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March 2015

Road Tripping through the State of Giving

Kris Anderson is the co-author of State of Giving: Stories of Oregon Volunteers, Donors, and Nonprofits, along with the former president of the Oregon Community Foundation, Greg Chaillé. In anticipation of the book's imminent publication in April 2015, we asked Kris to share some of her experiences writing the book, as well as her take on what makes Oregon such an inspiring place.

Researching State of Giving meant a lot of time on the road. So we can tell you this with authority: Oregon’s scenic byways host some iconic roadside attractions. Petersen’s Rock Gardens, Harvey the Rabbit, and the world’s largest pig hairball, to name a few. But the Prehistoric Gardens on Highway 101 is one of the more arresting. Cruising along the southern coast’s wave-beaten monoliths and forested headlands, a bend in the road brings you face-to-face with a life-size T-Rex reaching with feeble arms and a cartoonish expression towards your car.

It’s a surreal moment, and a charming one. Like many of its roadside kin, Prehistoric Gardens seems a relic of a more credulous, less globalized era of travel. Its hand-painted sign has a typo; its concrete monsters have the lumbering, mud-tailed postures of long outdated paleontological theories. It’s less Jurassic Park, more Flintstones. And it’s a worthwhile stop, especially for fans of nostalgia and kitsch.

A few miles away is Port Orford, a small town that, like many small rural towns in Oregon, could easily be viewed by a stranger through similar lenses: as a quaint, appealing relic of something bygone—and as a nice tourist stopover. It has galleries on the main street, the ubiquitous myrtlewood shops, a beautiful adjacent bay and state park, a few derelict storefronts, and a message sprayed on the asphalt of a side road that reads “Ocean View This Way.”

That’s what you see when you cruise through at 35 miles an hour, at least, or poke around for the afternoon. But, as with many of Oregon’s rural communities, Port Orford deserves to be regarded as more than a roadside attraction for out-of-towners.

One of our key arguments in State of Giving is that across Oregon, there’s fascinating, inventive, and very contemporary work going on to enliven and sustain our state’s communities and landscapes. Much of it is entirely grassroots, created and championed by volunteers, local donors, and impassioned nonprofit and civic leaders. And some of the most engaged, progressive visions are coming out of tiny places like Port Orford: far from being sepia-toned backwaters, Oregon’s small towns are hotbeds of citizen activism and creativity.

State of Giving isn’t just about small town altruism and activism—its perspective is statewide, and it chronicles volunteerism, philanthropy, and civic leadership across many sectors and demographics. It is organized by sector, with each chapter detailing wide-ranging efforts to counteract what we regard as the key challenges facing Oregon: the urban/rural divide, education inequity, environmental degradation, poverty (and the hunger and homelessness it precipitates), dwindling support for Oregon’s cultural and heritage industries, and systemic social inequity and injustice. We profile organizations ranging from Basic Rights Oregon to the Jefferson County Historical Society to Albina Head Start to Wallowa Resources, a consensus-building environmental nonprofit headquartered in Enterprise. But while we outline why each organization is doing vital work, our profiles focus less upon the institutions themselves and more upon the volunteers, donors, and staff that are driving their work forward—first and foremost, this is a book about people.

Petite Port Orford, weighing in at a mere 1133 residents as of the 2010 Census, provides a number of outsized examples. Port Orford isn’t always an easy place to live: its once-vibrant forest products industry is now virtually extinct, its fishing industry has faced similar threats, it has an aging population, 54% of its residents are low-to-middle income, and it’s part of Curry County, which has one of the lowest tax rates in Oregon, meaning that investments in roads, schools, and basic services have all declined sharply. But the town also has a lot going for it: a stunning location, a temperate climate, a fertile ocean, a robust arts scene, a growing tourist economy, and most of all, a very close-knit, hands-on, git-‘er-done community.

Local artist and mom Allandra Emerson, for example, hated that the local schools had to cut arts education from their dwindling budgets but realized that the town had an untapped resource. “We have a healthy arts community here, but there’s not much overlap between the artists and parents of school-age children.” With her encouragement, the Port Orford Arts Council set up a Saturday arts program for children that eventually became incorporated—powered by volunteer labor from the arts community—back into the school day. “That way you can reach the maximum number of kids, not just kids whose parents are interested in the arts,” Allandra explains.

