De Paul Treatment Center in Portland. Pinned to the top left corner is a collage of clippings from Seventeen magazine. The words “Rising” and “Step Up” in bold typeface are focal points, next to a cutout of a pink mascara tube and a cheese pizza.
The collage was a gift from a client. Gadbois, counseling services supervisor, had assigned the collage exercise after realizing the girl’s biggest barrier to success was to spiral into negative thought patterns.
“I was like, ‘You need to put together a collage of positive thoughts that make you think about change and growth.’ So that’s what she made,” he says, glancing up at the board. “And before she left, she gave it to me.”
De Paul serves youth struggling from addiction to drugs and alcohol by working with them in treatment programs ranging from outpatient care to residential or detoxification services.
Most clients graduate from De Paul’s two-month residential program, which involves a highly structured schedule of group sessions, individual counseling and recreation. Graduation from the program requires positive social behavior, effective and honest communication, and progress based on the level of care.
But when a client fails to meet these benchmarks and must leave De Paul, Gadbois is often involved in that conversation. Fermenting orange juice in the dorm, lying about possessing a weapon, or failure to pass urine analyses is likely to result in discharge from the program.
“It’s that balance between that individual and the safety of everybody,” he says. “I have to hold that. I try to be empathetic and validate that it sucks and it’s hard.”
Gadbois, 30, has worked in the nonprofit community for 11 years. He acutely understands the path to recovery. His past includes a list of foster care nightmares, sporadic stints in treatment programs and lack of belief in his own strengths.
“Sometimes self-disclosure actually ends up being therapeutic,” he says, recalling a story about a former client who was adopted overseas. He fell into addiction at age 14 and was forced by his adoptive family in and out of group homes, leaving him unable to imagine a life of interpersonal connection.
“I was like, ‘Listen, man, I’ve been in almost your same exact shoes,’” Gadbois says. “The reality is, you have to create your own family.”
Prior to his current duties, Gadbois spent more time in sessions with clients. Now, his supervisory role largely involves problem-solving with staff—his work family.
Friday mornings at 10:30, Gadbois runs a check-in meeting with two members of his staff. They discuss the previous night’s “poop scandal” in Cedar, the boys’ dorm, and a more immediate issue of a prohibited 4-inch yellow razor on a key chain turned in by a boy who found it in the dorm. The staff assigns clients as mentors to incoming clients, debates visitation-day approval strategies, and suggests ideas to get kids to respect the recreation-time rules.
And this is just 10 minutes out of one day. On inspection, Gadbois’ calendar looks like the inside of a pack of Skittles. Orange means off-site, yellow is a client meeting. Staff meetings are pink, and supervisions are aqua.
“This is our program,” he says, “and we’re responsible for what happens in it and maintaining a therapeutic milieu. I take that very seriously.”
Gadbois wants to expand his work at De Paul to include sober transitional housing for kids who graduate but have nowhere constructive or safe to live, and he’s working to incorporate more LGBTQ-specific programming.
“These youth are resilient,” he says. “We need to listen to who they truly are instead of judging what brought them into our services.” Steph Barnhart
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
Gadbois’ team of seven counselors and case managers serves daily up to 40 kids who are seeking freedom from addiction. Of nearly 600 kids Gadbois has individually counseled at De Paul, at least 70 percent have successfully graduated from the program.
Drew Gadbois’ prize is generously sponsored by Morel Ink.
“In an environment that can often be chaotic with many volunteers and demanding diners, April is a sea of calm. If a diner has a meltdown or a volunteer fails to show up as scheduled, April rolls with the punches.”—Jessica Morris, Director of Human Resources, Meals on Wheels People Inc.
“So, would you want to dress these salads?” April Woods asks before I’ve even stepped into the kitchen. “Let me grab an apron for you. I think with a ladle you can get two salads done. And don’t forget gloves.”
Woods is the backbone of the Meals on Wheels’ Cherry Blossom Center kitchen, located in the Hazelwood neighborhood. Daily, Woods preps nearly 300 hot meals for delivery to homebound seniors, then cooks another 100 lunches for dining room visitors.
“Today we have two entrees,” she says, as she dumps a large bag of frozen vegetable medley into a steamer basket. “Baked fish and a Chinese chicken salad. These vegetables will be done in about 15 minutes.”
She directs volunteers who wash dishes and plate food, working with both regulars and first-time helpers, depending on the day. Some days, only one volunteer can make it. How does the kitchen operate on those days?
“Fast,” Woods says, smiling. “We go fast.”
Woods, 34, admits to a certain disdain for previous basement line cook jobs she’s held in Portland. Moving to Meals on Wheels allowed her love for cooking to flourish, while filling her desire for more regular hours. When she leaves her kitchen, Woods just keeps cooking. She and her partner have five children between the ages of three and 18.
“Some days by the time I get home,” she says with a short laugh, “I want to say, ‘you cook the meal!’” Mornings at the community center start at 8 am, with hot meals out the door by 10:30. Then, dining room prep begins. Country music usually streams from the radio. By 11:15, the dining room—tiled floor, cream walls and big windows—sets the backdrop for low income 65-and-over clients, who seat themselves at long cafeteria-style tables.
Mandarin speakers make up a large portion of Cherry Blossom’s client base, and Woods is learning the language so she can better communicate with those she serves. Some of her regular volunteers also speak Mandarin.
“It’s hard! [The volunteers] told me I was going to give up,” she says, while sliding marinated chicken onto beds of fresh greens next to four slices of orange.
As service is about to begin, a short, round-faced man with wispy white hair walks up to the counter pointing to the back of the kitchen, then his wrist.
“Dinner’s on soon,” she responds, trying to interpret his needs. He shakes his head no, and gestures like he has a mug in his hand. “Ohhh, you need coffee?” she asks. “Brewing more, it’ll be done soon.” He nods, and the “kitchen dance,” as Woods calls it, is complete. She effortlessly slides a heavy a tub of rice into the warmer and laughs. “Now I need to learn Russian, too.”
And she probably will. Woods’ commitment to the comfort of her dining room clients is paramount, and it shows.
“Some of these people are really hungry,” she says. “They need us.”
Wednesday is food box day. Clients show up as early as 7 am to receive pantry items delivered to the center by the Oregon Food Bank. Most of the patrons stay for lunch. On box days, Woods typically serves more than 100. Wednesday afternoons she also leads a teen cooking class through the community center.
“I feel like I’ve helped—and also relieved that we got it all done.” Woods says. “It’s a good feeling that people are fed and they don’t have to go home hungry.”
BOTTOM LINE FOR PORTLAND
April Woods prepares 300 meals daily for hungry, low-income seniors 65 and over, including hot meals that are delivered across the metro area and also directs more than 15 volunteers monthly.
April Woods’ prize is generously sponsored by Borders Perrin Norrander.
“In teaching, A.M. brings respect and a method in which our clients can learn to express their thoughts and feelings in a creative way. She is a passionate advocate for unheard voices and unheard stories. I believe A.M. has found her heart in this work.”
- Chaela Manning-Ferguson, Counselor, Columbia River Correctional Institution
It was the tattoo of an ink pen that got her the job, A.M. O’Malley jokes over coffee.
In 2007, just weeks after moving to Portland from Minneapolis, O’Malley interviewed for a position as outreach coordinator at the Independent Publishing Resource Center. But, she admits, the then-executive director (who had a similar tattoo) actually picked O’Malley for a background that included both zine making and teaching youth.
She hasn’t left.
“I can’t think of any other work in Portland for me,” she says. “My passion is giving voice to people who don’t have one, or aren’t heard a lot of times.”
O’Malley is the program director at the IPRC, which consists of letterpress and screen printing studios, a computer lab, a zine library and a workspace where people are encouraged to publish their own writing, artwork and digital media.
Every day, O’Malley answers inquiries from schools starved for arts education. She supervises interns and volunteers, manages in-house events, and meets with instructors. She sends out IPRC’s newsletter and updates the website. But that’s only in the mornings.
Most afternoons are spent elsewhere, often conducting writing workshops at the Columbia River Correctional Institution. O’Malley, who piloted the class two years ago, leads sessions and publishes the inmates’ work.
“I have this opportunity to help them write about their lives,” she says. “I really try to steer them to write nonfiction, because they have fascinating stories. I try to give them tools for how to do that.”
For inmates who “graduate,” O’Malley has written too many reference letters to count—for employers, landlords and colleges. Occasionally, she’ll teach an impromptu computer class at the prison.
“When some of these guys went into prison,” she says, “there were no iPhones.”
The inmates frequently share with her that the course changed their lives.
“They always talk about how I handed them this vehicle to have a voice,” she says. “I just make sure to let the guys I work with know that I’m on their side.” By Steph Barnhart
Bottome Line for Portland
A.M. has taught Zine Making 101 to more than 25,000 students in schools that thirst for arts programming, and her writing program for the Columbia River Correctional Institution has benefited 60 inmates in two years.
Her prize was generously sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon.
“She [works] with some of the most vulnerable people in our community, and authentically holds the hope for them when they are hopeless. The nonprofit sector is broad in its scope and not everyone is doing work that saves lives. Haven is.”
- Kathy Oliver, Executive Director, Outside In
Haven Wheelock doesn’t keep an appointment book. Instead, she spends large parts of the workday standing in her doorway. As the syringe exchange program coordinator at Outside In, she encounters more than 200 clients daily, and sees them one-on-one whenever they need her.
“Who gets to see me?” she says from an office with forest green walls, blue lamps, and half-drawn blinds. “Whoever walks through the door. I have no criteria. If my door is open, I’m ready to talk.”
Wheelock has a lot to talk about. The syringe exchange program, which promotes health among people who inject drugs, exists in part to offer HIV testing and a safe, clean spot for needle exchange, but also provides Naloxone trainings on demand.
Naloxone is a clear liquid drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, or, as Wheelock puts it, “Magic in a bottle.” In July 2013, due to legislation she helped write, it became legal for non-doctors to have, carry and use the drug. Now, clients at Outside In can become trained to administer Naloxen by Wheelock and her staff.
“Is Naloxone a Band-Aid?” Wheelock says, answering a question she hears a lot. “Yeah. It is. We need Band-Aids. Dead people don’t get to go to treatment. If you die, you don’t get to make those changes. And I want people to have a chance.”
According to Wheelock, there is an overdose-related death every 19 minutes. But since the Naloxone law was passed last year, and Outside In began training Portlanders in its use, heroin deaths have dropped by nearly 29 percent.
“These are people saving each other,” she says. “I get to empower them and provide them with tools to do that, but these are drug users who are saving the lives of each other. I find that brilliant and beautiful.”
