Unless you make a point of it, you may never notice Southeast Portland's volunteers at work making your community better — they don't do it for the attention; they do it to make where we live better for all of us.
Some pick up litter. Some help others in need. And quite a few of them are involved with their Neighborhood Association. No matter where you live in Inner Southeast — or in the whole city, for that matter — you live within the borders of a Neighborhood Association, which functions as a sort of "city hall" for the neighborhood in which you live. It can't make laws, but it can advocate for the neighborhood to the city — and it seeks to serve everyone in its designated area. Everyone on the Board or any of the committees of that Neighborhood Association is an unpaid volunteer.
Occasionally a Neighborhood Association pauses to honor its volunteers, and SMILE — the Sellwood and Westmoreland Neighborhood Association — did that on Sunday, June 12. The celebration took place at the former fire station building it acquired from the city four decades ago — now called "SMILE Station" — at S.E. 13th and Tenino Street in Sellwood. All its volunteers, past and present, were invited to the buffet reception, and many came — along with their neighbors, friends, and members of their families. SMILE hopes to make this a regular recognition event, and each time to have a special honor for one of them. At this first such celebration, Nancy Walsh was that special honored guest.
If you frequent the Westmoreland and Sellwood neighborhood, you may know Nancy without realizing it — at the very least by the things she's done. Nancy, along with her friend and fellow volunteer Gail Hoffnagle, made a career out of operating the city's Community Centers; Nancy was in charge, at different times, of the Mt. Scott Community Center, and the Sellwood Community Center. But even before retiring from PP&R, Nancy and Gail were getting involved in SMILE, and finding ways of making the neighborhood a better place to live. Long-timers may remember the beautiful hanging baskets of flowers in the summertimes hanging from utility poles. before the Sellwood Westmoreland Business Alliance (today's SMBA) briefly took it over, Nancy for years organized the project, planted and maintained the hanging pots, arranged for the volunteers riding around the neighborhood in trucks at dawn to keep them watered, and then storing the pots in her basement over the winter. When a leader was needed on the SMILE Board, Nancy would always volunteer — she has repeatedly been President or Board Member for her nonprofit Neighborhood Association. And, without any fanfare, when something needed to be paid for to happen, Nancy would spend her own money on it, and not even seek reimbursement.
When the popular "Sundae In The Park" early-August day at Sellwood Park was imperiled by the lack of anyone to take over its leadership, Nancy stepped forward and did it as long as her health permitted her to do such strenuous work — her friend Gail helped her with that (and Gail also served as SMILE President, Vice President, and Board Member, as needed). Nancy led the 40th consecutive annual Sundae in the Park in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all civic events for a couple of years.
Nancy and Gail were also vital in the rescue of the Sellwood Community Center when PP&R decided to close it permanently; they headed the effort to obtain the right from the city to reopen it as a nonprofit run by the community it serves, under the name "Sellwood Community House". Their expertise as Managers of such facilities for PP&R made it possible to reopen it successfully with programs that drew participants and served the community. Nancy Walsh also made a special project of Oaks Pioneer Church — the historic white church just north of the east end of the Sellwood Bridge, on S.E. Spokane Street, which SMILE helped save from demolition at its original site in Milwaukie sixty years ago, and for which SMILE is still the renting agent for weddings and other special events. She maintained the rose bushes and the rest of the garden around the church, personally bought and applied paint when needed, and led developing it as a wedding venue.
As the climax of the special reception for volunteers on June 12, Nancy Walsh was honored by SMILE with the dedication of a new bench at Oaks Pioneer Church in her name. Since the bench could not be there that day, she was presented with the engraved plaque which will be mounted upon it.
But, again, that day was to honor all the volunteers who selflessly serve this particular neighborhood, and all of them in attendance received a special pin to wear. If the idea of being of service to your own neighborhood appeals to you, why wait? Find something you can do to make it better, and do it. If you are intrigued by the thought of joining with others nearby in volunteering at your own Neighborhood Association, whether it be SMILE or any of the others in Inner Southeast Portland, attend a meeting and get to know the others who are already contributing. Volunteers are always welcome at all of them. If you are not sure what your neighborhood is, or how you can connect with its association, you'll find a City of Portland list of Inner Southeast neighborhoods online right here — tinyurl.com/253wr7v9
Click on the neighborhood name you think is yours for a neighborhood map and contact information. If that isn't it, keep clicking down the list and you'll find it You'll feel good for helping out; and your neighborhood will appreciate you!
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