2004 Prize Winner
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 wallsit 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."