The Arts Council also runs a program at Port Orford’s library, itself the product of impressive civic leadership. For over seventy years, the Port Orford Library was just a room in a crumbling municipal building. But in 1995, residents of Port Orford formed the Library Foundation, a nonprofit established to find the library a permanent home. Led by the irrepressible Tobe Porter, the town raised over $1.8 million dollars and 70% of the community voted in favor a $450,000 bond to be used if needed. In 2008, on the day Port Orford Public Library opened it doors, “four hundred or so people lined up outside. They would just stop and look at it and cry with pride. It’s a library that the community built 100 percent,” Tobe recalls. Under Tobe’s leadership, the library now is a de facto community center, offering everything from job search training to yoga classes to town hall discussions.

The library has also hosted conversations that led to one of Port Orford’s most visible successes: the transformation of its fishing industry. Helmed by fisherman’s wife Leesa Cobb and supported by board chair Aaron Longton, a commercial salmon and black cod fisherman, Port Orford Ocean Resource Team [POORT] “arose out of necessity,” Aaron says. “Our town had lost its timber jobs, and the fishing was hit-or-miss… Everyone knew there’d be change, and that to weather the storms, we’d have to adapt [and] to organize ourselves.” With Leesa’s vision and with widespread support, including thousands of volunteer hours from local fishermen, Port Orford has taken a leadership role in marine conservation by creating a sustainable fishing industry and a locally administered maritime preserve. POORT has won regional and national conservation awards, attracted support from big-name funders, sells its sustainably-harvested fish statewide, and most of all, has helped place this little town on the cutting edge of triple-bottom-line solutions.

Allandra, Tobe, Leesa, Aaron, and many more like them have ensured that there’s more to Port Orford than meets the roadtripper’s eye. While it has tourist attractions and bygone industries, it’s no quaint throwback—it’s no concrete dinosaur. Rather, Port Orford is just one of hundreds of Oregon communities benefitting from the altruism and activism of folks who give time and money to help transform economies, conserve valuable ecologies, and improve lives.

If you want to hear more from Leesa and Tobe, if you want to learn more about the seminal challenges facing our state, if you want to read about vanguard citizens and organizations working to combat these challenges, if you run a nonprofit or are a volunteer or donor, or if you just want to glean some ideas about how you can engage more deeply with your community, State of Giving might be right up your alley. We had a blast writing it—world’s largest pig hairball notwithstanding—and hope it makes for an entertaining, illuminating, and mobilizing read.

—Kris Anderson

Photographs courtesy of Kris Anderson

Future of the forest

What is the inherent value of a forest? Is there an achievable compromise between human and preservation concerns within forest management? Jim Furnish, author of newly released Toward a Natural Forest, knows firsthand how difficult these questions can be to answer. A former US Forest Service deputy chief, Furnish draws greatly upon his own experiences in the agency to create a contemplative memoir that is as thought provoking as it is informative. Furnish joins us today to share his hopes for the future of forest stewardship in the United States.

 

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What is the gestation period of a book? Several years in my case, made longer by being a forester, not a writer. The hurdle involved moving beyond stories and anecdotes to a real message. I believe that today’s conflicts over forest politics and policies speak to a deeper clash over values. Our national forests, managed by the US Forest Service, have become a crucible for a hoped-for solution to the age-old question: “How do we get what we need from our forests without ruining them?” My book attempts to answer this question.

 

Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt and other far-sighted conservationists, the Forest Service is blessed (some might say saddled) with the responsibility of managing our national forests: a NorthernSpottedOwlstunningly beautiful and resource-rich public estate that accounts for nine percent of the country’s landmass. Devoted public servants – our legendary “forest rangers” – built a lofty, can-do reputation that crashed suddenly in the late 1900s, epitomized by the northern spotted owl controversy. Decades of ambitious logging in these vast, natural forests clashed with a growing awareness of heavy environmental costs and citizens clamoring for an agency that cared more about the values of common people than timber industry profits. The crash yielded a dispirited, wounded Forest Service confused about the future. Humpty Dumpty could relate.    