Wheelock’s passion for the work of a syringe exchange program began in high school when she started doing HIV awareness work. She remembers her first training for a nonprofit job in New York.
“To walk into this space of people who, historically, I’ve been told are bad, they’re lazy, they have no willpower, they have no self control,” she says. “I went in afraid, but I knew there was no way that people there were any different than myself who’s made plenty of mistakes.”
Wheelock has no plans to do other work in the foreseeable future.
“These are my people,” she says. “This is my community. And I love that. I feel like I’m a part of the drug-using community and I’m proud of that.” By Steph Barnhart
Bottom Line for Portland
Haven coordinates the exchange of more than 750,000 needles annually and has conducted 900 Naloxone trainings in the past 18 months. More than 450 of those clients have reported an overdose reversal.
Her prize was generously sponsored by Willamette Week.
“His enthusiasm for what AC Portland provides kids is beyond compare. It’s amazing to sit with Jared in a car while driving through one of the communities and listen to him talk your ear off about what work needs to be done to make the community better. He is the best ambassador for these kids and they really need someone to be that for them.”
- Ben Dudley, executive director, AC Portland
As an eighth-grader, Jared Hoffman began playing soccer with Latino teenagers in his hometown on the Oregon coast. The familial way they got together for pickup games on weekends and their high level of play made Hoffman love the sport even more. So he quit all other sports for soccer.
His skills improved and his parents began driving him to Salem to play in clubs. But when he got there, it wasn’t what he expected.
“I realized the teams were made up of mostly affluent, Caucasian players,” Hoffman says. Two or three kids from less cushioned backgrounds might earn a scholarship to join a team, according to Hoffman, but most others were left out.
Now, Hoffman, 26, is the program manager for AC Portland, which runs soccer, slam poetry and nutrition programming for kids in the metro area, especially in Portland’s outer communities.
“I do this work to highlight a lot of the people that we forget about,” Hoffman says, noting that for low-income or immigrant families, access to sports is not always easy or equal.
Hoffman makes one thing clear: AC Portland doesn’t look down on the kids in the communities they serve. “We’re not having a pity party for these people,” he says. “We really believe that these are some of the greatest assets in the city. We want to project that.”
The energy and vibrant culture he finds in neighborhoods where AC Portland runs programs motivate Hoffman. His goal is to help expand Portlanders’ view of the city, and to help them recognize this community contains much more than good food, bike lanes and coffee shops.
“We’ve been really good at looking in and creating this cauldron of culture we’re comfortable with,” Hoffman says. “But we need to start being a little more uncomfortable and understanding the issues that people face. You can’t just come here and think this is an oasis. Because it’s not, for a lot of people.”
Bottom Line for Portland
Jared creates and facilitates afterschool soccer programming for more than 600 youth in the area, and has introduced a slam poetry component into AC Portland’s curriculum. By Steph Barnhart
His prize was generously sponsored by Adidas.
“His responsibility is to help [people] move off the streets and into permanent housing. But Tyrone does more than just that: He helps clients break down barriers that stand in their way of housing. He advocates, cajoles, follows up, networks, and works his butt off so that people can change their lives and move out from under bridges and off the streets.”
- Doreen Binder, executive director, Transition Projects
In 2009, Tyrone Rucker scraped up $134 and spent it on a Greyhound ticket from Los Angeles to Portland.
“I had zero,” he says. “I had nothing. And that’s where my journey began.”
Now—five years and many roles later within Portland’s subsidized housing community—he is a case manager at Transition Projects, which serves people as they move from homelessness to housing. In TP’s day center, people congregate daily for services that include laundry, lockers, showers, and a safe spot to sit away from the street.
It’s a drizzly Monday. Rucker, 32, steps through the door. Immediately, a woman in a black jacket and headscarf meets him midstride.
“You find me a house yet?” she asks, smiling.
“Awh, hey, Teresa!” Tyrone says back. “I got you. I got you.”
“OK, you been tellin’ me you’re findin’ me a house, and me and Terry need a house.”
“I got you.”
Rucker’s clients always want to know about time frame. “I tell them the more they work, the quicker it’s going to be,” he says.
During his first interactions with clients, Rucker lets them know he’s not an authority figure, a parole officer, or a magician.
“My job is to get [a client] into a house, however that looks,” he said. But he can’t place them all, and he knows it.
“Sometimes, that’s not the case,” he said. “I’m just accumulating people and accumulating people and I’m not able to push anybody out.”
But Rucker’s determination and firsthand knowledge keep him focused. Having been in similar circumstances, he understands the urgency homeless individuals often feel.
“They’re why I’m here,” he says. “Somebody’s gonna walk in here and say ‘I need help, I don’t know what to do,’ and I’ma be like, ‘Man, I got the solution for you.’ And then I’ll get them a house.”
Bottom Line for Portland
Tyrone placed 69 families from the street into housing last year; that’s more than 12.5 percent of Transition Projects’ annual goal of 550 families. After 12 months, his clients’ retention rate is more than 96 percent. By Steph Barnhart
His prize was generously sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine.
"Kit encourages others by supporting them in their endeavors and inspires and motivates others through his creative ideas."
—Sheryl Rindel, TransActive
TransActive, located in Southeast Portland, seeks to improve the lives of transgender and gender noncomforming youth and their families through counseling, community outreach and legal advocacy. In addition to emotional support, Kit Crosland, 26, hopes to provide trans youth with something tangible. He started the In a Bind exchange program to help trans-masculine youth who—because of a lack of money or acceptance—do not have access to chest binders. Men who no longer need their binders, a device used to flatten breasts, donate them to TransActive. Crosland then ships those binders to youth who are in need throughout the U.S. To date, the program has sent more than 450 chest binders and has a waiting list of more than 1,200. "In a Bind is designed to foster a sense of community. We call them the "band of brothers," Crosland says. "Donating an old binder after top surgery or sending $5 for shipping via PayPal doesn't take a lot, but the difference it makes to a kid living with unsupportive parents—both to receive the binder itself and to feel that community support—can be life changing."
His prize was generously sponsored by Morel Ink.
"She is gifted at helping youth believe they can achieve more than they may actually believe they can, and once a child understands that, there is nothing that can deter their drive to succeed." —Brigitte Griswold, the Nature Conservancy
Gladys Ruiz, 33, grew up in New York City public housing in the 1980s. In 2005, Ruiz moved to Portland where she now serves as the Audubon Society of Portland's eastside conservation education coordinator. But for the first 21 years of her life she was afraid of birds. When she was 19, she worked as a coastal steward for a nature conservancy, helping count endangered bird species. "I hated the fact that I was looking through binoculars, trying to find these tiny birds that looked like cotton balls and toothpicks," Ruiz says. Two years later, she joined AmeriCorps, where she began work with an ornithologist. "It wasn't until the last project in AmeriCorps that I kicked the fear of birds," she says. Ruize worked on Great Gull Island, off the coast of New York, with the common tern, a shore bird. Her job was to band chicks and trap the adults. The adults were aggressive, often pecking at her. But she bonded with the chicks. "You're looking down at these tiny nests with these tiny birds there's that moment like, "This is real," Ruiz says. "That scary thing is a little tiny thing."
Her prize was generously sponsored by Grady Britton.
"Her commitment to the nonprofit world is highly personal. She firmly believes that our community needs citizens who are dedicated to the common good. She takes the responsibility seriously." —Faith Danforth, Mercy Corps
At a young age, Kristin "Minka" Wallace lost her father to suicide and subsequently became a mom at 14. "There was a department at PSU that sponsored my daughter and me for Christmas," Wallace says. "I still have the running shoes today." While Wallace wants to give back, her plan isn't to break even. She wants to make Portland a better place to live for her daughter. As the development associate for the Library Foundation, Wallace runs the summer reading program, which encourages kids to read outside the classroom. "There are few institutions in modern society that are able to bring together people young and old, rich and poor, speaking a myriad of languages," Wallace says. "But the library does all of that. No one is turned away. And many leave with the tools they need to build a better future for themselves." Wallace says many people her age don't fully understand the role the library holds in our community. "Google can't answer every question," she says. In addition to lending books on how to make a terrarium or knit, the library hosts classes to help hone job interview skills. "It's a place you can walk away from feeling like the richest person alive," Wallace says.
Her prize was generously sponsored by Intel.
"Monika doesn't just have a place in her heart for this work: she has a personal, daily commitment to making the world a better place and strives to create space where each person is honored for their unique gifts."
—Rebecca Nickels, Portland Women's Crisis Line
Fifteen Oregonians died from domestic violence this year, according to the Portland Women's Crisis Line. PWCL hosts a 24-hour phone line for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Over the phone, survivors find immediate intervention, safety planning and connections to resources. "A lot of time when a person is fleeing domestic violence that means leaving their home," Monika Weitzel, a PWCL direct service advocate, says. "The No. 1 cause of houselessness for women is domestic violence." Weitzel's personal experiences with sexual and domestic abuse have led her on a mission to provide support for other survivors. She first volunteered at Rose Haven, a shelter for women and children, where she says many women told her their houselessness was a result of their abuse. She wanted to find a place to work on the root of the problem. "When I asked these women where they sought support around these issues, the answer was PWCL every time," Weitzel says. In addition to answering the crisis line and responding to the hospital, Weitzel, 28, provides one-one-one support to survivors experiencing houselessness. "I found what I want to do with my life, for sure," she says.
The prize is generously sponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine.
Transition Projects Inc., at the corner of Northwest Broadway and Hoyt Street, seeks to be the final stop for the disenfranchised, attempting to aid Portland’s vast homeless population, estimated at more than 2,500. In Multnomah County, it’s also estimated that 12 percent of that population are military veterans.
This is Chris Aiosa’s element.
“As a veteran serving veterans, Chris’ ability to relate to his clients sets him apart from others,” says Stacy Borke, Aiosa’s supervisor. “He can speak the language.”
In 1998, following a recommendation from his oldest brother, Aiosa enlisted in the Air Force.
Following his tour, Aiosa attended Temple University in Philadelphia, where he would discover Philabundance, a nonprofit food bank. Its Fresh for All program, which takes excess fresh produce from grocery stores and distributes it to low-income communities, introduced Aiosa to working with those experiencing poverty.
“I was hooked,” the 32-year-old says. “I knew I wanted to work with the least-fortunate demographic in my community.”
Gentlemen: In the locker rooms!” shouts Francisco Hernandez, as young men sprint from the parking lot of Roosevelt High School. “If you plan on playing today: In the locker rooms!”
