Monday, April 9, 2012

Campaign is going strong! Thank you!

We are past the mid-point for the campaign and results are very promising. Several workplaces are leading the charge not only in dollar increases, but also participation rates. A number of new companies joined the campaign this year, including Cascade Energy Inc. that raised over $10,000.

The City of Vancouver and the Clark County government initiated a friendly competition to see who raised the most money this year. At stake was the dignity of Vancouver City and Clark County leaders - City Manager Eric Holmes and County Administrator Bill Barron. The leader of the losing team, in this case Bill Barron, attended a Vancouver City Council meeting to praise the generosity of city employees and present the City Council with an award.

Intel continues to raise the bar for generosity; their employees and retirees have raised more than $4 million for this year’s campaign. It is impressive to see so many employees step up to help our community. Intel is also a founding member of the Cornerstone Partners. A special thanks to everyone at Intel for their successful campaign this year.

Bank of America has been giving to United Way for over 16 years and once again showed their support by directing their $100,000 corporate gift to the Cornerstone Partners program to cover the operating expenses for United Way. For donors like you, this means 100% of your donation goes to help our community.

 PacifiCorp employees and their families helped clean reusable materials for use in school art projects, packed 19,000 pounds of food to make up 14,000 meals, sorted reusable building materials and helped set up for a book sale which raised $45,000 for the library. By adding volunteer activities to their Community Giving Campaign, PacifiCorp made an even greater impact in the community

 The Jubitz Corporation saw their campaign increase an impressive 12% over last year with a huge growth in their participation rate. The organization has run a United Way Community Giving Campaign for years, but with new energy from their staff they achieved spectacular results. The campaign wrapped up with a donation-driven dunk tank event where Mark Gram, COO of the Jubitz Corporation definitely got wet. It was a great way to energize their campaign and a big “thank you” goes out to Mr. Gram for being such a good sport.

Thanks to all of our companies and all of our donors for your generosity!

Loyal Contributors: Bob and Marilyn Ridgley

Bob and Marilyn Ridgley epitomize what it means to be a United Way Loyal Contributor.

They have been giving to United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and United Way of Santa Fe County in New Mexico for over 50 years, starting in 1961 when Bob went to work at Stoel Rives.

Bob was an active United Way volunteer and chaired the United Way Campaign Cabinet in 1991 when he was president of NW Natural.

Both Bob and Marilyn are great advocates of the Tocqueville Society, United Way’s program for major donors. They deeply believe in the value of getting involved in volunteer organizations.

“I’ve been involved in those kinds of organizations all my life. And to me that was what made life exciting, was the ability to see changes you were making on your society,” says Bob.

Bob attended Cornell University and then Harvard Law School. Marilyn was a year behind and graduated from Cornell University with a teaching degree. Both their scholastic experiences developed their interests in volunteering and giving back to their community.

After graduation, they headed out west for Portland, Oregon where Bob worked for twenty-three years at Stoel Rives doing corporate law.

Now retired, both Bob and Marilyn continue their volunteer service and spirit of philanthropy through United Way of the Columbia-Willamette.

If you have given to United Way – any United Way – for 10 years or more then you’re a Loyal Contributor.

Sign up for special benefits here and join the ranks of our many longtime donors like the Ridgleys.

Portland Non-Profits Scramble to Prevent Increase in Homeless Families after Federal Budget Cuts

The statistics are telling. In the metro area, over 550,000 people live in poverty, including 17,500 seniors. Many of those experiencing poverty work minimum wage jobs that just don’t provide enough income to cover the basics like food, rent and utilities. As a result, 30% seek monthly food assistance just to get by. Unemployment, evictions and rising costs for basic needs mean that more of our neighbors, coworkers and friends are living on the edge – some for the first time in their lives. 

Thanks to our donor’s support, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is able to respond. In collaboration with local agencies, United Way’s Community Relief Fund helped stabilize almost 60,000 families in crises in 2011. 

