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The Oregon Philanthropy Awards

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

This year’s winners of the Oregon Philanthropy Awards, a partnership between Oregon Business magazine and the Oregon chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, shows the spirit of giving can be strong no matter what your age, your profession or the money you have in your pocket. What this year’s winners prove is that it is what you have in your heart that makes things happen.        THE EDITORS

Photos by Anthony Pidgeon

JanetTaylor1207.jpg Kroc Center Initiative Committee

Outstanding Innovative Project

With her prim skirt suit and well-coifed hair, 65-year-old Janet Taylor doesn’t give off a cheerleader vibe. But that’s how she sees herself.

“I’m the cheerleader for our city,” says Salem’s mayor with an earnest smile. “I just tend to get right in the middle of things. I bring a lot of optimism. A lot of enthusiasm.”

So when McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc and her millions came knocking in 2004 with money to hand out for a community center, Taylor enthusiastically threw open the door. Salem was awarded $56 million from the Ray and Joan Kroc estate to build and operate The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

Half the money will be spent building the facility — a 95,000-square-foot community center replete with an indoor-outdoor aquatics center, a gym and a chapel — while the rest will form an endowment to ensure the center will keep its doors open in perpetuity.

“Everybody just put their lives on hold,” says Taylor describing the effort she helped lead to turn the eyes of the Kroc estate to her neighborhood. The three-term mayor (who will run again next year) is a die-hard fan of the Willamette Valley city where she’s spent her whole life. She sees its potential and its problems.

“We’re proud to be the state capital, but we have a vibrant community other than the capital,” she says. Landing the Kroc center — a team effort that involved more than 200 people serving on boards, committees and task forces — is just one of an array of new amenities that she’s pushing in the city.

But she’ll also be one of the first to point out the area’s trouble spots: 63% of children in the area live below the poverty line; its juvenile arrest rate is above average. Marion County’s agricultural bent is bringing more low-income families to Salem.

The community center, open to all, will help move Salem  in the right direction. Taylor is sure of it. “It was something the city could not afford to do,” she says. “It filled that need that nobody else could fill.”  CHRISTINA WILLIAMS

Bank of America

Outstanding Philanthropic Corporation

RogerHinshaw1207.jpg Venture capitalists look for promising young companies to invest in. They look for passion, enthusiasm, vision and a clear path that will take them to the next level and, if the markets are timed just right, make everyone who invested very rich.

What Bank of America does with its Neighborhood Excellence philanthropy program is not unlike venture capital — except the riches don’t come back in dollar form.

“We found that general operations funding is scarce,” says Roger Hinshaw, Bank of America’s president for Oregon and Southwest Washington operations. “We look for nonprofits that have had significant impact but that are poised to go to the next level.”

For example, when Schoolhouse Supplies grew to a level where it was ready to spin off from the Portland Schools Foundation, it applied to the Neighborhood Excellence program and was selected to receive one of the program’s two annual awards: a $200,000 grant (paid over two years) and a national leadership training program conducted by Bank of America for the nonprofit’s director and one of its emerging leaders.

And when Campfire was looking to establish a childcare center and Open Meadow Alternative Schools wanted to hire a development director, both groups were able to get their expansion capital from Neighborhood Excellence.

What’s in it for Bank of America? A toehold in a community that gets stronger with every grant.

“The bank gives us the opportunity to choose our priorities,” Hinshaw says. The priorities for his program include affordable housing, arts and culture, and early childhood and K-12 education.

In addition to the 4-year-old Neighborhood Excellence program, which operates in 44 major metropolitan areas including Portland and Southwest Washington, the bank’s regular grant-making through its locally managed foundation continues apace with awards between $2,500 and $10,000. In all, the bank made grants of $1.3 million in 2007.

“It’s more than just writing the checks,” Hinshaw says. “It’s a holistic approach we’re trying to take.” CHRISTINA WILLIAMS

LauraMeier1207.jpg Laura and Roger Meier

Outstanding Philanthropists

Early in their marriage, Laura and Roger Meier considered a piece of advice from Roger’s mother, Jane Seller Meier. “She told us to make a difference here, in Portland, Oregon, in our own community,” Laura says, “because here, we could truly make a difference through giving.”