Hernandez, 28, is what’s known in the parlance as a Social and Support Services for Educational Success case manager, stationed at Roosevelt and Wilson high schools. Each year he works with nearly 50 students at risk of failing.
“We help them build goals that are achievable,” Hernandez says. “We want them to be successful in school and not feel disconnected. That’s the big issue for a lot of kids; they feel that nobody cares. Or they feel like they’re just going through the motions.”
Along with coaching basketball and football, Hernandez is a mentor and stable role model for the students he tutors in Neighborhood House’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Service System, which provides extended-day opportunities, activities, clubs and tutoring.
“A lot of these kids are like me,” he says. “I grew up in a house where it wasn’t the traditional family structure, and a lot of these kids have barriers I faced while I was going through school. I just needed one adult to help me get through those barriers.”
Lupita Mendez was born in Washington, D.C., and spent her early life on a farm outside of Culpeper, Va. She came to Oregon following her parents’ divorce and graduated from Dalles-Wahtonka High School in 2002.
A self-described “bleeding heart,” Mendez, 28, is the personification of a minority. She is a woman, a Latina, a lesbian and the daughter of an undocumented worker.
It was August 2009 when Bradley Angle, a Portland domestic violence shelter, interviewed Mendez for a smaller position. However, her combined experiences in working with the LGBTQ community as well as her work with domestic violence survivors made her an ideal candidate to restart the shelter’s LGBTQ subdivision.
“To put it bluntly, my résumé was very gay,” she laughs.
With constant outreach into the communities they serve, Mendez and Bradley Angle feel there are always ways to innovate.
“A lot of people in the field talk about change that needs to happen,” says Rebecca Norman, development and communications manager at Bradley Angle. “Lupita is one of the few who is actually putting real, thoughtful, innovative action behind the change she wants to see.”
A land of mountains, forests, wetlands, lakes and rivers, Oregon is not lacking for intricately crafted hiking trails, serene camping grounds or estuarine marshes. This is why 28-year-old Rob Klavins first moved here, he explains. Klavins is now wildlands and wildlife advocate for Oregon Wild, whose mission since 1974 has been to protect and restore the state’s wildlands, wildlife and water.
Since joining the team in 2008, Klavins has worked on several issues, including roadless-area protection, wolf and wildlife recovery, and public-lands policy.
Most of Klavins’ work with wolf recovery has been to counter the campaign of what he considers misinformation and fears about wolves. He organizes educational outdoor programs in which he takes hikers to wolf country so they can see where the animals are and talk to those who have learned to live with them. Yet, every year, Oregon faces anti-wolf legislation in the State Legislature. “We try to avoid conflict and look to have solutions first,” Klavins says, “but we do draw a firm line.”
“Day in and day out, [Klavins] battles livestock-industry lobbyists and PR consultants who make 10 times the money he does, and he beats them,” says Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild.
Why he chose to work in the nonprofit arena:
The nonprofit field chose me, long ago. I have always been a service-oriented person—it runs in the family.
What motivated him to do this:
In January 2010, I was so bowled over by the unfolding earthquake disaster in Haiti that I was moved to set about producing “Songs for Haiti” at the Aladdin Theater with Tom Sessa, Thomas Lauderdale and many others. A friend mentioned a group called PHAME, and said they had a “remarkable” choir, comprised entirely of adults with developmental disabilities. To be frank, I was skeptical. He raved. I caved, and invited the PHAME choir to join the show. I vividly recall standing in the wings of the Aladdin, totally awestruck by the power and heart when the PHAME choir hit the stage that night. I vowed to get involved with PHAME as soon as I could.
The Circus Project
Why she chose to work in the nonprofit arena:
I’ve always been interested in building sustainable communities. I work best in a collaborative environment, and believe that our collective creativity is more powerful than that of any single individual. Both the structure and intention of the nonprofit model resonate with this belief.
What motivated her to do this:
In 2008, I founded the Circus Project, based on the belief that the unique appeal of circus arts would benefit homeless and at-risk youth in unprecedented ways, and that they, in turn, would propel the growing field of circus arts-—with their unique perspectives and fervent passion—to new heights.
My Voice Music
Why he chose to work in the nonprofit arena: I grew up witnessing the positive effects that nonprofit organizations can have on individuals, families and communities. I understand on a personal level that nonprofit organizations can provide opportunities that break negative cultural cycles and create positive support systems that are transformative for both individuals and communities. Nothing makes more sense to me than investing in the lives of our young people.
What motivated him to do this: I was motivated to found, and work for, My Voice Music after I witnessed the unique and powerful role music can have in connecting with youth who are not being reached in typical settings.
Friends of the Children
Why she chose to work in the nonprofit arena:
I chose to work in the nonprofit field, specializing in youth services, so I could contribute to breaking generational cycles of inequities in order to make real differences within communities. In my childhood, I was the recipient of services provided by nonprofit organizations specializing in foster care and education. The impact they made on my life, and the ripple effect this has had on my family, have created a passion within me to make the same commitment toward making a difference for others.
What motivated her to do this:
I’ve had experiences similar to many of the youth in the Friends of the Children program. I feel compelled to provide a road map to other youth who have experienced similar childhood challenges. I believe in the mission to take strengths-based approaches to help youth in challenging situations to overcome their barriers and become resilient.
Leah Hall, a confident, likable mother of four, has been clean for over seven years, but before then things weren’t so good. Hall, 33, grew up in a family of alcoholics, and spent her early adult life addicted to methamphetamines. By the time she entered a residential treatment center at age 25, she was facing the prospect of prison time and her eldest daughter had been placed in temporary foster care.
These days, Hall works as a parent mentor for Morrison Child and Family Services, helping people in situations similar to the one she escaped.
“The name is misleading,” she says. “We don’t teach any parenting classes—we mentor parents.” Specifically, parents whose children have been removed by the state. Hall’s job is to help them learn to function as people so they can get clean, get a job and get their kids back.
On a typical day, Hall will take her clients to 12-step meetings, or just out for coffee. She’ll teach them how to shop on a budget, or help them find employment or housing. Three days a week, she goes to the county courthouse to help parents through preliminary hearings. She fills out paperwork. She helps them heal.
“The hardest part was when I came to the realization that not all parents get their kids back, and that it’s probably in the best interest of the child that they don’t go home,” Hall says. But that’s not how it usually goes. Seventy-five percent of the mothers Hall mentors get sober and have their children returned. (Only half the parents who go through the process unassisted are successful.)
“I see parents that I’ve mentored in the community, and they’re still clean,” Hall says. One of them is now a parent mentor herself. Hall is humble in the face of her success as a mentor.
“To even be nominated for something like [the Skidmore Prize] is amazing. When they called to tell me I’d won, I kept thinking they were lying,” she says. “Do they know who I am? Seven years ago I was on my way to prison. Sometimes I wake up and think, ‘Is this really my life?’”
Israel Bayer wants to get people talking—both as they buy Street Roots and after they read it.
The bimonthly street paper, which covers issues relating to poverty, gives the homeless vendors who sell it a chance to make some money (75 cents a paper) and interact with a wide range of people.
“Selling the newspaper is not just about the income from the earnings, it’s about self worth,” Bayer says. “Ultimately, the beautiful thing about this paper is it’s building community on street corners.”
Bayer, 35, started volunteering for the nonprofit newspaper soon after it started in 1998. He has since become director, overseeing fundraising and advocacy efforts as well as the 70 volunteers who contribute articles and photos, and the nearly 100 vendors who sell the finished product.
Though he shies away from saying if he was ever homeless himself, Bayer grew up poor. Raised by a single mother in the gritty industrial town of Alton, Ill., he dropped out of high school and wandered the country for several years, working at fast-food joints and convenience stores.
He considers these jobs his first introduction to social service work.
“I have worked with every kind of individual,” he says, recalling the lottery junkies and people who lived on Hostess and booze who would frequent the 7-Elevens during his night shifts.
Bayer acknowledges that for years, people viewed Street Roots as a “leftist rag” or purchased it as an act of charity, not because they wanted to read it. But that’s changed, he says, since he and managing editor Joanne Zuhl started being more selective as they chose content and began taking on more serious investigative projects.
“I think people expect less from a homeless newspaper, but when you pick Street Roots up and read it, you’re pleasantly surprised,” he says.
Though affected by the recession, the paper is growing. It currently prints 100,000 issues per cycle and has an annual budget of $230,000, more than twice the 2007 budget of $90,000. Bayer hopes to eventually publish weekly.
Though he works hard on the big picture, Bayer tries to stay in contact with the people the paper serves. He sleeps on the streets with the vendors at least once a year and interacts with them as much as he can.
“Everything about poverty and homelessness is gray and convoluted,” he says. “We try to be that stabilizing factor, creating a familylike environment where it doesn’t matter where you came from or your past.”
Bayer plans to donate his Skidmore Prize winnings to the paper.
Everyone has dreams. Laura Streib’s was to make other people’s come true.
Streib, 32, is the founder and director of Vibe of Portland, a nonprofit that offers free after-school arts and music classes to kids at Harrison Park Elementary in outer Southeast Portland. When the K-8 school was forced to cut its music program two years ago due to budget woes, Streib’s organization was there to pick up the pieces.
The Washington native, who plays the oboe and English horn, dreamed up Vibe while attending Portland State University. “I saw the great need for arts and music to be available to all kids regardless of socioeconomic means,” she says. Streib was horrified to find that kids didn’t get arts and music. “Maybe they’re the next Yo-Yo Ma,” she says. “They don’t know. They wouldn’t have the opportunity.”
What began in Streib’s home four years ago has grown to include preschool art classes and music scholarships for private lessons in addition to the after-school program. A $25,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project and $5,000 from the local Imago Dei Christian group has helped Vibe cover costs for another year and add two more classes to its already impressive curriculum.
The arts and music program at Harrison Park offers seven classes for students, including comic-book illustration and guitar instruction. Students are provided top-notch instruments (which they can check out) and supplies Streib either receives in donation from other nonprofits or buys herself.
In the coming years, Streib hopes to begin programs at other schools while increasing course offerings. “I would love to start an after-school band program or orchestra,” she says. Streib also envisions an artist-in-residence program for artists and musicians who teach classes to have space in a future permanent home for Vibe.
More programs mean more money, and Streib works tirelessly applying for grants and organizing benefits. She has even held exhibits in the Pearl that showcase students’ artwork. At a recent gala, a Texas man bought the entire collection for his home and asked that the artists sign the back of their work. Streib’s eyes lit up as she described the event, “Moments like those make me want to work harder to help more and more kids experience how it feels to be valued as an artist and person.”
