Light A Fire 2010
Our annual celebration of the nonprofit community highlights the individuals and organizations that are making Portland a better place to live, love and grow.
When Sally McCracken graduated from college in 1950, World War II vets were returning to the workforce and women were returning to the home. “But my husband understood that I’d go nuts,” says the 82-year-old, chuckling. “So he told me, ‘If there’s anything you want to do, go do it.’” And so began her career as a volunteer spark plug in the engines of Portland’s nonprofit world.
In 1979, after serving as the board chair for Impact Northwest and the committee chair for Emergency Helping Agencies Committee, McCracken helped to found Central City Concern (CCC), an ambitious nonprofit with the initial goal of improving local treatment options for chronic alcoholics. During her seven-year tenure as board chair, McCracken helped increase CCC’s portfolio of affordable urban housing units and expanded the organization’s recovery programs to include treatment for drug addiction. The nonprofit now owns and/or manages more than 1,500 units of housing in 23 buildings throughout the metropolitan area, providing social services including health care, rehabilitation, and employment to 13,000 homeless and very low-income Portlanders each year. In 1991, CCC officially named its landmark headquarters at NW Sixth Avenue and Everett Street (that also contains 106 drug-and-alcohol-free units) the Sally McCracken Building.
There’s more. From 1984 to 1995, McCracken sat on the board of the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF), overseeing a quintupling of its endowment. For five years, she also served as the founding chair of OCF’s Giving in Oregon Council and traveled all over the state promoting philanthropy. “Beloved by people of all ages, she imbues community service with so much joy that people want to come back for more,” says OCF president Greg Chaille. She’s also too modest to fess up to her myriad accomplishments. “I can say that I haven’t wasted my life,” McCracken concedes. “But I don’t play bridge, tennis, or golf, so what else would I be doing?”
Extraordinary Pro Bono Contribution
You’ve probably heard this African proverb, made famous by Hillary Clinton: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Rhonda Meadows, 52, has worked 6,000 volunteer hours, helped raise $11.5 million, and convinced city leaders to give her land, all to build such a village: the nonprofit Bridge Meadows. Frustrated with Oregon’s current foster-care system, Meadows modeled this revolutionary planned community after a similar program in rural Illinois. It will feature intergenerational neighborhoods with resources and reduced-rent homes for families who adopt foster children, as well as seniors who function as surrogate grandparents. The families receive the support that typically disappears after adopting a foster child, and the seniors gain a renewed sense of purpose. But, more important, some of Oregon’s 13,000 foster children will finally find peace and a sense of place. “The word ‘foster’ means to care for, cherish, and promote growth,” Meadows says, “but that’s not what’s happening when a child is moved from house to house.” A few years ago at Christmas, when the ambitious project was facing major setbacks, each member of Meadows’s family wrote down three personal wishes and buried them—one year later, they dug them up. “I, of course, made a wish for Bridge Meadows to happen,” Meadows says, “but so had my husband and each of my three girls!” In April, when Bridge Meadows opens in Portsmouth, Meadows will finally get her wish.
The definition of greatness is doing small things with great love,’ or something like that—I stole it from Mother Teresa,” says Howard Hetzler, 81, with an impish cackle. Since 2002, three times a week—every week—Hetzler has cleaned the kitchens of New Avenues for Youth, an organization that helps homeless youth exit street life. But scrubbing counters, grills, and sinks is merely a tactic in Hetzler’s larger volunteer strategy: instead of chasing after troubled young people, he places himself in their path to free food. This way, the kids come to him. Someone might first visit the kitchen for a sandwich, but he or she will probably end up staying, and repeatedly returning, just to spend time with Hetzler, the organization’s oldest volunteer. He talks to the kids about the job market and how he handles his diabetes; he listens when they’re ready to open up; he models consistency, positivity, and respect; and he demonstrates that no work, however menial it may seem, is unimportant. “When these kids leave and then e-mail me about how they got a job—oh, my!” Hetzler says. “That’s better than being the president or all the pay in the world!”
Extraordinary Staff Member: Winner #1
DR. WESTON W. HERINGER JR.