United Way’s Community Relief Fund supports local agencies working to fill the gap but many of these agencies also rely on another funding from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP). EFSP, a collaboration between the federal government and non-profits like United Way, has provided regional funding for agencies that serve families in crises for 28 years. This year the Portland metro area’s $1.3 million in funding from EFSP was cut, leaving local agencies scrambling to provide emergency services to area families. You can help! 

Here’s what you can do!! 

Contact Congress: urge them to take action to reconsider their funding cuts to this vital program that provides for those most in need of support. 

Tell Your Friends: Share this blog post through Facebook, Twitter and email. 

Stay in Touch: Sign up for our email newsletter and stay informed. 

Donate to the Community Relief Fund: Your donations will make a difference! 

History of Disability Rights and Important Dates

Although June 22 has passed for this year, it was a historic day for the disability community. Not only did it mark the anniversary of the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision which affirmed the right of people with disabilities to live in their homes and communities, but it also marks the anniversary of the death of Justin Dart, Jr. who is widely recognized as "the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act," "the godfather of the disability rights movement," and co-founder of the Justice for All Blog.

Coming up, July 26th will be the 21st anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. In 1990, the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people was signed into law. The ADA signifies the adoption of a public policy committed to the removal of a broad range of impediments to the integration of people with disabilities into society. The ADA is a wide-ranging law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religions, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Disability is defined by the ADA as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." The determination of whether any particular condition is considered a disability is made on a case by case basis.

For more information about the history of Disability Rights Movement, check out the following link and click through the options as your interest leads you. Clicking on the pictures gives more in depth info.

Daimler Receives United Way Giving Campaign Honors

Last month, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette interim President and CEO Jay Bloom had the pleasure of presenting the organization's 2010 Campaign Metric Award to Daimler Trucks North America. There to accept the award was Daimler's President and CEO Martin Daum who has been at the helm of the company since 2009. Mr. Daum has leadership and visionary responsibility for Daimler Trucks North America LLC and its affiliated companies - Freightliner Trucks, Western Star Trucks, Thomas Built Buses, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, Detroit Diesel Corporation and Axle Alliance Company.

The metric award from United Way is given for excellence in campaign statistics and with the reinstatement of the corporate match this past campaign year, Daimler also was recognized with the Largest New Corporate Gift award for a company with more than 200 employees. The total giving for Daimler Trucks North America was nearly $147,000!

Thank you to Daimler and to every one of their employees and retirees who participated in last year's United Way Annual Giving Campaign. Your contributions will be used to improve children's education, help individuals and families become more financially stable and improve health and wellness in our community. 

We look forward to kicking off our next annual giving campaign this fall with your support. If your company would like to participate please learn more on United Way of the Columbia-Willamette's website.

Housing & Health for People of Color in Portland

“Creating safe and decent places to live can have incredibly positive effects on a family's health, on study habits of students, and on a neighborhood's overall attractiveness and stability.”-Jimmy Carter, Decent Housing is not Just a Wish, it is a Human Right

The Oregon Humanities brown bag discussion on June 23, 2011 brought together three scholars to discuss, among other issues, the impact of poverty and housing discrimination on the health and vitality of children of color. According to the presenters, housing discrimination remains a key mechanism for maintaining racial segregation, and along with it, a host of other deleterious social ills. Their conclusion: discrimination in housing affects children’s health because it typically means that impoverished people of color live in dense urban areas with higher levels of social stress and environmental pollution.

To the point, Portland Metro area’s history of housing and wage discrimination has resulted in significantly lower levels of income and wealth for people of color. With reduced access and little left in stretched budgets for health care, people of color in the Metro area experience higher rates of infant mortality and teen birth, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and prostate cancer deaths. According to the Multnomah County, Racial & Ethnic Disparities, 2011 Update, intervention strategies related to health and access to economic, educational, employment, and housing opportunities will be necessary to address the 22 health disparities for people of color in the Metro area.

At United Way of the Columbia-Willamette we realize that many of the problems facing our community are complex and interconnected. Through our Community Impact Fund we research and identify the most effective projects and collaborations that address issues of education, income and health, providing funds, and technical assistance, and promoting system change. Through efficient use of donor dollars we encourage collaborative relationships and leverage resources for use in addressing some of the most challenging social issues in our community.