Gaby Mendez is so persuasive, she can talk a fourth-grader into attending summer school voluntarily. The 31-year-old case manager for Neighborhood House’s CASASTART program projects an aura of calm authority. It’s a handy trait to have when one’s job involves keeping track of 18 students in second through fifth grades whose housing or family situations place them at high risk of eventually falling into drug abuse and delinquency.
For the past two years, Mendez has been one of two case managers at Sitton Elementary, the northernmost of Portland’s public schools, where 81 percent of the 294 students qualified for free and reduced-price lunch programs in the 2009-10 school year.
It’s Mendez’s job to check that her students have made it to school, observe how they’re working with their peers in the classroom, encourage them to participate in after-school and summer programs and give them one-on-one tutoring. She keeps in touch with their parents to ensure that progress at school isn’t hampered by trouble at home. She helps parents find employment or housing when they need it, and connects them to other social services.
“If we do enough work in the early years,” Mendez says, “we can help students be more successful later.”
In an example of just the sort of activism the Skidmore Prize is designed to recognize, Mendez started a monthly Latino Parents Meeting in 2009. Sitton’s student body is 40 percent Latino, and Mendez says the parents had little involvement in the school.
“In other countries, the culture is different; there’s a separation,” she says. “Parents send their kids to school to learn and parents take care of them at home, but they aren’t involved in education. But for your child to be successful, we do need some parent involvement.”
At the meeting, Mendez has brought in experts to teach home math exercises and other teaching skills, a financial adviser and representatives from the County Library and Hacienda CDC.
“[Mendez] anticipated and met all of the needs that might have kept families away,” wrote Jane Fielding, Sitton’s principal. “Through her care, a community has been built and their contributions to the school has been felt.”
Mendez says she enjoys her work, but, like everyone in social work now, she struggles to make the most of tight assets. “There are not enough resources available for families that need them,” she says. “It limits us in ways that we can support them through various challenges they may face.”
You, reader, can change that.
When Amy Sacks turned her lifelong passion for animals into a career in 2006, she named her new nonprofit after her parents’ dog, Pixie, a rescue animal she insisted they keep.
The Pixie Project, which Sacks, 26, has directed ever since, is part animal adoption center, part pet supply store. She intends for it to become self-sustaining through the sale of pet supplies—a business model she hopes will be copied in other cities. Her adoption center does not take owner surrenders or strays but instead functions as a support system for existing shelters that struggle with overpopulation. Sacks wants to get the message out to future pet owners: “I want to get into schools and educate kids about why we spay and neuter, why we adopt,” she says.
“In an ideal world, if we had the money, I’d have the staff to staff my store [so] I could be out in the community pushing these agendas and progressing our cause,” Sacks adds. “But the reality is, with four staff members and a store that’s open six days a week and staffed seven days a week for care, we’re a little bit limited.” Even with limited resources, Pixie Project has placed more than 1,000 animals in homes in the past two years, and Sacks says the Project does such careful matching of pets and owners only a handful have come back. “Our return rate is minute compared to a traditional shelter—I’d say it’s less than 1 percent,” she says. Directing this effort is a 24/7 job, and the idea of a “normal” 9-to-5 work day, Sacks admits, “is at this point completely foreign to me.”
Sacks often compares the Pixie Project to more traditional shelters hidden on the outskirts of cities across the country. She admits the scenes in them are often gruesome: dogs hit by cars, families crying as they’re forced to give up their pets. The city would rather pretend the problem doesn’t exist. “It’s the reality, but no one wants to look at it. It’s not part of a fun-filled day,” she says.
As for Pixie Project, Sacks is hoping a crafty combination of friendly faces and a chance to play with the dogs in their open shelter or to sit in a room surrounded by cats will entice people to adopt.
So far, it appears to be working.
Brandi Tuck found her passion for working with homeless families while at school in Florida. After moving to Portland, she began volunteering at Goose Hollow Family Shelter, an emergency facility where parents and children can find meals, beds and advocates who will work to find them permanent homes, while also working at the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force on anti-hunger policy. Two years into volunteering, Tuck was hired as the executive director of Goose Hollow. She was 24. And though she’s proud of being the head of an organization that’s making noticeable changes in her community, the now-26-year-old still feels like she’s sacrificed the respect of loved ones who view money as an indicator of success.
More to the point, she’s got more than enough to keep her mind occupied. “I have about 17 to-do lists at any given time. I try to do a little bit of fundraising every day, whether it’s writing grants, or working on appeal letters, or working with the donor base. Three to four nights a week I try to stay at the shelter and have dinner with the families.”
And then there is the business side of things. “While families stay at Goose Hollow, they work with case managers to help them find permanent housing,” Tuck says. “Last year 71 percent were able to find permanent housing before leaving the shelter.”
Over two years, she has expanded Goose Hollow’s services to seven months out of the year, with the help of a legion of volunteers. Last year Goose Hollow applied for—and was granted—nonprofit status, more than 10 years after its doors first opened to families in need.
While its capacity to help has grown, Tuck says the need for the service has grown as well: “The average length of a stay last year was 31 days. The average length of a stay the year before that was 17 days, which I think just shows the signs of the economy.”
Tuck’s next project is Goose Hollow’s first day shelter, which opened a little over a week ago. The hope is it will take some of the pressure off families as they work toward obtaining affordable housing. It represents a large step for Tuck toward reaching her ultimate goal: “The one thing that I really want more than anything is for us to be open year-round. There’s a huge need—something like 850 homeless families on any given night in Portland—but there’s only space in shelters for 68. During the summer, there’s only 35. I’d love to stay open year-round, but it’s purely funding.”
Fowzia Abdulle knows all about trauma. She’s been working for three years as an advocate and case manager with Healing Roots, the Bradley Angle House’s culturally specific response to domestic violence. The center, which opened in 2007, seeks to provide emergency shelter and affordable, long-term housing to African and African-American women in need.
Abdulle’s work puts her in the path of many women and children dealing with trauma. She is often the first person a survivor of domestic abuse sees on arrival at Healing Roots. And Abdulle has the added challenge of empowering women who were raised in cultures that discourage the slightest discussion of abuse.
“Some women don’t know how to talk about domestic violence,” says Abdulle, 35. “It’s hard for them to open up. For African-Americans, it’s easy, they can talk about it. African women, they don’t at all.” It’s a situation Abdulle, a Somalian refugee who came to America in 2002, understands personally. Her experience gives women in her care reason to trust her.
“Coming from a war country, I have seen many people, especially women and children, who suffered either because of rape, hunger or being killed. I felt like this was my time to help them, by providing advocacy for those women and children who are in abusive relationships and be their voices when others can’t hear them,” she says. Abdulle’s fundamental task is to keep her clients safe. The emergency shelter on site can hold up to seven women; if it’s full, victims are offered hotel vouchers. Even if a bed is available, however, the cultural divide often makes it impossible for women to feel comfortable in the shelter.
Despite these challenges, Abdulle is determined to help each woman reach goals she couldn’t imagine before coming in for help. At the same time she’s been going to school to obtain a social-work degree. (She already has one in computer information systems.) And she is learning more Arabic. Abdulle already speaks Swahili, Somali and English—which could all come in handy for her big plan. “My personal goal is to provide social work served on an international level,” she says, “and help women and children who are in refugee camps and war zones, so I can empower them and give back to my community.”
Jennifer Gilmore could have gone for the big bucks. After a semester at Lewis & Clark in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she graduated at the top of her class from Tulane Law School in New Orleans. There were plenty of options for this promising young lawyer, many of them much more remunerative, but she chose to work for a nonprofit organization that represents children in divorce proceedings. Helping kids was what she wanted to do, and the lack of a high wage couldn’t change her mind. “Whatever chromosome there is for making a lot of money,” Gilmore says, “I don’t have it. I’ve worked in nonprofits my entire career. One of the things I love about working nonprofit is that you’re doing a job that you love, that engages you, that captivates you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t work for the salary.”
Gilmore’s services as a lawyer don’t cost her young clients or their parents a dime; at the same time, her representation is about as good as her clients could get at any price. “My role in court is not just a struggle to control parents,” Gilmore says. “The population we work with is pretty much the toughest custody cases that are going in front of courts. Unfortunately, these also happen to be the lowest-income families. They have no access to any kinds of services. In addition to high conflict between parents, there’s domestic violence, parental substance abuse, mental illness—all of these issues that put the child at risk.”
Which is why Gilmore took the gig. Her deepest concern is that during the domestic-relations process, the parents tend to fill up the room. Parents see through their own lens, their own hurt.
“We support kids,” says Gilmore. “We give them an outlet during the case, some control over a situation that turns life upside down…the idea is that children’s attorneys are important because kids’ views and needs and concerns are important.”
Katy Kolker says she’s found her dream job, but it probably doesn’t look like yours.
Kolker, 28, is the executive director and sole employee of the Portland Fruit Tree Project, an organization devoted to harvesting unwanted fruit from trees across Portland to feed families in need. It was, for a long time, a labor of love—the Project only recently acquired the funds to pay Kolker, who spent much of the past two years volunteering almost full-time.
The Baltimore native, whose background is in biology and environmental studies, started the Project 2 1/2 years ago when she was volunteering with AmeriCorps. In their own neighborhoods, Kolker and another AmeriCorps member picked fruit and pruned trees belonging to elderly or infirm homeowners who were unable to pick the fruit themselves. That first year they had so much interest that they decided to take it beyond their neighborhoods. Last year the Project went citywide. Fruit-tree owners submit their underharvested trees to a registry, and Kolker and her board organize harvesting parties. Half the fruit goes home with the volunteers and half goes to various local food banks. In addition, half the volunteer slots (for which there is a substantial waiting list) are reserved for people living on low incomes, so fully three-quarters of the harvested fruit goes to people in need.
The Fruit Tree Project hosted 12 harvesting events in 2008, picking over 4,000 pounds of fresh fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste. So far this year Kolker estimates some 1,000 families have benefited.
“Fresh fruit is challenging for the emergency food network to acquire, and we were seeing this obvious resource going to waste,” she says. “It’s amazing how many people can’t afford to eat healthily, and to buy fresh produce.”
The Project also teaches workshops on food preservation in the fall and tree care in winter—with the goal, Kolker says, of “not just harvesting, but empowering people to use the fruit and make it last through winter.”
In about a year, Kolker hopes to begin a community orchard planting program, partnering with other organizations to plant orchards in public sites like churches, schools and community gardens. “We see the potential for this to blossom into a neighborhood-based resource sharing network,” says Kolker. “Eventually we may get into vegetables or berries, but capacity is the main factor for now.”