The words resonated with Laura, a native New Yorker, who realized that because of Portland’s size, philanthropy could alter many landscapes. Roger, a fourth-generation Oregonian and descendent of the founders of Meier & Frank, shared the perspective, and the couple embarked on a lifetime of supporting the arts, education, hospitals and social welfare projects.

They began with a gift to the Oregon Symphony, and then turned to the Portland Art Museum, which over the years received donations of artwork, financial support and the benefits of a special fund for flowers. As devoted patrons of the arts, the Meiers also contributed to the Oregon Ballet and Portland Opera, in part because they viewed the arts as closely intertwined with education. As a student, Laura frequently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which she saw as a learning library packed with artifacts. And Roger felt profoundly shaped by his own schooling. The couple chose to give the gift of education to others by supporting a variety of institutions, including the Catlin RogerMeier1207.jpgGable School, Jesuit High School and the Oregon Historical Society.

The Meiers also supported the Oregon Health & Science University and the Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital, and Roger built Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System as the chairman of Oregon Investment Council, a position he held for 17 years. Under his leadership, the system grew to provide financial benefits for thousands of Oregonians.

Roger passed away in June 2006, and now Laura continues the Meier tradition of giving from her home in Portland. A photo from the The Oregonian reminds her of their partnership: The arm of the famous “Umbrella Man” statue in Pioneer Courthouse Square, a donation that  was funded by her parents in New York City and chosen by the couple, reaches out toward the Meier & Frank Building.

The angle captures the enduring symbols of two families that merged in generosity here, in Portland, Oregon. LUCY BURNINGHAM


Firstenburgs1207.jpgE.W. and Mary Firstenburg

Howard and Jean Vollum Award for Lifetime Philanthropic Achievement

E.W. and Mary Firstenburg have lived lives based on Andrew Carnegie’s famous saying, “To die rich is to be disgraced.” In partnership in both philanthropy and marriage for the past 71 years, E.W., 94, and Mary, 90, have reinvested more than $20 million in Vancouver-area nonprofits, hospitals and universities — proof of an unwavering generosity and optimistic vision of a better community.

The Firstenburgs (pictured in 1954) possess a rare farsightedness. Incapable of viewing life as something that starts and ends with them (enhanced by having three children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren), they give in the interest of lasting change. “I like to do things that will have a long life to them,” E.W. says.

The Firstenburgs’ gifts have touched many: $3 million to the City of Vancouver for a community center that now bears their name, $1 million to Innovative Services for the Mary Firstenburg Family Center for adults and children with disabilities, $1 million to Washington State University for a new student commons. And when there’s the possibility of inspiring other donors, through matching fund programs, the couple acts, as they did with the Southwest Washington Medical Center. Their $15 million donation to the hospital, the largest private gift in Clark County by a living donor, inspired a second private donor to make a matching donation.

The couple’s capacity for generosity stems from hard work. At the age of 4, E.W. started selling newspapers for 2 cents apiece on the street corners of Seattle, and he hasn’t stopped working since.

After his teaching years, E.W. bought a few small banks during the 1930s, which he grew into First Independent, the largest privately held community bank in the Vancouver and Portland metro area. He still logs two hours a day at one of the branches.

“Others work to make money, but I work because I like to work,” he says. “What else am I going to do? Sit around?”


Community Foundation for Southwest Washington

Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation

Susan Keil is the director of the Portland city office of transportation, but that career exists in parallel with her life’s work in philanthropy. The Oregon Symphony, United Way, Salvation Army, YWCA and others have benefited from her leadership and fundraising prowess and the passion she has to make things better.

Which is why it’s fitting that Keil sits at the helm of board of directors when the Community Foundation for SW Washington is being recognized for its excellence:  The foundation is all about making philanthropy more doable — for anyone.  “Very modest people can do very significant things,” Keil says.  

The Foundation, formed in 1984, has grown from zero to $56 million in assets in less than 25 years. But for Keil, it’s more about the number of people reached than the amount of money raised. And when she’s talking about the people reached, it’s not just the children of southwestern Washington who are playing on playgrounds built with money from the George and Carolyn Propstra Fund. It’s people like Alice Suhr, a restaurant dishwasher who used the foundation to dedicate her life’s savings to reconstruction projects at Fort Vancouver.

