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Don’t be so easy on yourself

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Friday, December 01, 2006


As I turned onto Nancy Serna’s street in Northeast Portland a few weeks ago, Nancy and her four sisters were waiting for me on their porch. The Madison High School senior invited me in and we sat at her kitchen table, talking about her schoolwork, her family and the 400 hours she gives each year to volunteering.

She probably never would have told me the number if I hadn’t asked her to tally it. She didn’t make a big deal out of her volunteer work. Giving those hundreds of hours, along with working on the weekends, helping her family, and going to school full-time, was just the right thing to do.

Then next day, I went to interview Harry Demorest, the CEO of Columbia Forest Products. Demorest was generous with his time, talking for almost an hour about his work with OMSI, Friends of the Children and the many other things to which he is dedicated. That he did all that, along with running a company that employs 4,000 workers, didn’t seem to be a burden. It was just the right thing to do.

I asked both how they found the time to accomplish all these things, because I was having a hard time just keeping up with my day job, much less doing any volunteering. But I realized it was the wrong question. For them, and all the other extraordinary volunteers profiled in this issue, it wasn’t how they did it that was the question, but how could they not? They found the time and energy because it was important to them. Because if they didn’t, who would?

Nancy Serna and Harry Demorest unknowingly gave me a great gift that week. Despite their incredibly busy lives, with what could be overwhelming family and job responsibilities, I was struck by how this student and this CEO still found time for good works. I realized I had no excuse for wanting to volunteer, but not getting off my duff and doing it.

The rest of this year’s Oregon Philanthropy Awards winners are just as committed, dedicated, passionate — even a little bull-headed — in getting done what they believe in. And trust that these are not random acts of kindness. They are purposeful and effective, like when Gary Maffei spends 15 years on the board of Our House to raise millions to improve the AIDS facility, or when Tillamook Charities builds its bank account slowly but surely by selling $2 items at its thrift shops so hungry families get food, or when Ken and Joan Austin, who have worked long and hard to build their family business, also give a lifetime of support to their community. 

What they’ve done sometimes brings them recognition, but that moment is fleeting, and I suspect none of them would really care if it didn’t come at all. The day after the awards are handed out and the spotlight has moved on, you will find all of them back at it. Working long hours after their paying job is done, digging a little deeper into their bank accounts, or slicing a bit off time with their families in order to make something good happen.

The gift I received from these remarkable people was given to me free of charge, so I’m paying it forward to you: There really is no excuse for sitting back. We all have at least one hour or one dollar to put in service to help change the world. Because if we don’t, who will?

— Robin Doussard

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