Kolker’s vision seems to be spreading. She says she’s been contacted by people from all over the country — and a few in Canada — hoping to start similar projects, and gets calls from people in Eugene “about once a month. I haven’t had time to call anyone back all summer. That’s my project for the winter.”
Amy Harwood never intended to get into environmental activism. Her first love was the political world, and her background is in election campaigning. But when she moved out here more than 10 years ago from her childhood home in Portland, Maine, to attend Lewis & Clark College, she fell in love with Mount Hood.
“Coming from the East Coast, where there’s not a lot of public land, it just blew my mind,” she said. And this being Portland—land of outspoken people with causes—she very naturally got swept up into advocacy for the area’s towering geological landmark.
What started 10 years ago as a passionate act of volunteering is now a full-time gig. Harwood currently works as a program director for Bark, a grassroots organization devoted to protecting all the roots, grasses, trees and waters that make Mount Hood the hulking thing of beauty it is.
Harwood’s hours are split fairly evenly between office work and time on the mountain, but what she really loves is being outside. “The more time you get on the ground, the better the advocate you are.”
Harwood dreams of the day when Mount Hood will be seen as a scenic hideaway and great source for clean drinking water, and not simply a place to harvest lumber. The beautiful natural areas that surround the city are part of what makes Portland so exceptional, and she fears their loss. But ultimately, the way to save the forest is to make people aware of what’s happening.
On the second Sunday of every month, she leads tour groups to parts of the park in danger of being stripped for their resources. She describes the treks as relatively easy and a great way to educate lay people about the problems Mount Hood faces. Oftentimes members of her group climb the mountain only to find their favorite part of the forest has been logged.
These events frequently lead to what Harwood cites as her greatest source of pride: “When I can train somebody else to be a trainer.”
She wants to use her prize money to expand Signal Fire (signalfirearts.org), the artist residency program run by Harwood and her husband. They take artists from the city and place them in a remodeled studio trailer on the mountain for two weeks with a bike and enough food to survive. “We want people to soak up the inspiration, and hopefully feel the same aesthetic calling I feel when I’m out there,” she said.
Escapes to nature may be a way of getting away from civilization, but they’re not about running away from humanity. In fact, Harwood says it’s quite the opposite. “As soon as I get out there, I feel like a more whole person.”
Rodolfo Serna winces with embarrassment recalling his brief stint as a used-car salesman. “This little old lady,” he reminisces, “needed a car to transport her grandchildren. And I sold her a lemon.” When the irate woman returned in her new junker the very next day, Serna, wracked with guilt, explained she was protected under state lemon laws. “Go ahead and leave the keys on the counter,” he counseled her. “Just go.” The woman looked at him, surprised, and then followed his instructions.
Serna promptly exited the used-car business and commenced a zigzagging path of service—washing clothes for the homeless, organizing mural paintings, working with Native American groups, African-American groups, the Oregon Council for Hispanic Advancement and the Hispanic Access Center. Eventually, he joined the Portland nonprofit p:ear in 2007 as a “transition coordinator,” tasked with “assisting homeless youth in getting off the streets.”
At p:ear, a drop-in workshop/studio/library/cafeteria provides homeless teens with a safe space for creativity and a storefront gallery to showcase their work. The teens build self-esteem while practicing self-expression—be it in the form of a painting, photograph, written story or photocopied zine. And while art may be what is most visible to observers, Serna credits p:ear's success to its focus on mentoring: “I would have to say my motivation has shifted from being excited about an opportunity to use my art to feeling grateful that I am part of this community.”
“Our relationship model,” he explains, “is what differentiates us from other organizations.” Mentors form close, lasting bonds with p:ear’s budding artists, with no set agenda for progress or benchmarks. Because p:ear is “privately funded, for the most part”—as opposed to relying on grant money—funding is not “tied to outcomes,” thus freeing Serna to pursue less measurable goals.
Asked what aspect of p:ear he finds most satisfying, Serna pauses to think, then speaks seriously. “Some things can't be fixed,” he says. One p:ear mentee is 16 years old and HIV-positive. “I'll never fix that. Just being able to be there, being able to be present—that is a blessing.”
After Polly Bangs graduated from Portland State nine years ago with an English degree at age 24, she set out to find a job. And got rejected. “I come from a family of teachers,” she says, “and I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. I just knew I didn’t want to be a teacher.”
Whether it was that rejection—or a “weird part of [her] that always wanted to change the world”—Polly’s life has turned into a crusade to get homeless and at-risk youth into employment, and she wouldn’t trade it for a thing.
Bangs’ eclectic resume begins at New Avenues for Youth, where she was a day service counselor at the drop-in center. After nearly two years at New Avenues, Bangs had one of those famous “Aha!” moments when she felt she suddenly understood one of the components of what was holding these kids back, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness and unemployment. It was this: “They needed income. They just wanted to work. But many of the youth at New Avenues didn’t have addresses, or a phone. No one was giving them the chance.”
Bangs used that insight to take the plunge into a daunting arena: the restaurant industry. Amid the Atkins craze of 2004, and despite the abundance of doubters, Bangs opened Pasta Bangs on North Mississippi Avenue to serve the dual mission of offering delish dining and real-life job skills training for at-risk and homeless youth. “People said I was crazy. But once I start something, I finish it,” she says.
Inspired by Jamie Oliver, the famed “Naked Chef,” Bangs managed to employ over 50 youths for three- to six-month stints during Pasta Bangs’ three-year existence. Bangs says her role was to “interview, train, supervise, critique, hire and give these youth that first job they couldn’t get anywhere else.”
Even before Pasta Bangs sold its last plate of pesto penne, Bangs was working on her next venture: starting an organization to work under a larger nonprofit, to continue her mission of finding job placements for at-risk youth. Less than two months later, Urban Opportunities was born.
Currently the do-all mastermind behind Urban Opportunities, Bangs trains 40 youths each year from five Portland-area high schools to do everything from creating their first résumé to securing their first job. Ironically, in her own unconventional way, Bangs is also the epitome of a great teacher. As for the future? “I’d like to expand the program,” Bangs says, “…to Hawaii.” And laughs. “But really, I think this is a program that could work anywhere, and I would like to see it grow.” While the future may remain uncertain, one thing is sure: Polly Bangs is always spinning those wheels. As she puts it, “I get a little wiggy if I don’t have something I’m working on.”
The Center for Intercultural Organizing in Northeast Portland looks like the scene of a party. Amid bright walls painted in orange and yellow, chairs are covered in boxes of fresh pizza and bags overflowing with candy.
But Kayse Jama, the center’s 33-year-old executive director, wears a pressed gray suit and a serious expression. Jama, a Somali-born Muslim, founded the center four years ago to counter the Islamophobia he felt mounting around him after Sept. 11.
All that pizza is left over from a party to kick off a letter-writing campaign encouraging grassroots organizations throughout Oregon to fight two proposed statewide ballot initiatives. One initiative would cut funding for English-as-a second-language classes; the other would require local government to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
The center has 105 members, half of whom are immigrants or refugees. It encourages participation in community organizing and local government because, Jama says, “We believe that the people who are affected by the issues should take a leadership role to solve those issues. We facilitate and provide the trainings for them to organize cross-culturally, allowing the community members to take charge.”
The issues Jama refers to—immigration reform, xenophobia and access to education—are familiar to him.
Jama left war-torn Somalia in 1998 and came to the United States, where he worked 12-hour days in San Diego without wages in exchange for room and board.
“I suddenly found myself a Black Muslim immigrant refugee in the U.S.,” recalls Jama, who moved to Portland in 1999 because it was smaller and cheaper than San Diego and because he had a Somali friend here. “That didn’t give me a lot of space to feel empowered or respected. My goal is to prevent other immigrant-refugees from experiencing what I have seen
Jama encourages immigrants to become organizers and take free classes at the center to learn about civil engagement. The center is working with Oregon Action and Latino Network to create the Diversity and Civic Leadership Academy, where refugees, immigrants and people of color can learn leadership advocacy techniques plus the ins and outs of local government. The center’s yearlong academy will be an expansion of a six-week workshop already offered by the center.
“Portland is one of the whitest cities in the U.S.,” Jama says. “Immigrants and refugees cannot survive alone, in our own ethnic groups. We provide a space where they can come together to organize and strategize to impact the issues that they
Follow Neal Armstrong down a narrow staircase in the back of Northeast Alberta Street’s Community Cycling Center, and you’re suddenly immersed in a singular world.
Hundreds of bikes of all makes and sizes and in all states of disrepair are everywhere: adult mountain bikes hung from ceiling racks, mountains of children’s bikes stacked on the floor, every open space filled with boxes of used parts awaiting a
Amazingly, there is order amid all this chaos thanks in no small measure to the center’s 29-year-old volunteer and
Armstrong speaks affectionately of the many programs that will become homes for these bikes—almost all donated to the Center, where they are cleaned and refurbished before being passed along.
There is the Create a Commuter Program, in which low-income adults get a bicycle complete with lights, lock, helmet and rack to help with their commuting needs. Or Armstrong’s baby, the Holiday Bike Drive, in which every December, 500 bikes are provided to underprivileged children.
It is Armstrong’s job to organize these volunteer-fueled projects while creating an environment that feels rewarding to everyone involved.
By any measure, he has succeeded. CCC has built up a staggering volunteer base to help with its cycling-related programs—more than 2,000 people donated 16,500 hours of their time last year. But Armstrong, who has been with CCC for two years—after finishing a Peace Corps stint in West Africa—isn’t content simply with big numbers.
“I want to promote and provide volunteer opportunities that engage deeper than just coming in for a couple of hours,” he says. Armstrong sees volunteering, which he has been involved with in one shape or another since high school in Tucson, as a way for people to become more involved and invested in their community.
“This organization and my job are a perfect blend of everything I want to work for,” he says of CCC. “It creates opportunities for the community through volunteering, and it gets people on bikes, giving them the confidence and freedom to
As a measure of the Center’s success, he points to the number of people who repeatedly volunteer, people with all different levels of mechanical skills who continue to spend their free time preparing the rows and stacks of bikes for a new life on the road.
“We’ve transferred the goals of the organization to the goals of the community,” says Armstrong, surrounded by bicycles in all directions. “People have a place here.”
McCoy Village is a nondescript apartment complex on the busy intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Prescott Street. But walk inside its double doors and there’s a large room filled with a dozen kids ages 7 to 13 busy doing
This is the office of the Giving Tree, a Portland-based nonprofit dedicated to providing disadvantaged, low-income people access to the arts, culture and recreation.