For many of us, a trip to the dentist can feel like torture. So what had kids clamoring for their turn on the Tooth Taxi, a 38-foot Winnebago equipped with two dental suites? That would be recently retired pediatric dentist Weston W. Heringer Jr., 66. Sure, the television that played Tom & Jerry and the toys the kids received after a scary, if not painful, filling or tooth extraction helped. But the real lure was the doctor himself, who often sang to soothe his younger patients as he helped deliver nearly $1.8 million worth of free dental services to 6,898 of Oregon’s neediest students. Calling the two years he spent screening kids in school hallways and wolfing down PB&Js between tykes in need of treatment the “most rewarding” of his 39-year career, Heringer says, “It’s hard to beat a thank you from a 14-year-old who, after a year of constant pain, had tried to remove his own abscessed tooth with pliers.”
Extraordinary Staff Member: Winner #2
During the five years he spent teaching in a large public high school in Los Angeles, Matthew Eide, 37, watched countless teens get let down by the educational system. “When there are 35 students in a class,” he says, “all the kids who might have unique needs end up slipping through the cracks.” So when Eide became the education coordinator for the Urban Ed Alternative School at Outside In—a 42-year-old nonprofit that provides health services, counseling, housing, employment opportunities, and education for low-income and homeless youth—he decided to tailor the system to the students, meeting with each one individually and building a custom program around how each kid learns best. Students can work solely with volunteers during drop-in tutoring, or they can participate in community projects Eide has developed, such as an oral history project about gentrification and redlining as told by North and Northeast Portland elders. The school’s message: it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. The only requirement: when you show up, you work. As a result, hundreds of homeless youth have obtained a GED, entered college, and found jobs. But the most important ingredient in the program is the confidence the teachers show in their students. Says Eide, “It’s our job—our calling—to believe.”
Extraordinary Board Member
What motivated me to dedicate so much time and money to the Stand for Children Leadership Center?” muses Gun Denhart, 65, who’s been a board member for the organization since its Oregon inception. “Well, I didn’t know I was going to do it when I first joined,” she answers, laughing. Nevertheless, after she’d spent years donating clothes from her children’s clothing company, Hanna Andersson, to local shelters, Denhart longed to create a more comprehensive solution for alleviating poverty. So when she met Stand’s CEO, Jonah Edelman, in New York, in 1998, Denhart convinced him to relocate the nonprofit’s office to Portland, where he could field-test his new grassroots organizing model. Twelve years later, Stand boasts 2,400 members in 14 Oregon communities—countless citizens have united to help leverage $1.9 billion for education policy reforms that will benefit more than 980,000 Oregon schoolchildren. In addition to providing her own financial support, enlisting other philanthropists through the Oregon Business Association, and hosting occasional fundraisers in her living room, Denhart has spent incalculable hours lobbying, training, and heading conferences and rallies. “I wanted systemic change,” says Denhart, “and it’s amazing how much better things can get when you really chew on them with people from other walks of life.”
Extraordinary Executive Director
Over two decades ago, while working with community aid organizations like Peoplebank and Community Action, Elaine Wells recognized a basic human need beyond food and shelter: mobility. “If you want to stay independent,” she says, “you must be able to get where you need to go.” So Wells began to nag the executive director of Ride Connection—a 25-year-old nonprofit that provides free transportation for older adults, people with disabilities, rural residents, and low-income job seekers in the Portland metro area—about standardizing training programs for drivers. Instead of just taking the suggestion, the director hired Wells to implement the program. Five years later, Wells found herself in the nonprofit’s top position. During her 16-year tenure, Ride Connection has grown from two employees who coordinated 11,700 rides to a staff of 37 who, last year alone, provided more than 390,000 rides. But ask Wells about her greatest accomplishment and she’ll answer without missing a beat: “Hiring fabulous, dedicated staff who are always figuring out creative ways to do more with less.” That can-do attitude is a credit to Wells’ own leadership skills, says the organization’s development manager, James Uyeda. “Knowing she has our back, everyone at Ride Connection can strive for excellence.”
