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Archives - October 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009

Commitment to employees is key
No. 2 Large: Native American Youth and Family Center

This Portland-based nonprofit has worked to lift up the metro area’s Native American and Native Alaskan population for more than 30 years. While executive director Nichole Maher says the competitive benefits package, which matches up to 6% of salaries for 401Ks, certainly makes working here easier, it’s the organization’s connection to the community and its unflagging dedication to its vision that are the biggest draws for employees.

With roughly 85 of its 100 or so employees of Native American ancestry, Maher and her co-workers take pride in their culture and the tangible change they bring to people’s lives every day.

Maher notes that the unusually young board of directors has made it a priority to push their employees to be the leaders she says her community needs for stability. “Our mission is working with people in extreme circumstances,” says Maher. “There is a huge concentration of challenges, so we help balance time and well-being.”

The organization works to build community with more than 1,300 youth and their families from over 380 tribal backgrounds. The center provides individual tutoring assistance, seasonal camps for high school and college credit, foster care programs, and a slew of family and community arts and cultural activities.

“Most important is the sense of hope that is contagious in this building,” says Maher. “That feeling of making real change is better than any perk.”

Everyone has a say
No. 3 Large: Oregon Research Institute

It's the not-so-little things like bringing pets and children to the office that make the Oregon Research Institute (ORI) a great place to work, not to mention the organization’s impressive salary and benefits packages.

Founded in 1960, Eugene-based ORI studies human social and medical problems with the goal of enhancing productivity and quality of life. But ask most employees of the institute and they will tell you that ORI has done pretty well in its own workplace.

With ample telecommuting options, flexible work schedules, a generous retirement package and incentives for transport alternatives, it’s easy to see the institute wants its employees to maintain a sensible balance between home life and work. Employees can even donate sick leave to co-workers who might be going through harder times.

“If an employee has a particular problem, HR puts up a notice,” says executive director Cynthia R. Guinn. “People donate almost immediately.”

But perhaps most beloved of all is the institute’s democratic management system. Although most will admit decisions might take longer, there’s no doubt everyone has a say. “The participatory governance system allows any employee to bring forth an idea and be listened to,” explains Guinn. “Employees are empowered to make critical decisions.”

A sense of pride
No. 2 Medium: TLC Federal Credit Union

Employees of Tillamook-based TLC Federal Credit Union have much to say about their employer’s numerous community-oriented programs, but president and CEO Mike Pierce thinks his organization continues to command such strong employee loyalty because of something much simpler: “I really believe we are a family.”

And many of his employees, some of whom have been with the 52-year-old credit union for more than 20 years, would agree.

Pierce says his approachable managers, who have worked together for almost 12 years, strive to make the working environment of the five-branch credit union in three counties of the Oregon Coast as accommodating as possible and provide maximum comfort for members. That includes a banking institute rarity — chairs for its tellers. “We really do respect our employees,” he explains. “And we have to earn that respect — not the other way around.”

Flexible hours, education assistance, guaranteed benefits, transferable sick leave and a supportive environment where Pierce says no one breathes down your neck make TLC a great place to work.

And the community efforts can’t hurt, either. Pierce says TLC recently helped save the Tillamook County Fair by providing a zero-percent interest loan to the county to build a stadium. “When people see that in the local paper, it gives them a sense of pride,” he says. “People are happy.”

Support and care
No. 3 Medium: Portland YouthBuilders

Portland YouthBuilders provides high school and vocational training with an emphasis on environmental sustainability for 200 at-risk, low-income students. It does so tuition-free, and even throws in a small stipend for them to boot.

Executive director Jill Walters says that just like the organization’s business practices, she wants her staff to be healthy and sustainable. The team-oriented organization, founded in 1995, now has two Southeast Portland campuses where Walters says the organization cultivates a flexible environment that protects the boundaries between work life and personal life. “Balance is a priority,” she says.