Founded in 2006 by Wendi Anderson, the Giving Tree already serves at least 50 to 70 people a week. Anderson spends 30 unpaid hours each week visiting people who are moving from homelessness into single-room occupancy housing.
“When they’re in transition, they are given the basics,” says Anderson, 34. “A room with a bed, a dresser, clothes, food boxes—but that’s just surviving.”
“It’s the first time that they’ve had four walls around them,” she says. “It’s not the social environment that they’re used to, and they don’t realize what is out there for them.”
Anderson’s mission: to take those people out of their rooms to experience Portland—to First Thursdays, parks, the Oregon Zoo. The Giving Tree also provides a space for kids to come after school and do their homework. And in the summer, the Giving Tree hosts an all-day program with as many as 22 kids supervised by Anderson, who got into social services through her work as human-services coordinator for a property-management company.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing their eyes light up when they recognize something…and ‘get it,’” she says. “They just aren’t surviving, they’re living.”
The Giving Tree aims to expand its scope in the future. But what Anderson is really anticipating is watching the kids she is working with grow up.
“I’ve helped a couple apply to college,” she says. “But it’s so hard to get older kids to come, because they’re like, ‘It’s not cool.’”
When she talks to the younger kids about college, she doesn’t say, ‘If you go to college.’
“I say, ‘When you go to college,’” she says. “And talk like
Not everyone’s job might involve poetry reading, a drag show and suicide counseling—all on the same night.
But as resource center supervisor for the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center, that’s all in a day’s work for Zan Gibbs. Since 1998, the 32-year-old Montreal native has focused on the Southeast Portland center dedicated to providing a safe and supportive place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth.
Gibbs has been at SMYRC nearly since it started, when there was nothing comparable in the Portland area. She sees an average each day of 40 to 80 at-risk youth age 23 and younger. And Gibbs obviously loves her job.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 10 years,” says Gibbs, who’s known around the center by such names as “Papa SMYRC” and “Zanimal.” “It’s a different experience every day.”
Gibbs is in charge of supervising the approximately 75 adult volunteers who run the place.
Her days at the center are as surprising as the kids who walk in. “You can never predict the stability or crisis level of anyone walking in the door,” she says. A typical day at SMYRC, she says, is one where she has to “wear 20 hats, have 20 arms, and 20 eyes…. Everyone needs to get their needs met, and everyone has different needs.”
Gibbs says the biggest reward of working at SMYRC has been her realization that “youths can do whatever they set their minds to, given the opportunity.”
Recently, this sort of inspiration took root in Gibbs’ life as well. Having suffered from asthma since childhood, she became so inspired by the progress of her LGBTQQ youth she decided to take part in an Ironman competition. And this past summer, with full support from SMYRC youths and coworkers, plus seven years of training, she completed her goal.
“This place is such a part of me…I can’t even imagine not being here,” Gibbs says. “I’ve learned more from the youths here than anywhere else in my life.”
Darren Linder loves kids. He has to: It’s his job. Since 1999, the tattooed 35-year-old has worked full time as a mentor for Portland-based national charity Friends of the Children.
Founded in 1993, Friends of the Children matches kindergarten-age at-risk children with professional mentors who stay with them until they graduate from high school.
Linder, who has been working with at-risk youth since college, considers working at Friends of the Children his “dream job.” “It’s like having eight little brothers to guide as they grow older,” he says.
Linder spends four hours a week with each of the youths assigned to him, acting as a positive role model, helping with academics, supporting their parents and exposing them to opportunities they might otherwise miss. “I took one of my [high school-aged] kids on a trip to the coast a few years ago,” he says. “He told me later that it was his first visit.”
Some of the children Linder started working with seven years ago are still with him; others have moved on. “I’ve had five graduate from high school, and helped them make the transition to college,” he says. “I moved one boy up to Evergreen [College] and helped him move his stuff into his dorm room.”
Working with youth all over the Portland area keeps Linder busy. “Every day is different and unpredictable, from going to basketball games with the kids, to helping with their homework, to talking to lawyers if they get in trouble,” he says.
Linder’s job isn’t without its frustrations. The biggest is feeling unable to help youth “stuck in unsupportive or abusive family situations.” “There’s only so much you can do,” he says.
But the drastic circumstances of some of his wards also lets Linder see the importance of his labor: “I have one kid who’s been in nine foster homes in five years, so he doesn’t get to form any strong attachments,” he says. “Because of that, I’m the only person he’s known constantly for the last five years.”
Linder’s good work doesn’t stop with his day job. In 2003, he and fellow U of O grad Amanda Gribben founded Pawsitively Pit Bull, a privately funded nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating pit bulls from around the country. They and their 60 to 70 volunteers run a pit bull sanctuary near St. Helens and work to fight the negative stereotypes associated with the breed, which Linder calls “so smart you can train them any way you want them.”
In a tiny, map-strewn office in North Portland, wedged between an enormous printer and a computer monitor that looks to weigh as much as he does, Erik Fernandez spends every day on the front lines of the battle to protect the wilderness areas around Mount Hood.
As wilderness coordinator for Oregon Wild, the state’s most active wilderness- and wildlife-protection advocacy organization, Fernandez has spent much of the last decade working to preserve Mount Hood’s old-growth forest.
Now, with preservation bills from Oregon legislators before both the U.S. House and Senate, Fernandez and his colleagues are finally seeing their work pay off. “There are a lot of people, myself included, who have been working on this for 10 years,” he says. “It would be a great Christmas present for all of those people if the delegation were able to come together and work out a solution to pass the bill by the end of the year.”
These days, Oregon Wild (formerly known as Oregon Natural Resources Council) is working closely with backers of the bills to determine what areas of the mountain merit preservation. To do that, Fernandez has had to become intimate with the lay of the land. From his Portland office, he uses geographical-analysis software to produce maps of areas in need of protection; to find those areas, he has to spend a lot of time in the field.
“I’ve ended up hiking virtually every trail around Mount Hood and the Gorge,” he says. “On any given day, I could end up having to go out in the field and gather information on the values of protecting a given area: Are there fish in this stream? Are there rare plants in this area? And then I document that.”
A graduate of the University of Portland, Fernandez, 31, started at Oregon Wild as a volunteer and eventually became a paid staffer seven years ago. Now he puts in 50 hours a week in the effort to save the natural spaces he cares about.
“It’s a very motivating time to be working righ t now,” he says. “At this point in the process, if I stay late or get more work done this weekend, it may mean that more areas get protected.”
Fernandez says he’s honored to receive the Skidmore Prize and hopes it will help gain exposure for his organization’s efforts: “As great as the award is, I think the real prize will be passing the bill and having thousand-acre stands of old-growth trees forever.”
Seated in his office in the Old Library Studio on Northeast Hancock Street, Noah Kleiman looks very pleased with himself. He should. In its three-year existence, NW Digital Art Kids, the nonprofit of which he is the executive director and sole paid employee, has gained national recognition for teaching Portland youth (and quite a few adults) the basics of music production in a professional-caliber recording studio.
Kleiman, 27, has been with the organization since its inception and says it took over a year to get up and running after he signed on as director in 2003. “I spent 13 months writing grants and working with the architect,” he says. “We still didn’t have glass in the studio when we started classes.” Progress is ongoing; the studio finally gets its street-facing front door this month.
It didn’t take long for NW Digital Art Kids’ educational mission to move beyond its Hollywood home, as Kleiman has assembled a mobile music-production lab he takes on the road to use for teaching in local schools.
“I’ve done a fair amount of work with programs that focus on at-risk youth, because the students that participate in those programs tend to be really motivated by music,” he says. “Last year we decided that we’d start being a little more proactive, not just trying to recruit students from poor areas...but instead going to where those students go, working at the schools or with programs that serve at-risk teens.”
This year, Kleiman hopes to use computers donated by Reed College to build music labs at some of the schools he partners with, including the alternative high school Youth Employment Institute.
Kleiman’s students have been remarkably prolific: They recorded over 10 hours of music at the Old Library in the last year; some have written soundtracks for arts nonprofit Film Action Oregon; and several have told Kleiman they want to produce albums this year.
“One of the privileges of doing this job is that I get to work with some of the most talented teen musicians in town,” Kleiman says. “They’re just as amazing as you would expect some famous person to be, only they’re young, and aren’t particularly hard to talk to, and don’t have an entourage.”
With the program more popular than ever, Kleiman has big plans for the future, from the small—working with the city’s noise-control officer to teach about hearing health—to ambitious expansion of the studio and releasing a compilation of student works for sale.
If you open the iron gate between Ralph’s Florist and Hollywood Antiques on Northeast 42nd Avenue, and then walk through a narrow alleyway and up an aging set of wooden steps, you will come to the office of Growing Gardens, a 10-year-old nonprofit dedicated to helping Portlanders create successful gardens—432 of them over the past decade—at home, in schools and around the community. And if growing a garden is what you’re after, Rodney Bender will help you do it.
A graduate of Evergreen College with a degree in sustainable agriculture and community development, Bender says being the organization’s garden-programs manager is his dream job. “When the position that I have now opened up, I immediately jumped on it,” he says. “I knew that if I got it, I would be the luckiest guy in the world.”
“I just like spending time with our gardeners,” he says. “In spring and summer, I spend all day visiting gardeners and spend two hours or so with each one. And when I go home, I realize that we’re actually doing something really cool here, and helping people in their lives.”
Most of the gardeners Bender works with are the heads of low-income households who might not be able to afford to buy fresh, organic produce. With tools, seeds and advice from Growing Gardens, families build garden beds in their back yards, make their own compost and get a little closer to self-sufficiency.
“Sometimes some of the folks that we work with don’t ever eat any fresh produce at all,” Bender says. “This is an opportunity for them not only to discover what that’s like, but also to provide it for themselves.”
The easygoing 35-year-old is full of stories of lives made better by backyard gardens, from a shy first-time gardener who has become an active volunteer to a single mother of seven whose children fell so in love with their garden they dedicated their entire yard and much of their house to horticulture.
“Our gardeners report that they spend more time outdoors because of the garden,” Bender says. “They meet their neighbors, because it’s a great way to start up conversation...and almost all of them share food with neighbors, friends, family, church members and whatnot.”
Bender says Growing Gardens is hoping to expand its services in coming years and to create a support network of experienced gardeners to help first-timers. Of his work, he says, “I’ve just gotten more passionate about it every year.”
Imagine a good day at work. Does it involve a classroom of teenagers and an enormous model of a penis? Probably not. But it does for Shelagh Johnson, the youth HIV prevention coordinator for Cascade AIDS Project.