Best New Nonprofit
PORTLAND FRUIT TREE PROJECT
You may be surprised to learn that Oregon is second only to Mississippi for the highest percentage of underfed households in the nation. Luckily, we can also claim the Portland Fruit Tree Project, or PFTP, a fledgling nonprofit that, in 2009, organized more than 250 volunteers to visit 42 sites and harvest more than 15,000 pounds of pristine plums, pears, apples, persimmons, and quince that otherwise would have ended up sullying sidewalks and lawns. Half of the luscious loot, gathered from trees owned by private citizens who preregister their excess bounties with PFTP, is taken home by harvesters (half of whom are low-income), and the rest is donated to local food banks. “Last year we doubled the yield from 2008, our first year as an official nonprofit, and now we’re on track to double 2009,” says founder and executive director Katy Kolker. This year, the two-person organization was able to register all interested fruit-tree owners, offer tree care and fruit preservation workshops, and partner with city officials and community organizations to plant what Kolker refers to as public “food forests,” such as the Sabin Community Orchard in Northeast. When it comes to community-initiated solutions to the problem of hunger, PFTP is a model of innovation, even at the ripe old age of two.
Honoring Our Elders
HOUSECALL PROVIDERS INC
Once upon a time, all doctors made house calls. Today, the only medical personnel you’re likely to see at your house are EMTs—unless you’re one of the patients being served by Housecall Providers, a 15-year-old organization that makes more than 10,000 house calls a year and provides full-time home hospice support for Portland-area residents who are in their last months of life. Dr. Benneth Husted started the organization after three years of running a solo house-call program out of her dining room. Today, Housecall Providers employs more than 50 physicians, nurse practitioners, hospice workers, and professional volunteers who serve more than 1,300 homebound seniors and people with disabilities or who suffer from multiple chronic conditions. Ninety-four-year-old Elda Mae Harris of Helvetia, for example, has numerous ailments and would probably be in a nursing home, “but house calls have allowed her to stay in the home she bought with her husband and has owned since 1952,” Husted says, “right next door to the one she grew up in.” When Harris had pneumonia last year, visits from a nurse practitioner helped her avoid a potentially risky and expensive hospital visit (one emergency room visit costs $1,500—the same as 10 preventive house calls) and remain in the comfort of her home.
Inspiring Our Next Generation
I HAVE A DREAM FOUNDATION
While growing up in Northeast Portland, Janelle was chronically neglected and exposed to drugs and violence within her family. She struggled with her schoolwork for years, and at age 14, she became pregnant. But when she went into labor during a math exam in ninth grade, she refused to leave until the test was complete. “She ended up getting an A,” says Mark Langseth, president and CEO of the Oregon branch of the I Have a Dream Foundation. Janelle is just one of 900 students in low-?income Portland-area communities whom I Have a Dream has inspired to succeed in school. How does this organization make education more enticing to abused and overlooked children than emotional anesthetics like drugs, sex, and violence? They adopt entire third-grade classes and immerse the students in after-school mentoring, tutoring, and crisis intervention, all provided by an army of dedicated staff and volunteers who stand by every child through college and beyond; they promote a “culture of college,” taking kids on visits to college campuses in the third grade; and later, they provide them with tuition assistance. After 20 years of such strategies, “Dreamers,” as the kids are called, graduate from high school and get into college at twice the rate of other kids with similar backgrounds. “Our kids can still mess up,” Langseth says. “The message remains ‘Keep moving forward.’”
Keeping Us Healthy
COALITION FOR A LIVEABLE FUTURE
Achieving good health takes more than just eating your leafy greens and getting some exercise. It also hinges on a wide range of overlapping social justice and environmental issues, including living conditions, work, education, health care, transportation, and water and air quality. Enter the Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF), a 15-year-old partnership of more than a hundred groups that work together to ensure affordable housing, clean water, protected natural space, living-wage jobs, and transportation choices for low-?income populations and neighborhoods. CLF’s staff of five produces the Regional Equity Atlas, which maps community access to parks, grocery stores, and transportation. Recently, CLF successfully rallied to preserve the former Colwood Golf Course as green space in the Cully neighborhood—which not only has twice the regional average poverty rate but is one of Portland’s most park-deficient areas. CLF also forges connections between diverse organizations that, together, have persuaded Metro to put $15 million into walking, cycling, and public transit projects, and have guaranteed that low-income women, people of color, and youth have access to the City’s Clean Energy Works “green collar” jobs. “Our greatest achievement is probably that we’re still here,” says CLF co-director Jill Fuglister. “It speaks to the unique culture of Portland that organizations with different individual goals work together so that the entire community can thrive.”
