2004 Prize Winner
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."