“’How are you going to learn about anatomy in a way that’s different from any other science class that you’ve been in?’” she says she asked a room full of teenagers during one of her recent visits to a sex ed class. “So I said to them, ‘With whatever materials you have in the classroom, I want this side of the room to make female genitals, and this side of the room to make male genitals.’ And soon it became this huge competition.”
Is sculpture an effective way to teach teens about sexuality? Johnson says the students thought so: “After they were done, I said, ‘OK, we need to clean up now,’ because the room was totally trashed, and one of them said to me, ‘This is the best class ever!’”
As the head of CAP’s youth outreach programs, Johnson, 32, who has been teaching sexuality education for the past six years, spends a lot of time talking to teens, both in and out of the classroom. She also supervises CAP’s “Teen 2 Teen” volunteers, who help spread the message of HIV awareness among their peers.
Johnson says one of her biggest challenges is reaching youth who aren’t exactly eager to learn about safe sexual behavior. “Really, my role is to prevent HIV in youth, but youth don’t see it as something they need to prevent,” she says. “So you have to make it relevant, and one of the ways to do that is to make it cool.”
So how do you make HIV awareness cool? Johnson uses low-key social marketing techniques: “We enlisted some of our Teen 2 Teen volunteers who were really creative and crafty, and they came up with great slogans and great designs, and we started making buttons.”
The buttons, with slogans like “Love is radical” and “I ♠to cuddle,” have been so successful that they’re turning into a source of revenue for Johnson’s work. “If we can charge people for the buttons, if we can have people buying those, all the money goes back to youth HIV prevention,” she says. “And potentially you’re looking at a profit of enough money to pay for the program.”
"Scooping poop makes a difference." It's 8:45 on a Monday morning, and Daniela Iancu, an adoption counselor with the Cat Adoption Team, is busy beyond poop-scooping—refilling water dishes and depositing cardboard cartons filled with cat kibbles in each cage.
It's unglamorous, but something about this place in Washington County keeps Iancu, a petite, well-spoken, poised 25-year-old, committed and enthusiastic.
"The energy just rubs off on you here," she says.
Iancu had not even owned a cat until she answered an online plea from CAT for volunteers two years ago. She had graduated from George Fox University and felt unsure about how to get started on a career. So she signed on, helping where needed and becoming a counselor who learned to match cats with families.
Her commitment was irreplaceable, and the shelter soon hired her as a paid staff member.
As an adoption counselor, Iancu pairs young children with their first kittens, introduces a lap cat to an elderly woman craving companionship, finds homes for the old cats, the paralyzed ones, the ones who wouldn't stand a chance in another shelter. She finds a family for each cat, and gets misty-eyed when they leave.
Though she's the youngest on the 12-person staff, Iancu carries herself like a veteran. Volunteers twice her age stop her with questions. She rattles off statistics about stray cats in Oregon, why she thinks cat overpopulation can be fixed and how much volunteers are needed. She calmly discusses a stray kitten with the 7-year-old team's founder, Evan Kalik. And it's not even 10 am.
But the cats Iancu cares for don't care about any of that. Each tries to jump out of its cage as she changes each food and litter box—not onto the floor, but into her busy hands. A large white tabby, whose cage is labeled with a hands-scrawled "I'm a Grumpy Boy" sign, rubs against her.
Cooing at each cat during her morning rounds, Iancu pauses by a cage with an IV bag where a large yellowing white cats sit inside, a large growth almost completely obstructing its left eye.
The cat isn't cute, nor does she seem to be particularly friendly—but Moxie is Iancu's favorite of the 500-some cats that call the no-kill shelter home. The cat, which receives an IV drip because of suspected kidney falure, seems grateful as she purrs and nestles into Iancu's bosom.
"Where else can you go where you can pet kitties and hold cats and saves lifes?" she asks.
Write Around Portland's office—the "palace," as director Robyn Steely calls it—is one fourth-floor room big enough for three desks, a couple of filing cabinets, and a small table in the middle. Two giant north-facing windows rattle in the wind, something Steely says she doesn't like to think about.
It's doubtful there's much Steely doesn't think about. She's a fast-talking dynamo, articulate and focused, who blushes at the thought of talking about herself. "I really love this organization. It really is an honor to work here. It was an honor to be a volunteer. It was an honor to be a donor. And it's an honor to be on staff with the organization."
That selfless humility makes Steely, 34, anything but the stereotypical blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty. She logged 13 years working in the labor movement, as well as four years volunteering for WRAP before becoming director in this past spring.
Dressed in a black turtleneck and green cowboy boots, Steely has a smile shiny as the silver hoops hanging from her ears. She grew up in Cleveland and completed her BA in African American Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. Right out of college, she landed a job in the labor movement, but after five years working for social justice in conservative Missouri, she was ready for a change. Like so many others, she decided to move to Portland sight unseen.
Three days after her arrival here, she started working for the SEIU Local 49 (Service Employees International Union). "I still love the labor movement," she says with a hand over her heart. Then, five years ago she went to a friend's house for a Write Around Portland volunteer/donor house party. She was "blown away" by the organization, which provides writing workshops for folks who may be impeded by income, isolation or other barriers. WRAP then organizes readings for workshop participants, open to the public, and also publishes anthologies of their work.
"I have to be part of this," she thought, and became a volunteer workshop facilitator. Steely says she's not unusual. Many of the 300 or so volunteers who help run WRAP are committed to the organization, stay for a long time and do a lot.
"I've been lucky—both my previous jobs and this one—where I really care about what I do, and so it's motivation. I think a lot of people have jobs that are just jobs. For me, it's not It's a lot more than that."
Steely's commitment to community doesn't end when she punches out. She makes time volunteer as a trainer for Wellstone Action, teaching grassroots community organizing. She also works in running, yoga and Six Feet Under.
She says it costs about $3,000 to run a WRAP workshop. So the Skidmore Prize will provide everything they need for one, including journals, pens, food, bus fare, childcare and facilitator training. "I really do believe in what we're doing," she says. "I've seen it change people's lives, and I've seen it change Portland"
Amid the midday noise and traffic at Southeast 52nd Avenue and Foster Road, the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families carves out an oasis of calm. Inside the large white house, sunlight glances off walls hung with quilts and children's drawings. Stuffed animals are everywhere.
On a couch in the living room, surrounded by binders from the weekend's volunteer training, sits a small blonde woman sporting a denim jacket and pink-and-black sneakers. With one foot tucked up beneath her, Jana DeCristofaro nurses her morning coffee and muses about her job as the center's Coordinator of Children's Grief Services.
"You definitely can't coordinate grief," she says. "It's like taking cats on a walk in the woods with a leash." She laughs, and in that moment illustrates several qualities coworkers and volunteers note about her: Insightful. Wry sense of humor. Always learning and questioning.
"She doesn't have a facade of, 'Oh, I have to pretend to know everything," says Donna Schuurman, the centers national director.
What she does have, people say, is a lot of heart. DeCristofaro, a Connecticut native, came to Oregon in 1995 to work as a waiter at Crater Lake Lodge. The following year, she moved here to stay. In 2001 she graduated with a master's in social work from Portland State and got a job doing reserach for PSU's Regional Research Institute.
"Then I realized, my soul doesn't feel so good," she recalls. "It's leaking out of my fingers and into my keyboard."
A friend recommended she volunteer at the Dougy Center. Despite having no formal experience working with grief and loss, she gave it a shot. She was hired a few months later.
Now, DeCristofaro leads support groups for kids, teenagers and young adults who have lost a parent or sibling. She also coordinates the center's 150 plus volunteers, teaching them to lead groups and helping them deal with the with of grief that's a constant reality for all Dougy workers and volunteers.
It's all pretty heavy stuff for a woman who's just 31, but she takes it in stride—literally. DeCristofaro calls physical activity the key to staying healthy when death becomes your everyday occupation.
"Grief lodges in your cells, and it lodges in your muscles, and it lodges in your bones," she says.
Working at the Dougy Center has helped DeCristofaro realize death can't be avoided—but you can learn to be ready for it.
"It makes you keep relationships clean, " she adds.
The pleasure principle rules everything Amber Jo Hatt does as a case manager at Portland's New Avenues for Youth.
"You can tell by my office," Hatt says. And indeed, a glance around Hatt's tidy office reveals a Furby, a mini-Connect Four set, and other toys and games to make her work with homeless youth fun.
One of Hatt's clients is an impulsive young man who loves coffee. If he can beat her at Connect Four, she'll give him $5 Starbucks gift card.
The catch: Hatt makes him think through his moves and announce them beforehand. Sometimes he gets frustrated, plays recklessly and doesn't get coffee. But more important than being fun, simple therapy impulse control, it's a way for Hatt to build a connection.
"The most important thing to get people to change is your relationship," Hatt says.
Hatt excels at building those relationships, says her supervisor, Laurie Kress: "She's fun and she's funny and she gets people motivated. Clients respond well to her because of her passion and creativity."
Hatt, 30, manages about 20 cases at once for New Avenues, a Portland nonprofit that helps homeless kids get off the street. She works with the kids to figure out barriers like poverty or drug abuse that are keeping them homeless, then designs a plan to address those barriers.
"Some people have four," Hatt says. Some people have 50."
Hatt was homeless when she was 17. Her barrier: She was "resource poor." No money—and no supportive family. A messy home life during her senior year in high school led to her living on the streets in Huntington W.V., for three weeks, followed by several months in transitional housing. A year and a half later, with the help of relatives in Ohio, Hatt had bounced back. She moved to Columbus and enrolled at Ohio State University, where she majored in social work and own the social-work student of the year award in 1998.
She also worked at a runaway shelter for teenagers. At 19, she was doing family therapy sessions for 17-year-olds and their angry parents. "I knew what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life," she says. "I just loved it."
Hatt doesn't usually reveal her earlier homelessness to clients, because sharing personal history runs counter to her training as a social worker. But there have been some clients who really needed to see how people can rebound. Hatt is a living example.
After completing her bachelors degree, she moved to Portland because it seemed like a progressive place. She got a master's degree in social work from Portland State University in 2002, and earned her license to practice clinical social work in August. Hatt plans to continue applying her creativity and energy to fight youth homelessness, and perhaps focus on therapy.
"People know who complain about homeless kids on the street," says Hatt, "have no idea how many people would be on the streets if we weren't doing what we do."
A self-described "vision person," Gavin Shettler has an imaginative flair well-suited to the task at hand. On Jan. 7, Shettler and his colleagues will open what they hope will become Portland's art mecca, a nonprofit gallery and cafe.
