Community Fund surpasses $58 million in giving

01.02.2013 Dean Rhodes Spirit Mountain Community Fund

As part of the Grand Ronde Tribe's latest effort to improve the quality of life in Oregon consistent with its values, Spirit Mountain Community Fund distributed more than $640,000 to 33 Oregon nonprofits on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

Since its inception in 1997, the Community Fund has donated more than $58.3 million to nonprofits in an 11-county area in western Oregon and to Oregon's nine federally recognized Tribes as part of its gaming compact with the state.

The grants fund projects in the areas of education, health, arts and culture, environment, historic preservation and public safety.

This quarter's recipients included Dallas-based Farmers Ending Hunger, a 7-year-old nonprofit that solicits food or in-kind donations that go to the Oregon Food Bank and the Polk-Marion Food Share, said Executive Director John Burt.

He said that he hopes the $15,000 Community Fund grant will enable the group to increase donations by $1 million from the $1.8 million to $2 million the group has collected in recent years.

This was the second Community Fund grant awarded to the group.

A $25,000 grant to Groundwork Portland will help the group "educate the public about issues related to the cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site," said Executive Director Cassie Cohen.

Cohen works with volunteers to battle an industry public relations onslaught aimed at keeping cleanup costs as low as possible for the "potentially responsible parties," a term describing the companies responsible for some of the pollution that has damaged the Portland Harbor area and devastated fish runs. At issue now is how much each company will pay for its part in the contamination.

Groundwork Portland is part of an international group that includes Groundwork USA and Groundwork UK, and works to educate the public about a number of environmental issues.

This is the second grant for Groundwork Portland, which started operations in 2008.

The Groundwork Portland project, "Portland Harbor Storytelling and Engagement of Environmental Justice Communities," also features stories about people's experiences in the environmental trenches.

Silverton-based Oregon Center for Public Policy received $50,000 to increase public knowledge about state budget and tax issues, said Executive Director Chuck Sheketoff.

The group, which has received one previous grant from the Community Fund, holds workshops for community groups, including low-income communities and communities of color, Sheketoff said.

The Salem Schools Foundation received $29,050 to expand a project called "Learning Gardens and Nutrition Education" to 11 schools, including elementary, middle and high schools, said Executive Director Brent Neilsen.

The program gives students a hands-on experience with growing and preparing foods and is currently in "eight creeping into nine schools," said Neilsen.

"If I say to eat a carrot," said foundation Board President Krina Lemons, "a student may not be interested, but if they plant it and grow it, the reaction is different."

When the program started, a lot of children did not know what kale was, she added, but now students are asking for kale.

"It opens up the diversity of their food choices," she said. "We're changing their behavior from the ground up."

"The projects funded this quarter are truly community investments," said Kathleen George, Community Fund executive director. "With the Tribe's support these charitable groups will help children learn to eat better and grow their own food, allow people affected by Willamette pollution to have their stories heard and help educate Oregonians about how our tax system works and how it affects all our families. Supporting our friends and neighbors has always been a Tribal value. We are proud to support the work of these community charities that are helping the people." 

"You're the people who do all the work on our behalf," said Community Fund Board Chairman Sho Dozono to the recipients, who were sitting in Tribal Council Chambers in chairs extending out into the Governance Center Atrium.

Dozono was joined at the check presentation by Tribal Council members who are also on the Community Fund board: Secretary Toby McClary and Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr., and Board member Ron Reibach, facilities director for Spirit Mountain Casino. Tribal Council Chair Reyn Leno also is on the Community Fund board, but was out on health-related leave.

"It's always a pleasure to have people out here to see the things we have beyond the casino," said McClary. "The casino is helping people become self-sufficient. It's not just to make Indians rich."

The Community Fund also made awards - Helping Hands awards - to one volunteer working in a nonprofit program and to one nonmanagement staffer.

Angela Frome received the nonmanager award for her work with the Northwest Down Syndrome Association. She was described as a passionate disabilities advocate.

Caity Hatteras received the volunteer award for helping deliver 20,000 pounds of food to families in need through the Metro Affordable Housing program.

Caity gave more than 500 hours for Metro Affordable Housing, while also helping out in three other housing communities.

Finally, two previous grants - one to Forest Grove-based Adelante Mujeres and another to Portland-based Playwrite - were announced. Recipients received the funds at the last meeting, but were unable to attend.