To find our Light A Fire honorees, Portland Monthly uses a four-step process:

1. We gather: We ask everyone we know, including our readers, and find experts with a wide vision of the city.

2. We review: With a panel of the region’s top foundation and corporate-giving leaders, we score every nomination.

3. We debate: Using the top-scoring nominations as a starting point, panel members weigh the information submitted, their own knowledge of the individuals and organizations, and their convergences and differences of opinion.

4. We select: There’s always more good work than can be awarded—but there’s always next year.

Lifetime Achievement Mary Vinton Folberg

“MY FAMILY says that I am the Great White,” says Mary Vinton Folberg, 73, waving her hand like a shark gliding through water, nearly upsetting one of the many piles of papers crowding the desk of her cluttered office at Portland’s Northwest Academy. “I have to keep moving...I have that energy because I feel so strongly about what I do.”

When Folberg moves, the city of Portland is often changed in her wake—for good. Over four decades the McMinnville native has enthusiastically championed the marriage of arts and education, building theaters and cultivating future dancers, writers, and scientists as she goes. 

After teaching English and dance in California high schools in the late 1960s, the lifelong performer returned to Oregon to find Portland schools didn’t even have a dance program. She pushed administrators and lawmakers, and, in 1969, she launched the Jefferson High School dance department and then, in 1976, the lauded Jefferson Dancers performance group, whose alums now pepper professional dance companies across the nation. In the early ’80s, as the chair of the mayor-appointed Arts Needs and Use Committee, she helped propose the Newmark and Winningstad Theatres, despite the public’s skepticism that there would be the audience to fill them.


Years Jefferson Dancers have been performing

Students who have graduated from Northwest Academy since 1997

Dollars Northwest Academy awarded for student financial aid in the 2013–14 year

Brother famous for Claymation film and TV work

By 1997, the tenacious educator was on the move again. Wanting to develop an art program that was just as rigorous as it was academic, she founded Northwest Academy, her own independent, arts-focused middle and high school housed in an ad hoc quartet of buildings downtown. The private school integrates a very tough academic course load with wildly creative art projects—a place where science students construct comic books about chemical bonding, sixth graders read Kafka, and tap class is mandatory. (It teaches focus and concentration, she says.) Colleges court its savvy grads, and a surprising number of alums end up in the sciences. 

“Mary’s impact is immense,” says McKenzie Kerman, an animator based in Los Angeles who graduated in 2006 from NWA. When a lack of funds barred the then-14-year-old Kerman from attending the school in 2002, Folberg wrangled a four-year, full-ride scholarship for the dyslexic cartoon buff from civic patron Arlene Schnitzer. Some 25 to 30 percent of the academy’s 182 students receive a variety of financial aid.

“She lives and breathes this school,” says John Thomas, the chairman of NWA’s board of trustees. “She has no ego—it’s all about the kids.”

Next up, Folberg is moving toward a permanent building for the school, which would also house affordable after-school arts classes for any kid who wants them. “It’s just so important to give young people an education that helps them adapt, to enjoy all kinds of people, literature, and art,” she says, practically dancing out of her seat. “That gives them the confidence to follow their dreams.”

Cultivating Creativity | Oregon Children’s Theatre

If you were seeking a poster child for Oregon Children’s Theatre, few could fit the showbill like Madeleine Rogers. She got involved in the 25-year-old theater company at age 6, playing Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life. She took acting classes at OCT’s school throughout her childhood. Today, the 19-year-old is studying theater at Juilliard, with dreams of a career in acting. And she gives the credit to OCT. 


Students and teachers who saw OCT shows last season

Drammy Awards this year’s production of A Year with Frog and Toad received

Factor by which OCT’s move increased its classroom space

“When I took my first acting class with Stan,” she says of OCT Artistic Director Stan Foote, “what had once been just a show on a stage was transformed into a world of imagination, connection, expression, and endless possibility.” 

Foote started out at OCT as a production gofer 23 years ago. He swells with pride when he talks about Rogers. But in the same breath, he says the big stage is not the ultimate goal. Instead, acting skills are merely a byproduct of what OCT really creates: “out-loud kids.” “The training is really about raising good human beings with voices in their communities,” he says.

OCT’s drama classes annually prepare 1,200 students, ages 3 to 18, for a vocal life, and the company’s well-regarded productions, such as last season’s A Year with Frog and Toad, expose thousands of kids to the art of theater. But the nonprofit is still working to expand its reach. Last year, it moved from downtown to the more residential, school-filled Kerns neighborhood to improve its accessibility. “Theater helped create the person I am—it was a place where I could be me,” Foote says. “I want that place for every kid who wants it.”


