Extraordinary Staff Member
Beth Putz

After 13 years of working with kids in crisis at Albertina Kerr, an organization that serves children, adults, and families with mental health challenges and developmental disabilities, Beth Putz remains a diehard optimist. “You can’t last in this field if you flip to pessimism,” she says. When Putz started at Albertina Kerr, as a direct care worker in an inpatient program for kids, she did everything from cook breakfast to take the kids on bike rides. After receiving a master’s degree in counseling psychology, she eventually became the director of Kerr’s Crisis Psychiatric and Foster Care programs, where she’s now on-call 24/7 and regularly logs 50+ hour weeks, sometimes sleeping in her office (as she did during a 2009 snowstorm). And that’s just the time she spends inside Albertina Kerr. Putz also recently completed a 16-month long program through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to cultivate future leaders in community health care services. Her biggest push? Helping to identify the underlying causes of kids’ bad behavior to find long-term solutions. “These kids don’t have the words to express how they feel,” Putz says. “It’s our job to help figure out why they got here.” Her compassion also serves as an inspiration to her coworkers. “Beth has been instrumental in helping me be a positive supervisor,” says Anne Main, who works in Albertina Kerr’s Crisis Psychiatric Care division. “It’s easy to get frustrated with a child who cannot follow expectations, but as Beth likes to say, there isn’t a child who wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to have a bad day and kick or bite someone.’ They all wake up wanting to have a good day. That’s a quote I think about all the time.”

Extraordinary Executive Director
Keith Thomajan

When Keith Thomajan talks about things like “brand dilution” and “fiscal management,” he sounds more like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company than of a nonprofit. And based on his track record at Camp Fire Columbia, an affiliate of a 101-year-old national organization that operates coed outdoor camps, after-school programs for kids, and service-based road trips for teens, he could have easily spent his career garnering profits for corporate shareholders. When he took over as Camp Fire Columbia’s president and CEO in 2001, the organization had faced a decade of six-digit deficits. Thomajan promptly reshaped Camp Fire’s disjointed menu of programs (everything from preventing gang involvement to summer camps for developmentally disabled youth) to focus on high-quality after-school programs designed to help close the achievement gap for low-income youth. His vision quickly garnered a three-year grant from the Gates Foundation, which led to similar grants from other funders. He also instituted new fees for service—allowing more affluent members to subsidize programs for lower-income families—that have put Camp Fire Columbia in the black since 2004. Thomajan’s head might be in numbers, but his heart has always been with people. Soon after college, he taught high school in South Central LA and East Oakland before becoming an Outward Bound instructor. While kids have shaped his sense of purpose, his coworkers keep him excited about his job. “People who are dreamers and want to make a difference, and have a profound toolbox to do so, make me love coming in to work,” he says. “I get amped by their energy.”

Lifetime Achievement
Linda Huddle

Linda Huddle’s retirement last year from her post as director of Portland Community College’s Alternative Programs marked the end of a 40-year-career as one of Portland’s most effective advocates for at-risk youth. “These are kids who want the best for themselves and their families but don’t have the right doors available to them,” she says. “Our role as teachers is to open those doors and help them step through and succeed.” Huddle began her extraordinary career as a Spanish teacher at West Linn High in the ’60s. She spent nine years as the youth program manager for the Private Industry Council, which afforded job-training programs to some of Portland’s hardest-to-reach youth. She joined the board for Open Meadow, a nontraditional school in North Portland for struggling students, and was a founding board member of the Youth Employment Institute, which offers everything from gang prevention services to GED classes. In 2000, she became the director of PCC Prep Alternative Programs, allowing her to improve programs to steer troubled students toward completing high school and into college or employment. In that capacity, she codeveloped the Gateway to College program, which helps high school dropouts fulfill collegiate dreams by letting them achieve a high school diploma while earning college credit. The program has expanded into 16 states—and, last year alone, to 100 school districts—thanks in part to an initial $4.8 million grant from the Gates Foundation. “Coming to PCC allowed Linda to bring her previous experiences together to create something really big,” says Pamela Blumenthal, interim director of PCC Prep Alternative Programs. “She’s an absolute visionary.”