Most With the Least
In the United States, solar energy may be a luxury for the type of folks featured in Dwell, but for the 1.6 billion people in the world with no electricity, it can mean the difference between life and death. Case in point: solar panels in 38 rural health clinics and hospitals in the conflict zone along Burma’s border with Thailand have made it possible for more than 175,000 patients with land-mine injuries and other medical needs to get treatment. Solar is just one of the technologies that Green Empowerment uses to establish clean energy and potable water in scores of impoverished communities spanning eight countries—and they do it all with only five full-time employees. How? “Well, we’re mindful of overhead,” says executive director Anna Garwood. Translation: the nonprofit partners with in-country NGOs and community leaders before any project begins, exponentially expanding its scope. They scale projects to a suitable size for the community—such as the development of compact, single-home wind turbines in the town of Alumbre, high in the Peruvian Andes. Thanks in part to fundraising efforts by Portland’s own Andina restaurant, these turbines now provide 35 homes with electricity, making it possible for residents of the tiny village to charge cellular phones and connect with the rest of the world.
Purely for the Love
MY LITTLE WAITING ROOM
If ikea can provide free drop-in child care, why can’t a hospital? That was the question that emerged from conversations between Amy Paterson and Melissa Moore during the afternoon walks they took together on days when Paterson received chemotherapy for breast cancer. Not surprisingly, Paterson found it challenging to arrange child care for her son while she attended what would eventually total 144 medical appointments. “Having an on-site center would have relieved some of the stress while I was trying to take care of myself,” Paterson says. Three years later, she and Moore opened the child-size doors of My Little Waiting Room on the main floor of Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. The soothing space is filled with natural light, toys, kid-friendly furniture, and coloring books designed by students at Beaverton’s Bonny Slope Elementary. The facility and its founders have already garnered accolades (like Bright Starts’ Pink Power Mom award, which honors moms for both their charitable work and their inspirational fight against breast cancer) and national press coverage—and all of this was achieved with only three core volunteers and a four-figure budget. But, more important, in the first six months of operation, My Little Waiting Room served 2,000 children. “I overheard one little girl ask her mother, ‘When do we get to come back to the hospital?’” Paterson says. “That’s when you know you’re doing something right.”
NORTHWEST EARTH INSTITUTE
Seventeen years ago, Dick Roy quit his job at a law firm to form the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) with his wife, Jeanne. Their goal? To inspire mainstream workplaces to initiate eco-friendly programs in the office. With the help of an NWEI volunteer, groups of about 10 people gather once or twice a week for an hour to discuss ways to take responsibility for both their own well-being and the planet’s. In the first year, 97 workplace groups signed up for the inaugural course, “Exploring Deep Ecology.” “Nature isn’t just a place to go on vacation—it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat,” says NWEI’s executive director, Mike Mercer. Clearly, the message spoke to the masses: this year, 10,000 people participated in eight of NWEI’s programs, and courses are popping up all over the country in private homes, faith centers, nonprofits, and universities. NWEI also recently celebrated its second successful EcoChallenge, in which teams take active steps toward a healthy future by tackling two-week eco-goals like saving water, finding sustainable food solutions, and generating less waste. “Sustainable choices don’t just benefit polar bears and glaciers,” Mercer says. “What’s good for the planet is also good for your family.” And for your soul.
Arts & Culture | FILM ACTION OREGON
Not to diminish opera or the theater, but there’s really nothing quite like movies. “Cinema is something almost everyone can easily access and relate to, whether one prefers art films or the latest Will Ferrell flick,” says Richard Beer, artistic director for Film Action Oregon (FAO). Established by the Governor’s Office in 1992 as the Oregon Film & Video Foundation, FAO connects our state’s masses even more intimately with the movies—with the support of more than 120 volunteers, the group serves nearly 100,000 people annually, whether for standard screenings at the Hollywood Theatre, film premieres, festivals, or FAO’s dazzling annual screening of the Academy Awards. But of the organization’s many offerings, the Oscar truly belongs to Project Youth Doc (PYD), an intensive four-week-long documentary filmmaking program for teens, more than half of whom are low-income and attend free of charge. At the end of PYD’s three summer sessions, students show their films at the Hollywood Theatre. Last year’s premiere featured a documentary by Malia Cumming, a 16-year-old who had been adopted from China—Cumming interviewed her adoptive mother, who revealed that when she first held her new child in her arms in China, the baby was not the one in the photos she’d been sent. “But she instantly knew she couldn’t let this baby go,” Beer recalls. “When the film screened, everyone in the theater was weeping.”