United Way funds innovative projects that promote healthy environments and assist individuals and families in maintaining financial stability. Programs like Project Access NOW provide health care resources for those without, and a variety of income projects promote financial stability. United Way’s funding support not only addresses the current needs of the community but work to promote lasting change. Learn more about this work and other ways United Way seeks to advance the common good on our website.

So, what is your experience? We invite you to join in the conversation; send us your comments and feedback.

Pride Month

United Way's Internal Diversity and Inclusion committee makes efforts to inform our staff of notable diversity topics and with June being Pride Month, here is a little background on the history and importance of the movement that we thought we'd share: 

June is the month for Pride events here in Oregon and across the nation. Pride can mean many things: satisfaction in an achievement, a sense of dignity or value, a family of lions...and tigers and bears...oh my!

With regard to June, Pride refers to gatherings and parades held to recognize and celebrate the history, contributions and diversity of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) citizens. In this context, the word pride is used as an affirmation of LGBTQ identity and community. 

The modern Pride movement began in 1969 after the Stonewall riots in New York City, when a group of gay people fought back against unconstitutional police raids of local gay bars. Stonewall gave a sense of pride to a previously underground community and parades were held to commemorate the significance of the riots, eventually seeding the grassroots movement of today’s LGBTQ community. 

Learn more about United Way's diversity efforts and we'll see you at the Portland Pride Parade on June 19th.

United Way's Commitment to Being Good Stewards of Your Donor Dollars

Many Oregonians may have heard of State Senate Bill 40, initiated by Attorney General Kroger, which targets "bad" charities or those non profits that spend less than 30% of funds they raise on programs and revoking their tax-exempt status. Not long ago AG Kroger also released the list of the 20 Worst Charities of 2010 that were registered to raise funds in Oregon (not to worry, United Way is no where near that list!). 

While it seems as though the bill is stalled in the Senate ( it does bring up an opportunity to consider how your philanthropy dollars are being spent. United Way would like to make sure our supporters are well aware of all the many steps we take to be good stewards of your donation and that, with your support, we're having a direct and significant impact on improving lives of thousands of people locally. 

1. The United Way Cornerstone Partners program ensures that 100% of the dollars you generously donate to United Way help people improve their education, income and health. We're able to do that thanks to 16 local companies that have chosen to designate their corporate gifts to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, to help underwrite operating costs. Because of their support, 100% of contributions received will be invested in local programs to help people in need.

2. United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is proud to say our fiscal efficiency rating exceeds industry standards for non profit organizations. But you don't have to just take our word for it, information is available on GuideStar and Charity Navigator. 

3. United Way does the research. We conduct extensive community assessments to understand the needs of the community and fund programs designed to create system-wide improvements in education, income (economic stability and poverty) and health. By conducting the research, we know where best to use your dollars. Read these extensive United Way Community Needs Assessment and other reports. 

4. Our innovative grant funding model includes requirements that all our projects conduct rigorous and regular outcome reports to make sure the dollars that are spent, your dollars, are put to maximum use to benefit the community. 

5. We take considerable care to be transparent about our financial reporting and make our financial documents readily available on our website for our donors and the public to review.

6. We communicate with our supporters about what results we have achieved as a result of your generous donation. United Way's Community Impact Results Report showcases the measurable results we were able to achieve over the past five years. Each year we were able to improve the lives of 100,000 people right here in our local community with your help. 

To learn more about the results United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is able to achieve, consider signing up for our United Way e-newsletter and we'll keep you well informed of how we're being good stewards of your donor dollars.

Thank you for your support.

United Way Honors U.S. Bank

A big thank you goes out to U.S. Bank this week. As a fantastic member of United Way's Cornerstone Partner program, they presented their corporate check worth an impressive $195,000! 

If you are unfamiliar with the Cornerstone Partner program, seventeen local companies have chosen to designate their corporate gifts to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, to help underwrite operating costs. Because of their support, 100% of contributions received by individuals like you will be invested in local programs to help people in need.