PYB’s computer training program helps close the “digital gap” of low-income students and teaches them how to refurbish unwanted computers, which they then donate to clients of other local nonprofit agencies. Walters says students of the construction training program build an average of four affordable, energy-efficient homes each year.

Part of a network of more than 200 similar organizations nationwide, PYB is a YouthBuild-certified organization that works with a number of federal and private institutions, and is accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools as a high school diploma-granting organization.

“We have a compelling mission,” she explains. “Our work environment supports people. It’s not an unnecessary bureaucracy with hurdles.”

Fulfilled by the work itself
No. 4 Medium: REACH Community Development

Human resources manager Linda Davidson says there are no surprises at REACH Community Development. The 75-employee organization may follow a traditional workplace hierarchy, but Davidson stresses that everyone will not only be heard, but encouraged to get involved in decision making.

“We place great value on what our employees have to say,” she says of the open work environment. “We want people to be part of the organization and offer suggestions.”

The Portland nonprofit, founded in 1982, has won several national and state awards for its development efforts. It owns and operates some 85 single-family homes and multiunit apartment buildings for nearly 1,500 seniors, working poor, special-needs and formerly homeless tenants, and helps them connect with the services and programs they need.

Davidson says her fellow employees feel a great deal of satisfaction in the work they do. While turnover is inevitable in any workplace, a few employees of REACH, including herself, have been working there for more than 20 years. They enjoy a 6% increase in their retirement contribution after one year, and the organization offers a cafeteria plan for child care, special health-related treatments and bus passes.

But Davidson believes her co-workers are fulfilled by the work itself. “People can see what they’re doing,” she explains. “We are making our community a better place.”

Backing each other
No. 2 Small: Oregon Health Care Association

The Oregon Health Care Association (OHCA) appears to have been inoculated against micromanagement. Even Linda Kirschbaum, a director at OHCA, echoes her co-workers’ comments about the autonomy and trust the management gives their cohesive staff of 15. “We take our direction, and Jim [OHCA president James Carlson] lets us go.”

Started originally as a trade association in 1950, the Portland-based nonprofit provides advocacy, education and training for more than 800 member facilities and their vendors that provide long-term care for more than 30,000 Oregonians daily. Kirschbaum says that whatever the task at hand, the small staff comes together, listens to ideas from everyone and then solves the problem. “Everyone brings that dedication,” she says. “[The solution] could be from anyone.”

Family is always given a priority at the organization, and employees enjoy telecommuting options and a comprehensive family health plan. But it’s the staff itself that Kirschbaum sees as the organization’s strength. “We all support each other,” she explains. “If something goes wrong [at home], we can take care of it.”

Obviously proud of the hardworking but fun environment he helps maintain, President James Carlson lists off the organization’s frequent morale-building activities like bowling parties and employee lunches. However, he remains modest about his karaoke skills and defers to his staff.

“We have a strong team of committed professionals,” says Carlson. “We have good chemistry.”

Healing help
No. 3 Small: The Dougy Center

Perhaps because the Dougy Center has provided grieving services and support to children since 1982, the dedicated staff was uniquely prepared to face a major trauma themselves — the near destruction of their main center in Southeast Portland in an arson attack in June.

But the 11 employees can also count on their leader, Donna Schuurman, executive director of the center. The team has remained as tightly knit as ever and not a single employee was lost, thanks to her efforts. “Times of crisis pull people together,” she explains. “We have a mission and we are going to find a way.”

Schuurman believes that mission is what makes her employees — some of whom have been with the center for more than 18 years — persevere, even though 12 now have to share a space designed for four. But employees also enjoy ample insurance coverage, flexible schedules and periodic retreats such as kayak trips.

Schuurman says her staff has spoken at length over the years about how helping families deal with the heavy burden of death is enormously fulfilling. Instead of bringing them down, it has the opposite effect, helping them all appreciate life. “We get to see a lot of healing and progress,” she says. “It’s quite an honor.”


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