The young, an old adage claims, are the leaders of tomorrow. Alex Horsey, for one, isn’t waiting. 

The 2013 Wilson High graduate has held board and leadership positions with groups ranging from Friends of Outdoor School to the Oregon Lutheran Youth Organization. As a high-school junior, he founded Project Believe in Me, an initiative that fights bullying and bullying-related suicide by, among other things, publishing open letters from former victims on its website.

Horsey came out of the closet at age 12 and is no stranger to the prejudice of children and the consequent feelings of isolation and hopelessness. But it was the media storm around a string of suicides several years ago that incited him to step up. “What scared me was that the only things that were in the media were people committing suicide due to bullying,” Horsey, now 18, says. “I was worried that would create this false assumption that that’s the only way out.” 


Boards on which Horsey has served

Age Horsey founded Project Believe in Me

Project Believe in Me’s average monthly visitors

So Horsey created a website, printed fliers, and reached out to community groups and national partners. The letters he received from other bullied youth offer glimpses beyond the darkness. “Some days are going to be horrible, but ... there are people, near and far, who are waiting to love you,” one promises. “I was you. I am you,” says another. 

As he moves on to Portland State University to study community development, Horsey is working to keep high school students involved in Project Believe in Me leadership. “There’s so much change we can create right now,” he says.



BEST NEW NONPROFIT | App Camp for Girls

The future of computer science may be wearing a pair of dangly motherboard earrings and talking a mile a minute about what it takes to build your own app. “We spent a lot of time on it, and I pulled out a lot of hairs over it,” 15-year-old Aysa Klocke says, ear-ware flapping as she shows off an iPod Touch loaded with a quiz app that she helped brainstorm, program, design, and debug during Portland’s first-ever App Camp for Girls this past summer. “But the harder you work, the more gratifying it is.”

That’s music to Jean MacDonald’s ears. Disturbed by the lack of women in her industry, the partner at local Mac and iPhone development firm Smile decided to mash up summer camp fun with tech lessons to get middle school girls hooked on app-making. Her idea struck a nerve. App Camp reached its original $50,000 fundraising goal on IndieGoGo in three days. The all-volunteer nonprofit has since raised more than $106,000 and kicked off its first camp in June.


Percentage of IT management positions held by women

Months AC4G has existed [established February 2013]

Days it took AC4G to meet its initial $50,000 fundraising goal

Girls AC4G taught programming skills to in summer 2013

Camp was set up at the SE Belmont café TaborSpace, where the girls slurped Italian sodas as they scribbled out their ideas and  learned the nuts and bolts of app development from an all-lady cadre of tech pros. At the end of the five-day camp, the girls presented their creations to a panel of local women investors and entrepreneurs and scored a copy of the Big Nerd Ranch programming book.

With two camps under their belt this summer alone, MacDonald and AC4G’s lone developer, Natalie Osten, have already been inundated with pleas for camps in cities from Denver to New York. The goal for 2014 is three PDX camp sessions and to launch a new camp in at least one other city—they just need more “nerdy women” to volunteer their time. But for now, they’re still high-fiving campers over what they did last summer. 

“I got to design a program and then do yoga and hula-hoop—it was legit,” says Klocke. “The technology and engineering fields really are limited for women. App Camp gives you that confidence to believe that, yeah, I can do this.”

Video photos courtesy Justin Miller/Mallorn Images and Curtis Settino/Canoofle.


For much of her youth, Pamela Butler had little control over her world. Her mentally ill mother and stepfather carted her around the country until the Oregon Department of Human Services removed her from their custody and put her into Oregon’s foster-care system at age 7. Over the next 11 years, she lived in eight different homes, enduring not only abuse but the feeling, endemic to the system, of utter powerlessness.

“You’re just kind of floating,” she says, “like you’re no one’s child.”


Years Oregon Foster Youth Connection has existed

Foster youth who have participated in the program

Proportion of voting Oregon legislators who approved OFYC’s 2013 priority legislation

The anxiety Butler felt growing up helps explain the potency the 29-year-old brings to her work today. As the director of Oregon Foster Youth Connection, a program of the child-advocacy nonprofit Children First for Oregon, Butler leads foster youth in lobbying for child-welfare reforms at the state legislature. Since founding the program in 2008, Butler and her crusaders-in-training have scored a perfect record: four out of four bills. These have not been small asks: in 2011, for instance, OFYC pushed through legislation allowing foster-care alumni to attend state colleges for free. 

