Home Archives December 2006 The 2006 Oregon Philanthropy Awards

The 2006 Oregon Philanthropy Awards

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Friday, December 01, 2006

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The  commitments

It comes in the form of time, money, dedication, sweat and often personal sacrifice. Always, though, the giving comes from the heart. This year’s winners of the Oregon Philanthropy Awards, a partnership between Oregon Business and the Oregon chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, are an inspiring mix of young and old, leader and student, corporation and citizen. But they all share this: a willingness to commit, to provide hope or relief or some small measure of comfort to a world in need of much more of it.

Stories by Robin Doussard




NANCY SERNA
YOUTH IN PHILANTHROPY

Know first that she is only 17. Then that this oldest of six children works weekends at her cousin’s restaurant, comes home each night after school to help with housework and siblings, and acts as full-time translator for her parents, a homemaker and a landscaper who brought their family to Oregon from Mexico. Remember all that to truly appreciate how remarkable this quiet Madison High School senior from Northeast Portland must be to find 400 hours a year to volunteer. As a freshman, all she did was study. “I felt bored, and that it was pointless,” says Nancy Serna. “Volunteering really fulfills me. I grew a lot. I became responsible. It made me capable of seeing other points of view.” Since she was a 15-year-old sophomore, she has devoted hundreds of hours volunteering for MEChA, a Hispanic student organization that organizes food and clothing drives for migrant workers and day laborers. She also mentors Latino youths at Gregory Heights Middle School as part of the Oregon Leadership Institute; works with her school’s chapter of the Community 101 program, which teaches students leadership, service and philanthropy; and helps Promotores de Salud, which focuses on solving health issues in the Hispanic community. “It makes me feel good, like I am helping in some way,” Nancy says. As she nears graduation, she hopes for a career in health care, perhaps as a dental hygienist. Her mother, Carmen, is her inspiration. “She has always been there for me,” says Nancy. As she describes what makes Nancy so very special, Carmen looks intently at her eldest and speaks at length to her in Spanish as they sit next to one another in their kitchen. Nancy listens, her mother’s words softly covering her. Nancy then turns to translate, condensing a mother’s boundless love and hope for her daughter into something a stranger could understand: “It is because I’m interested in education,” she says, simply, and there is no misunderstanding.

THE STANDARD
OUTSTANDING PHILANTHROPIC CORPORATION
Even for a company with a deep history of community service and philanthropy, it was a big goal. As The Standard prepared to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, it wanted to do it in a way that was in keeping with its founder’s civic-minded commitment. The Portland-based insurance giant decided to celebrate its own good fortune by creating the Standard Charitable Foundation and launching an ambitious year-long employee volunteer program. The Days of Caring program set a goal of giving 10,000 hours of service from its employees across the country, with each worker getting a paid day to help the charity of their choice. In Oregon alone this year, more than 35 nonprofits have benefited from Days of Caring, including 1,000 hours volunteered to the Christie School, almost 600 hours to Schoolhouse Supplies and almost 1,000 hours to the Oregon Food Bank. Standard established the foundation with a $2.5 million endowment, which this year has awarded gifts to the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families in Portland and the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. The foundation focuses on supporting groups that help the disabled or someone who has lost a loved one. This generosity of time, spirit and money comes with little self-promotion or fanfare but with a quiet announcement and then getting down to work. In much the same way, one can imagine, that founder Leo Samuel would have handled it himself.


LEO ADLER FOUNDATION
OUTSTANDING PHILANTHROPIC FOUNDATION
By all accounts, the only object of Leo Adler’s affections was Baker County. “God’s country,” he called it. When Adler died in 1993, having been born in 1895 and living 98 long and productive bachelor years, he left behind $20 million to his community, having no wife, child or even pet to consider. The money was made by selling magazines from The Dalles to Nebraska, and, before he died, the successful businessman constantly lavished gifts on his beloved home: an ambulance, a baseball field, donations for the museum and the library. But the money he left behind that formed his foundation has had a far greater impact. Since 1995, the foundation has spent $16.5 million on thousands of college scholarships to the area’s high school students and more than 600 community grants that have helped such groups as St. Elizabeth Hospital, the Salvation Army and the Baker Little League. “The foundation’s money is probably the most significant thing Baker County has going for it,” says Gene Rose, Adler’s longtime friend and personal attorney. Rose estimates the community gets about $1 million a year. “That’s a lot of money in a county of 16,000,” Rose says in lawyerly understatement. As recounted in The Spark and the Light: The Leo Adler Story, Rose visited Adler in the hospital in the last year of his life. The talk was of the fall beauty of Baker. “This is a great town, isn’t it?” Leo said to his friend. A rhetorical question, certainly, from Baker’s most ardent supporter.


GARY MAFFEI
OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER FUND-RAISER
He walks through the resplendent new Our House in Southeast Portland and stops to gently run his fingers over a quilt stitched with the names of those who have died. “The quilts don’t get filled quite as fast,” Gary Maffei remarks with satisfaction. This memorial cloth hangs in silent testimony in the 14-bed residential AIDS recovery facility, the only one of its kind in the state. At last, it can be called recovery, because for so long it was a place where those with AIDS came to die. The 61-year-old Maffei, vice president of the Harry A. Merlo Foundation, has worked many hours for many groups — New Avenues for Youth, the Oregon Ballet Theatre, Cascade AIDS Project, to name just a few — and is a legendary fund-raiser. His effort on the 2006 Classic Wines auction raised $2.1 million, and people still mention with awe the $2 million raised in the Kows for Kids event five years ago. “I am not afraid to ask people for money,” he says, and of that you have no doubt. But it is this place that is most special to him. For Maffei, “when you see a human being at 70 pounds, you have to do something.” So he did. For 15 years he has been on the Our House board and worked for this moment: the completion of a $5.4 million capital campaign that transformed a house once filled with despair and pain into a home now full of light and beauty and hope.