National Recognition

Additionally, U.S. Bank was honored by United Way Worldwide with the 2011 United Way Spirit of America Award recently. In communities across the United States, including here in the Portland/Vancouver region, U.S. Bank and its employees leverage their unique expertise to improve people's financial stability and create stronger communities. 

In 2010, U.S. Bank nationally raised more than $38 million in charitable giving! Additionally, U.S. Bank employees volunteer in significant numbers, last year alone, employees volunteered more than one million hours worth of service.

Thank you U.S. Bank for being such an inspiring partner in working to improve the lives of so many people here in Oregon and throughout the United States.

April is National Volunteer Month: A perfect time for all of us to get out and be great by serving our community.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

At United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, we focus on the building blocks of a quality life: education, income and health. With regard to volunteerism, the connection seems pretty clear. Higher education leads to a steady income and financial stability which often leads to higher volunteer rates. Volunteering has a variety of benefits, not just for the community at large, but for the individual as well. Specifically, volunteering leads to greater mental and physical health by increasing social skills, providing a connection to community and giving a sense of purpose.

I’m glad there is a month dedicated to encouraging and inspiring people to volunteer. I need the reminder myself. While I recognize and understand the importance of volunteering on a cognitive level, sometimes I need not only the push to action, but also the pause to reflect on what volunteering means to me.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Volunteering in the United States 2010), I fit fairly neatly into the categories deemed to volunteer the most. I’m female. I’m employed and receive a Community Service Benefit from my employer. I’m 41. I’ve been fortunate to receive a college education. I’m white, unless I choose to volunteer my Mexican and Native American roots. I’m healthy and able-bodied. According to my demographics, I should be a volunteer extraordinaire!

Despite the many privileges above, I have to say, I don’t volunteer as often as I could. Because of my vantage point, it’s easy for me to find rationalizations for why I haven’t volunteered as much as I’d like. I work for a non-profit, so I’m making a contribution to the common good every day. I make other charitable contributions. I’m too busy with other hobbies, activities, family and friends. I haven’t found the right organization yet. You get the idea.

In the process of categorizing myself as a person with few barriers to volunteering, I quickly realized I could just as easily be viewed as selfish, uncaring, lazy and disinterested. I know in my heart these things aren’t true. Yet, how often do I view myself in these terms? I feel like I could do more. The privilege I have reinforces the idea that my contributions are needed and welcome. 

What if I was struggling to get my GED? What if I was unemployed? What if I was in poor health? Would I still feel like my contributions are welcome? How would I fit into this structured idea of volunteerism? Would the service I provide to my family, my neighbors or my church be given as much weight in the eyes of others? How often is non-participation viewed as apathy, especially for less privileged groups?

The community benefits of formal volunteering are undeniable. When people grab hold of hands, come together and volunteer, great things are accomplished in short order. We learn about ourselves and others. In this spirit, I suggest broadening the conversation so we truly recognize the service of all people. 

At the core, volunteerism is an organized way for us to show empathy for one another and experience our interdependence. In reality, we all give of ourselves every day with every interaction, although we probably don’t view it as volunteering. 

So, not only will I use National Volunteer Month as a spark to rekindle my volunteer fire, I’ll also start being more aware of the informal acts of volunteerism too. Introducing myself to more of my neighbors? Why not! Holding the door for someone? You betcha! Picking up the fast food litter outside my apartment? Bring it on!

Join me in volunteering this month and throughout the year. Learn more about volunteer opportunities by visiting United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s website at

“Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.” - Albert Schweitzer

Michelle House
Member, United Way Internal Diversity & Inclusion Team

My Bad Habit

I have a bad habit. Okay, I have several. One, though, is significant in terms of diversity and race. I take guilty pleasure in scanning the comments section of articles posted to the website of a local newspaper to see how long it takes for race to enter the dialogue. The phenomenon is especially common in articles regarding politics or crime. 

This newspaper seems to have a policy not to include race in physical descriptions of suspected perpetrators. This policy draws the ire of many readers who suggest the paper is not doing its job by withholding this information and instead is pandering to political correctness. A reporter recently directed unhappy commentators to a PBS interactive web piece called, RACE – The Power of an Illusion, to illustrate the philosophy behind this issue. The PBS information demonstrates that race is a social construction. This construction historically benefited its more powerful architects over those from whom they sought land, property, labor or other ill-gotten commodities. RACE – The Power of Illusion instructs that, “Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.”