 

I observed the growing animosity through an internal lens; I was actually one of those guys responsible for all the trouble. Yet, my immersion in the roiling waters of conflict left me troubled, colored, and ultimately changed to become, yes, an environmentalist. Because the Clinton administration sought leaders with a stronger land ethic, this personal transformation resulted in my promotion to become a high-ranking deputy chief in 1999, a cherished honor. How strange though, after a 35-year career, to then find myself persona non grata and leaving the agency I loved for reasons of principle.

 

Toward a Natural Forest chronicles twin tales – mine and the Forest Service’s – of tumult and transformation, set against the restive environmental movement.

 

Environmentalists turned increasingly and successfully to the courts for redress, which imposed severe restrictions on logging public lands. The Forest Service seemed lost, floundering to fashion a future. As supervisor of Siuslaw National Forest on Oregon’s coast, I confronted an organization in free-fall with no viable vision.

 

TowardaNaturalForestMy memoir relates the journey from despair to hope, building a new forestry paradigm based on restoring naturalness to a landscape. We turned our focus to improving water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities, rather than simply producing wood products. The environmental community – former foes – enthusiastically supported the changes. The timber industry, whose supply of wood was much reduced, accepted a different and smaller role. For the first time in decades, the timber wars ceased.

 

I speak hopefully of a different and better future, a future that stewards forests humbly and respectfully to sustain their inherent functionality and worth. How much are our public forests worth? Far more than money. I contend they are priceless.

 

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Jim Furnish is a consulting forester in the Washington, DC, area following a 34-year career with the USDA Forest Service. He has served in a number of leadership positions within the agency, including a stint as deputy chief and supervisor of Siuslaw National Forest. Passionate about the protection of forested lands, Furnish was instrumental in creating the Roadless Area Conservation Rule and garnering support for a restorative policy over timber production in the Siuslaw National Forest. You can purchase his new book, Toward a Natural Forest, here.

 

Photo of Northern Spotted Owl taken by Oregon State University student Kristian Skybak, used with permission from Oregon Wild.

 

Reading: going global

 

WorldBookDay

Happy World Book Day! Yes, it’s a thing and yes, it’s definitely worth celebrating. Books ignite passion across the globe, serving as catalysts for the spread of information and ideas. From the first cuneiform tablets to modern digital readers, the written word has proved to be an invaluable tool.

 

And it’s precisely that utility for creativity that World Book Day aims to celebrate. According to the event website, World Book Day is a “worldwide celebration of books and reading,” created to “encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.” With the help of dozens of publishers and booksellers, more than 14 million children will receive free book vouchers redeemable at participating stores.

 

Helping children discover the joys of reading? That sounds like a pretty excellent reason for us to get on board! So, in honor of World Book Day, here are ten reasons you should pick up a text of the tangible variety today:

 

1.     To rediscover the wonders of reading yourself! When was the last time you opened a cover just for fun? There’s a reason we fall in love with books at a young age.

2.     To share with a friend. Remember that favorite title of yours you keep meaning to lend out? Time to share the wit of your favorite author and wisdom of your marginalia.

3.     To learn something new. You don’t have to be enrolled in a class to cram your brain with knowledge!

4.     To escape. Let’s go to the Caribbean. Or eighteenth-century London. Or the highest campsite in the Himalayas. It’s easy to discover new adventures within the pages of a book.

5.     To bond. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but remember all those nights your parents read to you? Finding someone to read aloud with can be a powerful experience.  Cuddle up with your kiddo or pay mom a visit to return the favor.

6.     To teach. Use an instructional or academic book to share something you’re passionate about with others.

7.     To challenge yourself. We can’t grow if we always ingest information that aligns with our current beliefs; try exploring an opposing viewpoint to place yourself in someone else’s shoes for a change.

8.    To find inspiration. Discover a new muse! 

9.     To take a moment for yourself. Reading offers a great opportunity to pause the chaos that is life and regroup. Turn a page, find some serenity.

10.  To feel. Books have the unique ability to make readers run the gamut of emotions. Life can be more fulfilling when you allow yourself to embrace both the good and bad.

 

Need a place to start exploring? Start here on our website to discover educational and exciting titles you’ll want to keep around.

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