2005 Prize Winner
Write Around Portland's officethe "palace," as director Robyn Steely calls itis 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 luckyboth my previous jobs and this onewhere 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"