TILLAMOOK CHARITIES
OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER GROUP
Somehow, it is not quite believable that two tiny thrift shops in two tiny coastal towns could generate enough profit to donate almost $340,000 to local charities in the past seven years. That so much could be made of cleaning and fixing things that people no longer want, and turning them into things that people will spend good money on. Then you meet the women who help run this show — board president Louise Still and store managers Jan Edgar and Terry Walhood — and you believe. You believe when these women of faith tell you they call their Hope Chest Thrift Shops in Wheeler and Rockaway Beach “God’s shops” that there really is a small miracle at work here. The stores are more vintage clothing boutique than rundown thrift store (says Edgar of the sharply pressed clothes, “Buying the steamer has made us thousands of dollars”), and care is taken with everything on display. When the thrift shops incorporated in 1999, there was $1,010 in the bank and eight volunteers. Now there are 60 volunteers and each one of them has a vote on where the profits are donated; this is no top-down organization and no volunteer gets paid. Better to spend every single cent to help families buy school clothes, give seniors a hot meal, provide summer lunches for kids or to stock the North Coast Food Bank. Better to show how true your faith is in quiet — and well-pressed — service of those in need.


HARRY AND KAAREN DEMOREST
OUTSTANDING PHILANTHROPISTS

Harry Demorest still remembers Mr. Smith, the teacher who taught him discipline. “He didn’t accept any bull,” says Demorest. So it is no surprise that this highly successful CEO of Columbia Forest Products, with his engineering and science degrees, raised the $35 million needed for a new home for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), even though he was told it couldn’t be done. That it was too much money for just a science museum. That it should not be built on the east side of Portland. Demorest counts the totally awesome science museum among the most important things he’s accomplished in a long line of such things. He has put considerable time into organizations that help give youths the boost they deserve — such as Friends of the Children, the Parry Center for Children and OMSI — and the education they need — he has served on the OSU Foundation, the Linfield College board of trustees and the PSU Foundation. His high-school sweetheart and wife of 42 years, Kaaren, cheerfully describes herself as “Harry’s support staff.” “If I had a soapbox,” says Demorest, “it would be to get involved.” The reward is “seeing the smiles on the young faces.” Like the ones here, surrounding the Demorests at Friends of the Children. Like the ones he can see every time he goes to that cool science museum on the east side of town.

 

RABBI JOSHUA STAMPFER
THOMAS LAMB ELIOT AWARD FOR SERVICE TO PHILANTHROPY
There are so many things that the Rabbi Emeritus for Portland’s Congregation Neveh Shalom has helped birth — Camp Solomon Schechter, the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, the Oregon Jewish Museum, the state of Israel itself — and so many people his singular presence has inspired, that the story of his life fills more than 500 pages in the book To Learn and to Teach. So let us allow that title to do the impossible for this small space, to sum up this remarkable life of 85 years, and address the one thing Rabbi Stampfer wants to accomplish with the time he has left: one more drop of peace for a world in desperate thirst. “There is no difference between an Arab child or an Israeli child or an American child,” says this grandfather of 20. “My job is to help people see each other as human beings. I just want to get a few more people to feel that way.” He is working on a national peace society for high schools, a community peace garden, and on several interfaith efforts. He does not expect to see peace in his lifetime, but he is devoted to building the road to it “inch by inch.” If Joshua Stampfer could do just that, to open  one more heart closed by harm or by hate, then, it is said in Hebrew, dayenu. That would have been enough.


CYCLE OREGON
OUTSTANDING INNOVATIVE PROJECT
It has become a defining event for Oregon. Cooked up almost 20 years ago as a way to boost an ailing Oregon economy and give the state’s small towns a shot in the arm, Cycle Oregon was conceived by Jim Beaver, an innkeeper at the Chanticleer Inn in Ashland, and championed by Oregonian columnist Jonathan Nicholas. In its 18 years, a total of 33,000 riders from across the United States and other countries have participated, along with 27,000 volunteers. Proceeds from the ride go to the Cycle Oregon Fund, which has granted more than $500,000 to small-town projects such as $2,500 to Mitchell to improve its community center and $2,500 to Halfway’s library. The economic impact is significant to each of the towns that the ride rolls through — 190 so far.  The 2,000 hungry and tired cyclists who ride each year mean a boost to local restaurants, merchants and hotels. That the event helps rural economies is a good thing, but it brings something more to those who participate. “The ride unlocks the beauty of the land,” says Bart Eberwein, a Hoffman Construction vice president, cycling enthusiast and longtime Cycle Oregon board member. “This is landscape that only God could have gotten right.” The ride beautifully weaves together the urban and rural areas that are separated by geography and often by other things. “It focuses on what connects us,” says Eberwein. “The money isn’t the only thing with lasting impact. The energy stays and grows.”


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