“When people want to give but don’t know how to go about it, we’re able to match their interest with a cause that needs funding,” Keil explains.

The foundation is actively courting Clark County’s new residents, and its leadership is always looking to come up with unusual ways to engage people who might not think of themselves as philanthropists. The Vancouver Women’s Foundation was formed a few years back to pool the might and match the interests of the region’s women.

The foundation chose to set its minimum fund balance at $10,000 as a way to make a donor-advised fund attainable by people at varied income levels.

Keil’s bottom line, which extends to the philosophies behind the foundation as a whole, is simply this: “If you really believe you’ve been given to, I don’t know how you can’t give back.” CHRISTINA WILLIAMS


AlGleason1207.jpgAl Gleason

Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser

When Al Gleason discovered in 2002 that the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport was on the brink of financial ruin because of financial impropriety on the part of the then-president, he knew exactly what to do. He quietly and calmly crafted a plan. Then he acted. And as happens with the most effective, unassuming leaders, people followed.

“You don’t have to be flamboyant to get things done,” the 77-year-old Gleason says in a soft voice. “Some people are loud and out front, while others quietly do the work.”

At the time, the retired PacifiCorp CEO and former president of the Port of Portland was serving as the chairman of the board of directors for the Aquarium. Gleason, who lives in Depoe Bay, felt that it was his duty to approach the crisis with an unswerving focus. He raised the immediate funds to keep the Aquarium’s doors open, then developed an essential, financial survival plan for an important institution. (The Aquarium, voted one of the top 10 aquariums in the country for kids by Parents magazine, receives 500,000 visitors a year, a majority of whom come from out of state.)

Gleason convinced government organizations, corporations, bondholders and individuals to contribute to the mission and raised $5.3 million in three years, well exceeding the $4 million goal. Abandoning all other projects for the more-than-fulltime unpaid job, the retiree says the aquarium kept him from becoming a “doddering old man.” For the millions of school children who participate in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s educational programs, the City of Newport and hundreds of volunteers, Gleason is nothing less than a savior.

With a quiet modesty, Gleason prefers to downplay his accomplishments but will admit that he has a history of giving extraordinary amounts of time to nonprofit and community organizations in Oregon, especially since his retirement from PacifiCorp in 1995.  “Some believe in touching things lightly,” he says. “I believe in being more deeply involved.”     LUCY BURNINGHAM


KatelynSullivan1207.jpg Katelyn Tomac Sullivan

Youth in Philanthropy

Thirteen-year-old Katelyn Tomac Sullivan has a big, fat binder that documents her history of funding cancer research. The first page shows a piece of paper with a child’s handwriting on it: Me and my friends are razing money for breast cancer research. It’s the flier that Sullivan made as a third-grader, when she found out that her mother was battling cancer, again. Since then, the Milwaukie girl, who likes to ride horses and walk to the bus stop in the mornings with her friends, has helped raise $35,000 for cancer research.

With her mother, aunt, grandmother and grandfather in mind, all of whom suffered from cancer, Sullivan started collecting cans and bottles for their recycling deposits. But the cans were just the beginning. In the past five years, she’s grown her fundraising efforts and now operates the nonprofit Kate’s Kids for the Cure, which has 12 members ranging from age 11 to 13. The group organizes car washes, golf tournaments, concerts and bake sales and participates in events such as the Komen Race for the Cure, and donates to groups such as the American Cancer Society and the Providence Cancer Center.

Sitting in an oversized chair with her legs tucked under her, Sullivan looks like an average middle schooler. And she seems shy, not wanting to gloat about her accomplishments or get emotional about how cancer has devastated her family. But put her on a stage, in front of a large group, and she shines. Since age 9, Sullivan has told her story to thousands of people and shared the spotlight with many high-profile individuals.

Behind every smoothly delivered speech and successful garage sale, Sullivan’s mom, Deb, works tirelessly, aligning her child’s vision with the mechanics of the adult world. And slowly, she’s passing the torch, teaching each member of the nonprofit the skills they’ll need to succeed.

Katelyn still stands by her original goal: Someday, no one will die of cancer. “Cancer has affected everyone in my family,” she says. “I just want to make sure it won’t affect any other families in the future.” LUCY BURNINGHAM

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