East Portland people and organizations celebrated at 2009 Spirit of Portland Awards

If you haven’t yet heard – see who picked up gleaming Lucite awards, and a thunderous applause, at this year’s ceremony – held in downtown Portland.  Take a look; we’ve got loads of great, exclusive photos …

The Safety Committee Chair of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, Tom Barnes, and Midway Business Association Vice President Donna Dionne, owner of the Love Boutique, say they came downtown to see their neighborhood Chair, Mark White, pick up two – not one – 2009 Spirit of Portland Awards.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Of the twenty five 2009 Spirit of Portland awardees on November 12, five of the recipients were from East Portland. This year’s evening event was held at the Newmark Theatre, downtown, on SW Broadway.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams welcomes the participants to the 2009 Spirit of Portland Awards.

How Spirit of Portland awardees are chosen
The Spirit of Portland Awards are organized by the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), which is overseen by Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

“The City [is improving] because we understand that individuals, coming together, build a better community,” Fritz began.

Commissioner Fritz says the award winners are chosen by an impartial committee, using a scoring system.

“The system that was used makes sure the selection is fair; an impartial group of people select the awardees. They have a fairly elaborate scoring system that evaluates the nominations sent in by Portlanders.

Fritz said that, as a community organizer, she has served twice on the selection committee. “It was wonderful to hear about so many wonderful things going on in every part of Portland. It is also challenging to pick only a few winners.”

Emerging Community Leader Award: Mark White

2009 Spirit of Portland Emerging Community Leader, Mark White receives his memento from Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

Commissioner Fritz told the assembly that Mark White, Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood’s president, showed leadership by producing the successful 2009 East Portland Exposition (EPO XPO), working with students and culturally diverse groups. He increased neighborhood bike lanes, and instituted graffiti cleanups.

“He’s been president of neighborhood association for just over one year,” Fritz noted. “He devotes almost all of his time to improving the quality of life in Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood, and outer east Portland.”

Commissioner Fritz tells of Mark White’s accomplishments as a neighborhood leader.

Fritz looked up from her notes and said, “I have to break from the script and tell you, when it heard about his plans [for EPO XPO], I thought that was not possible to bring it off. When I went and visited, it happened on the days when the temperature was 100°; people were still there including the exhibitors. There were kids skating in the park – it was a wonderful event, and a tribute to Mark’s leadership.”

Fritz continued, “White also wrote and was awarded three small neighborhood association grants last year, including youth internship programs which introduced students to community organizing, focus groups with immigrant youths to identify ways to communicate and engage their non-English-speaking parents and to build community, and a neighborhood night out – that was expanded to include a movie in the park.

“Mark also wrote and received two additional grants from the East Portland Action Plan to begin work on the East Portland Position for 2010, and expand a Powellhurst Gilbert urban farming program. This’ll act as an economic development tool, and help address issues of increasing poverty and hunger in the community.”

Emerging Community Leader, Mark White says he has many to thank for his award.

White responded, “Hello everyone, and thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here, and an honor to receive this award. I am truly grateful to be able to do the things that I do. I can’t imagine not doing what I’m doing. It is a pleasure to be able to say that.

“I’m also keenly aware that I am only able to do that because of the love, support, and generosity of my partner Billy, so thank you so much.”

Non-Profit Award: IRCO

2009 Spirit of Portland Non-Profit; Sokhom Tauch, Executive Director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, receives his award from Commissioner Fritz.

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, known as IRCO, was recognized with a 2009 Spirit of Portland Award for community-based non-profit organizations for providing an array of culturally specific programs, serving families “from birth to elders”, Commissioner Fritz noted.

Fritz commended, “Since 1976, IRCO’s multilingual and multi-ethnic staff has been able to address the needs of Portland’s increasingly diverse groups – from Asia, the Pacific Islands, Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the United States.”

Commissioner Fritz says that IRCO helps support Portland’s increasingly diverse populations.

“IRCO has implemented various projects in response to community needs, such as Africa House, founded in 2006.  In the last year, they’ve expanded Africa House programming to include financial literacy classes – a public awareness campaign for domestic violence and a youth mentoring program.  In the last four months alone, Africa House worked with over 50 Africans working in Portland.

“IRCO also develops leadership opportunities for its diverse community with this diverse and civic leadership organizing project.  They recruit and train community leaders to become advocates in responding to the city and public involvement initiatives.”

IRCO’s Sokhom Tauch says he’s pleased that his organization is being honored for its work.

“Good evening,” responded Sokhom Tauch. “On behalf of our immigrant and refugee Portland community, on behalf of our IRCO Director and staff, I am grateful tonight to be able to be here and to accept the award.

“Portland is a beacon of hope for many immigrants. We are pretty honored to be able to serve them, and to help them become a self-sufficient and healthy community in Portland. By the way, I want to thank the person who nominated us. They must have done a good job to get us elected like this. Thank you, Mayor and Commissioners of Portland.”

