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Public-private partnerships are the future, says Oregon Community Foundation head

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - These women at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility are engaged in the Early Head Start program within the confines of the prison, the only such facility for women in Oregon. The Early Head Start program at Coffee Creek has been a recipient of grant funding from the Oregon Community Foundation. Max Williams is fond of quoting Hillary Rodham Clinton when it comes to philanthropy.

“It takes a village,” he told an assembled audience last week at the monthly gathering of the South Metro Leadership Forum, held at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn. “Just as in physics or chemistry, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the same is true with philanthropy.”

Williams is the former director of the Oregon Department of Corrections and a practicing attorney. He’s also the CEO of the Oregon Community Foundation, one of the most influential philanthropic organizations in the United States. Founded in 1973 by some of the biggest names in Oregon business and politics, the foundation today controls more than 1,700 separate endowment funds around Oregon worth more than $1.4 billion combined. These funds are normally dedicated to serve specific areas of the community, and more than $60 million in grant funding is now awarded in a typical year to groups around the state.

“What they really envisioned was a charitable bank made up of dividends from many Oregonians,” Williams said. “It was intended to serve whole state and to connect Oregonians. (The founders) saw Oregon had enough to divide us, but that philanthropy could actually be a unifying force.”

Now it’s one of the largest community foundations in the nation. The OCF boasts more than 1,600 volunteers organized into eight geographical regions across Oregon.

In Wilsonville, the organization has directed thousands of dollars in grant funding to various causes in recent years. The city also is well represented within the organization’s leadership ranks.

Richard Goddard, Wilsonville resident and city councilor, serves on the foundation’s Metro Portland Leadership Council alongside fellow Wilsonville resident Wendy Buck. Goddard said the organization has had a “meaningful impact” on the local community.

“It’s an organization that has touched many lives throughout our state,” Goddard said.

One example, he said, is Community 101, a nonprofit group that partners with the Portland General Electric Community Foundation to provide high school students with scholarship or other funding opportunities.

Community 101 recently funded a program at the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s Arts and Technology High School in Wilsonville. That funding in turn allowed Art Tech students to award around $5,000 in grants to various Wilsonville causes.

“What I observed at the awards ceremony,” Goddard said, “were young people exhibiting important skills of public speaking, self-confidence, leadership and, most of all, they had fun in the process.”

Goddard said it was quite gratifying, considering the makeup of the student body.

“Some of these students come from households where parents have had exposure to the corrections system in Oregon, something Max knows a lot about,” Goddard said. “Some of them may themselves have been exposed to the corrections system and law enforcement. But this has engaged our youth here in Wilsonville in a very unique and important way.”

It’s not just kids who are benefiting. In the last year, the Oregon Community Foundation has awarded a total of 257 grants in Clackamas County, Williams said. Totaling more than $3 million in support for local nonprofits, the benefits are widely spread. Recipients range from the Wilsonville Public Library to the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, where grant funding helped purchase educational and other materials for incarcerated mothers involved in Early Head Start program at the prison.

Williams said that in the future the health of society as a whole may well depend on the ability of the private and public sectors to collaborate to the best of their respective abilities. Nonprofits like the Oregon Community Foundation, he said, can provide the ties that bind the two together.

“I’m really an optimist when it comes to Oregon’s future,” he said. “But I’m not blind to the challenges that we face. The economic, demographic, structural and essentially a loss of trust and confidence in the instutitions we all use to solve our problems — there isn’t a category or region of Oregonians that is not challenged in some way.”

So what to do?

“I don’t believe the Oregon Community Foundation or philanthropy at large can solve all our problems,” he said. “But I think we have an important role to play. We’re engaged with all of these folks at some level to try and solve problems, and we have, at least comparatively, credibility. There’s no ideological axe to grind.”

Philanthropy cannot and should not replace the public social safety net entirely, he added.

“But it’s an increasing area of charitable giving the needs examining,” he said, alluding to the example set by the Bill Gates Charitable Foundation. “The Schnitzers, Hampdens, Windells, the Greys, Knights and many others have followed the same tradition here in Oregon. They are dramatically giving back to Oregon in a wide variety of ways.”

For more information about the Oregon Community Foundation, visit oregoncf.org.




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