Currently, faded newsprint still covers the windows of the unassuming building at 2045 SE Belmont St. Inside, a dusty yellow hard-hats lie piled in the center of the unfinished gallery. But Shettler has it all mapped out. The Portland Art Center will provide a meeting space for artists and nonprofits alike will showcase local artwork that can't find a home in Portland galleries. Shettler is especially interested in installation art, "which can't be done in commercial gallery because you can't sell the stuff."
The son of a minister, he learned the important of community service early on. Shettler attended college at Texas Christian University on a full ride, but decided to drop out to play cello in a rock band, which, he now concedes, "was not that great of an idea."
In 1994, Shettler, who was born in Aberdeen, Wash., repatriated to the Northwest to finish school. In 2000, began helping a friend run a gallery in the Everett Lofts. Shettler loved the work and decided to pen his own space, the Gavin Shettler Gallery. During this endeavor, he encountered a stream of artists needing advice about how to prepare portfolios, show their art and find buyers. Shettler, responded with his first nonprofit enterprise, the Modern Zoo, which showed installations in donated spaces throughout the city. When Shettler and business partner Bryan Suereth parted ways earlier this year, the Modern Zoo disappeared and the Portland Art Center was born.
The young director's cell phone rings incessantly. A sleeping bag lies crumpled in the corner of his office, and one gets the impression that his life and work are one and the same.
"I'll put in anywhere from four to 10 hours a day," he says not counting the bartending gig needed to make ends meet. "Every one of my Mondays is at least an 18-hour shift."
Or, at least it was. When asked what he planned to do with the Skidmore Prize money, Shettler replies with glee. "I've already done it. I quit my job. I don't want to bartend, I want to do this," he says, with a gesture encompassing the empty building. "One of the things I'd like to do is to curate the bathroom. To get submissions for the bathroom. To use the whole space, you know?"
Pegged as a hipster capital of the West Coast, Portland attracts its fair share of graduates from small liberal-arts colleges. But not all of them come to start an indie-rock band.
Emily Root, a graduate of Earlham College in Indiana, landed here in 1999, when she was hired at a local organization that uses animal-assisted therapy to help people who have development disabilities. "I just wanted to get a foot in the door of a small nonprofit," she explains.
The firebrand in her family of five, Root, 29, has always been drawn to social services. She grew up in a small Illinois farm town and longed for a city that resonated with her political beliefs. "I was an activist in high school and went to Earlham because of its liberal qualities and the social activism that Earlham certainly supports," she says. "I always knew I wanted to work with people in some way."
After a year in Portland, Root took a job with Parents Anonymous, a 25-year-old national group that runs a parent-support line, free and confidential group meetings, and a program for children to improve communication and coping skills in their families. In effect, the organization helps overwhelmed parents manage their stress before they resort to violence or neglect. In a state where 9,447 cases of child abuse were reported last year, that's pretty significant.
Root was attracted to the job at the Oregon chapter's Portland office, in part, because it offered a better chance at developing her administrative skills. She was in for more than she bargained for.
In the past three years, Parents Anonymous experienced major funding cuts. It pulled the plug on several services and pared its payroll, asking Root and the other remaining employees to take on extra responsibilities.
"I ended up wearing a lot of more hats then I ever thought I would or could," says Root, who is now program coordinator. "I went from not experiencing any control over the direction the program was going to having to negotiate how to keep the program running."
She and Ruth Taylor, Parents Anonymous program supervisor, persuaded the Morrison Center to take their small organization under its wing, essentially saving the nonprofits from going belly-up.
While Root appreciates being singled out for her work, she says the parents themselves deserve much of the credit. "Every parent has the opportunity to get support from other parents," she says. "A lot of times, what comes out of the mouth of another parent is a hundred times more brilliant than what we could come up with."
The Willamette River has always fascinated Travis Williams. The executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper grew up near the waterway in Milwaukie and spent his youth paddling along its currents and jumping into its waters from the basalt bluffs across from George Rogers Park.
"I wouldn't say I was Tom Sawyer or anything like that," Williams chuckles. "But that laid the groundwork for how I enjoy the river today."
Williams, 33, graduated from Rex Putnam High School and earned a degree in international studies at Portland State University. Later, while studying for his master's degree in environmental sciences at John Hopkins University, he worked for American Rivers, a national organization dedicated to river-protection issues.
After graduating four years ago, he returned to Portland and was hired as the executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, the nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the waterway from pollution. Working with a large web of volunteers and other environmental groups, Williams' group monitors 200 miles of the Willamette, keeping an eye out for environmental damage, tracking fish populations and health, and making sure companies located near the river are following the requirements of the wastewater permits.
Willamette Riverkeeper also tries to make connections between people and the Willamette through a variety of activities. Williams and his co-workers encourage healthy environmental practices by riverfront property owners and organize large group canoe trips and field trips with schools.
"We try to get people to learn about the river and start developing an affinity with it," Williams says. "Teachers love to provide that safe opportunity to get their students out there and teach them about animal habitats, water care, and the Willamette's history."
Williams keeps a busy schedule. Some days are filled with meetings ("All related to river stuff, which shouldn't be a surprise," Williams says); others can include leading canoe trips. Sometimes he does maintenance on the canoes and patrol boat, and sometimes he drives up and down I-5 corridor checking up on sites ranging from the Portland Harbor Superfund to the industrial mills of Albany.
Williams is preparing the organization for a move from its current location near in Sellwood to a new boathouse and office by the Hawthorne Bridge. Williams says the move will get the Willamette Riverkeeper closer to the heart of Portland, where people interested in the river will have an easier time reaching the group intent on keeping it as a a public treasure.
With his easy smile and friendly nature, it is not hard to understand why Felipe Leon was last year's Mr. Gay Latino Oregon. From a distance, one might look at the good-looking, stylishly dressed man with a big silver watch that matches the silver crucifix dangling from his neck, and figure him for just another self-absorbed fashion plate. But this pageant winner, who spends his days helping people who often literally have nowhere to go, is quite the opposite.
The lobby of the Outside In medical clinic is crowded but quiet. A young mother gently tries to control her toddler, who is pushing a toy car around the room. Nearby, a man in leopard-print pants, eyeliner and numerous piercings shifts uncomfortably in his chair. The clinic is housed in a spotlessly clean, modern glass and brick building, yet the glaring fluorescent light lend it an atmosphere of bleakness. Signs in English and Spanish offering support services dot the walls—it is clear that the clinic tries to be as accommodating as it can in a world that seems to have offered the people here few accommodations.
The nonprofit Outside In has catered to homeless youth and disadvantaged adults since 1968. It is here that Leon, a winner of this year's Skidmore Prize, works full time as a clinic coordinator.
The 23-year-old Portland native is not new to the culture of medicine. At the encouragement of his parents, immigrants from Spain, he enrolled in Portland's Benson Polytechnic, a magnet high school for science-minded kids, which enabled him to focus on medicine at a young age. From there it was only a short step to Oregon State University, where he was a pre-med major.
For the clinic coordinator, there is never a shortage of tasks. Leon acts as a medical assistant, performing triage duties and processing lab paperwork. He is responsible for keeping the lines of communication strong between the clinic and its patients, assisting clients with forms and engaging in crisis intervention.
The work can be frustrating and disheartening at times. The facilities are limited, he says, and some patients walk away without receiving adequate care. Leon doesn't consider his work particularly noble. "Someone's got to do it," he says matter-of-factly. The reward is simple satisfaction of "people coming back and thanking us."
This years five winners received their awards, including prizes of $4,000 each, at a gala ceremony Wednesday evening, Nov. 2, at Revolution Hall. Comcast, Portland Center for the Media Arts and The Standard sponsored the event.
— Ashley McCallister, Director of Campus & Community Programs, Bitch Media
"These groups are all about action: people-driven, lasting, social action. At the heart of these organizations is the belief that we must advocate for those who are underserved by our society, and that we all play a role in creating powerful social change."
If you have questions, comments, or feedback please feel free to email [email protected]
These are nonprofits "NEW" to Give!Guide this year and last. It takes some time to gain traction through G!G so we hope you give these organizations extra consideration.
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Willamette Week’s Give!Guide is Portland’s easiest path to year-end giving. G!G showcases small, medium and large organizations whose missions fall into eight categories: Animals, Civil & Human Rights, Community, Creative Expression Education, Environment, Health and Human Services. In twelve years, G!G has raised over $16 million for hundreds of local nonprofits. Last year, WW readers gave over $3.5 million to 143 Portland organizations and the Oregon Cultural Trust.
The original intent of WW’s Give!Guide was to hook young readers on the year-end giving habit. Today, readers 35 and under provide 30% of the donations. G!G also honors four Portlanders 35 and under who do fabulous work for local nonprofits by awarding them the Skidmore Prize. Winners must work at a local nonprofit, be 35 and under, work 32 hours a week or more, and make $40,000 a year or less.
If young people begin supporting non-profit organizations at a young age, even at smaller levels, they are likely to continue to give as they get older, and the amount of their support is likely to grow with their incomes.
The original impetus for WW’s Give!Guide was to hook young readers on the year-end giving habit. Nonprofits with the most individual donors 35 and under in each category will be awarded a cash prize. This year the prize will be $1,500 for the winning nonprofits and $500 for the runners up and is sponsored by the Schlesinger Family Foundation. While G!G is live, you can get an up-to-the-minute count of each organization’s donors 35 and under in the “See Giving Stats” at the top of this website.
Organizations are selected by Willamette Week. All must have 501(c)3 status or status-pending, and must have a focus on the Portland area. We try to include a range of organizations in the categories of Animals, Arts, Community, Education, Environment, Social Action, Health & Wellness, and Youth. We also strive to include both large and small organizations, and to include organizations new to the Give!Guide each year.
If you are interested in getting an organization into the Give!Guide, please send an email to [email protected] Space is limited, so this is not a guarantee of participation. The application process takes place in June and the nonprofits are selected in July.
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Every year, Willamette Week honors Portlanders under the age of 36 who do fabulous work for local nonprofits by awarding them the Skidmore Prize. Winners must work at a local nonprofit, be 35 or Under, work 32 hours or more a week, and make $40,000 a year or less. This year’s winners will receive their awards, including prizes of $4,000 each, at a gala ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Revolution Hall.
Skidmore Prize nominations are accepted in the summer prior to the Give!Guide release. A call for nominations usually appears in June along with the Give!Guide application. Skidmore Prize winners are chosen from a pool of nominees nominated by their peers and coworkers. A committee of Willlamette Week employees and former Skidmore Prize winners select eight to nine finalists to interview. Four of the finalists are then chosen as winners.