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.”