“Getting legislation passed in Salem is an arduous process,” says Chip Shields, a state senator who sponsored an OFYC-backed bill this year to create a foster youth “bill of rights.” “Pamela brought together Oregon’s most vulnerable population and empowered them with the tools they need to advocate for themselves.”

Butler is also pushing child-welfare reform beyond Salem, collaborating with Oregon’s senators on federal issues and working on national committees. The erstwhile ward of the state hasn’t, however, forgotten where she came from—and wouldn’t want to. 

“If I’m in a room with a bunch of administrators, no one can say, ‘No, that’s not how things happen,’” she says. “I’ve been there: I’ve got my stories; I’ve got the youth’s stories; I’ve got the research. It’s a powerful combination.”


When it comes to finding long-term care as a senior with failing health, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are only half as likely as their straight peers to have a relative support them. But it’s no easier to turn to assisted-living facilities. In a 2011 survey, 43 percent of LGBT residents, relatives, and staff reported mistreatment in such places, including harassment and being refused admission or discharged abruptly.

“Getting old is hard enough,” says Vaune Albanese, executive director of the social service agency Friendly House and herself an out-and-proud 56-year-old. “If you’re also a member of a cutting-edge minority group, it’s a double whammy.” 


Estimated number of LGBT seniors in Portland

Factor by which the number of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals 65 and older in the US is expected to increase between 1999 and 2030

People SAGE Metro Portland trained in 2012

Friendly House’s SAGE Metro Portland program aims to soften the blow. The 12-year-old program (called Gay & Grey until it affiliated in 2011 with the national organization Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) trains eldercare providers in LGBT-specific issues, advocates for fair housing, and hosts social events so sexual-minority seniors can get together for support. 

“We hear stories of people who have been activists their whole life, then have to go back in the closet when they move into an assisted-living facility,” says Lauren Fontanarosa, SAGE Metro Portland’s coordinator. “They’re afraid of the service providers; they’re afraid of their straight peers.”

While Fontanarosa oversees a crack team of volunteers working to obviate that fear, she says the country’s estimated 1.75 to 4 million LGBT seniors need—and deserve—more attention, especially from the gay community. Younger gays are “benefiting from the road elders have paved,” she points out. “The least we can do is bind ourselves together as a community to support them as they’re facing these challenges we will all face.”

Inspiring Our Next Generation | Playworks

Portland Playworks  lives and breathes recess. Inside its headquarters on SE Madison Street, shelves overflow with bright orange cones, multicolored dodgeballs, and plastic goalposts. Impromptu foursquare games are a daily occurrence for the staff, but they’re merely practice for the four-year-old nonprofit’s real goal: teaching thousands of kids the social tools they need to play safe and healthy in the 14 metro schools it works with daily (in addition to 80-plus regional schools it services indirectly). 

“Group play isn’t what it used to be,” says Jonathan Blasher, executive director of Playworks’ Pacific Northwest branch. Instead of being that carefree respite for games and sports that most adults remember nostalgically, he says, recess is now a time when almost 90 percent of negative issues in schools erupt, from schoolyard bullying to gender exclusion. 


Students directly served in Portland

85 & 90
Percentages of Portland teachers who report a decrease in bullying and an increase in academic participation, respectively

To confront that change, a think tank of teachers, summer camp directors, and sports instructors created Playworks in Oakland, California, in 1996; Portland’s division started in 2009. The goal: to create positive, respectful, and inclusive play environments for often-stressful low-income communities. And Playworks’ 20 staff members do it by taking all that equipment off the shelves and into schoolyards. 

“We don’t do win or lose, boys versus girls, or team captains,” Blasher explains. “There is a common language that everyone understands, and we solve conflicts with simple games like rock-paper-scissors.” To this end, one of Playworks’ most effective projects, the Junior Coach Program, pairs older elementary students with younger students to learn games and solve their own conflicts as they arise, giving the older kids responsibility and the younger ones role models. 

“Playworks has been about creating a kind and cooperative atmosphere around the school,” says Susan McElroy, principal of Daniel A. Grout Elementary, which has spent four years in the program. “All my kids follow the same rules, procedures, and conflict resolution processes, which translates to less fighting at recess and more instructional time in the classroom.”