The “Sorting People” section of the PBS site challenges viewers to correctly identify the race of twenty different people, take a look and you will see why this is so daunting. The issue is a personal one for me. My own heritage is Irish, Native American, and French. While I am Pembina Chippewa, my mother was enrolled out of Sault Ste. Marie reservation in Michigan, meaning that she and her children would have federal recognition as Native Americans although we are not Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa, but most anyone would identify me as white. My son has about the same skin tone as me, but some would question or be surprised to know that his maternal grandmother is African American.

Herein, I believe, is the crux of the newspaper’s policy on printing suspects’ race. What angry readers really want to know is what color the accused individual is. Race, ethnicity, and color are not all the same thing. Hispanics and Latinos, or individuals whose heritage leads back to a Spanish speaking country, have skin tones that nearly run the gamut of human pigmentation. African American is a common racial classification, but is it appropriate for an individual whose family comes from Jamaica, Haiti, or Kenya? So identifying another person’s race for them is insulting and often erroneous.

None of this is meant to exhort a philosophy of “colorblindness.” We are not all the same, and that is okay. More than okay; it is wonderful, beautiful, and deeply valuable. Race is an illusion, but many of us still need ethnicity to define ourselves, our communities and provide a sense of belonging. We have not reached the point where communities of color can stop coming together to pursue, maintain, and further civil rights. Historical scars of racism have not healed and new ones appear constantly. 

However, I do believe that it is important to remember that we are more than the sum of our labels, more than a color. I encourage you to visit the PBS site at

Colin McCormack
Member, United Way Internal Diversity and Inclusion Committee

Earned Income Tax Credit: Jeff and Rita Helping Families Save Money

Jeff has been working to provide free tax preparation for the past seven years, the past four of which have been spent at CASH Oregon’s Lloyd Center free tax preparation center as a site coordinator. Nearly all the people that visit the site qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and United Way of the Columbia-Willamette provides funds to help those clients receive the credit.

“Most of the people we help here are either surprised or delighted that they’re receiving a considerable refund or they’re counting on that money to help pay family bills,” Jeff said. “The way I see it, my job has two goals, first to make sure our clients are following all the tax laws to keep them out of trouble with the IRS and second to make sure they pay out as little as possible as allowed by tax law to help them better support their families.”

Rob Justus, Executive Director of CASH Oregon commends Jeff’s tireless efforts to save low income families money and ensure their taxes are filed correctly. “Jeff created the bar that all our tax sites adhere to for quality control,” said Rob. “Jeff developed a training course for all our tax volunteers on quality control and he makes sure we score 100% in site IRS audits meaning that all the tax returns we do are accurate.”

Rita is one of the volunteers who works three days a week to help prepare taxes for lower income individuals and families. “I enjoy being able to help people so much that I often stay so long into the evening they have to kick me out!” Rita said. “My mother used to volunteer doing tax preparation so last year I decided I wanted to help too and took the four 8 hour classes needed to become a certified tax preparer and I just love it.”

This tax season, the CASH Oregon site in Lloyd Center Mall is on track to file 3,000 returns for free, which would set a record for this location. They are expecting to file 16,000 free tax returns at all the 53 CASH Oregon tax sites combined thanks to over 300 volunteer tax preparers like Rita.

Tax Event Saves Low-Income Taxpayers Money

As part of United Way's funding of financial education services at the Community Housing Resource Center (CHRC) in Clark County, the center partnered with US Bank and the IRS last month to prepare 20 tax returns during the 2011 Homeless Connect event organized by the Council for the Homeless. Many individual tax returns were prepared placing $7,000 in Earned Income Tax funds into the hands of homeless low-income working taxpayers and a total of $15,000 in tax refunds were obtained by homeless participants at the event. Several people were also able to open direct deposit accounts with the Bank and staff at CHRC was able to connect people with community financial education and counseling resources that are available at the Center.