Commissioner’s Award: Helensview High School

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s 2009 Spirit of Portland Commissioner’s Award was to the Principal of outer East Portland’s Helensview High School, Kris Persson, and Attendance Liaison Shantae Grixgby.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman noted that, for the first time, “Commissioner’s Awards” were also being presented. “My first such award goes to Helensview High School, operated by the Multnomah Educational Service District. It is a pioneer in gang violence prevention and peer mediation. It’s changing the path for at risk youth toward a more positive future.

“Principal Kris Persson’s compassion, and belief in her students, have helped shape the school’s philosophy. This includes its unique discipline strategies. If a student is not following the rules, that student follows Principal Persson for the day – maybe more than a day.

“If two or more students are having a disagreement, the students go directly to work, with peer mediators. Helensview does not expel students, because it does not give up on students who make mistakes.”

Commissioner Saltzman tells why Helensview High gets his first Spirit of Portland Commissioner’s Award.

“Two professionally-equipped music studios allow students to express themselves creatively and produce something positive.  They also learn how to operate computers, and special equipment that may open up future career options.

“Helensview annually enrolls 250 to 275 youths between the ages of 12 and 21. It offers options for day school, as well as for night school for those who work during the day. Home-school is a good option for students who need an alternative to the traditional school setting.

“The staff has a strong and unique bond with the students, leading to a mutual learning experience. They become mentors who lead and teach – also learning from the students how to be even better mentors.”

Helensview High’s Principal, Kris Persson, accepts the award on behalf of the school, along with the school’s Attendance Liaison, Shantae Grixgby.

The Principal of Helensview High, Kris Persson, responded to the award, saying, “Congratulations to us all. I want to thank Commissioner Saltzman for awarding this honor to the staff and the students of Helensview. And we accept this award on behalf of Multnomah Education Service District, the agency that allows us the opportunity to do such a wonderful job.”

Shantae Grixgby, the school’s Attendance Liaison, added, “When we heard that we were being presented this award, we were so excited about the positive energy. This is encouraging to everyone. We are a great school; we’re happy to be here.”

Neighborhood Business District Award: D-CBA

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish presents the 2009 Spirit of Portland Neighborhood Business District Award to Division-Clinton Business Association’s President, Darice Robinson, and to D-CBA sparkplug and current APNBA President Jean Baker.

As Commissioner Amanda Fritz remarked that 2009 marks the first year a neighborhood business district has been honored, because “This is a City Council that values small businesses”, Commissioner Nick Fish was presenting the award to the Division-Clinton Business Association.

“It’s made up of hundreds of businesses in Portland’s inner Southeast area,” Fish began. “The D-CBA is honored this year for its many contributions to the greater good of our community.

Commissioner Nick Fish says the Division-Clinton Business Association works for the good of the community, as well as businesses along its streets.

“This Association actively reaches out to community members with a website that is created to serve as a resource for the Division-Clinton neighborhood. The website is comprehensive, including news about neighborhood businesses, neighborhood news, and event information.

“The D-CBA also provides local contests, and a wonderful street fair – now in its 17th year. Working with neighborhood groups and the city to design improvements for Division Street, and to keep residents and businesses updated as the plan progresses, the DCBA continues its 20-year commitment to improving economic development and livability. Chris and Jeanne, thank you for all you do for our community.”

D-CBA president Darice Robinson and Past President (and current Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations President) Jean Baker accept the award.

D-CBA’s president, Darice Robinson, of Hollywood Impress Printing, accepted, saying, “It is my privilege to accept this award on behalf of the Division-Clinton Business Association, and all the businesses in our district, our local residents, and our members and sponsors.

“It’s just been a really interesting path that this has taken.  I’ve had a local business on SE Division Street for over 25 years. And now, to see businesses come and stay, local residents walking along our streets – just to see it really starting to thrive – we really have a lot to look forward to. And, we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us. We really appreciate this award. We also want to thank the City of Portland, the Commissioners, and the Mayor’s office – all of whom have been good supporters of business associations, here in Portland.”

The Past President of D-CBA, and current President of APNBA, Jean Baker, added, “Now that things that are happening, I also want to thank all of the individual businesspeople, who over the last 20-some years have looked beyond the success of their business and thought of the success of the street. They put in all the work that got us to where we are now.  Let’s think all of them right now.”

Neighborhood Association of the Year:
Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz presents the 2009 Spirit of Portland Neighborhood Association of the Year to the association’s President, Mark White.

“I’d like to invite Mark White to come back up to accept on behalf of Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz began.

“Despite obstacles including poverty, a rapidly growing population, and dozens of different languages spoken by its residents, the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association has made tremendous strides in a brightening the quality of life in its own and neighboring communities. With monthly meetings averaging 20 to 30 individuals – and by the way, that’s a pretty average for labor and associations – we are back, and we are strong. Powellhurst-Gilbert has a very strong core of volunteers.”

Commissioner Amanda Fritz clicks off a long list of Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association accomplishments.

The commissioner outlined the association’s recent significant achievements, including,

  • The most successful graffiti cleanup in the City’s history;
  • An ongoing graffiti cleanup program;
  • The launch of the East Portland Exposition, a coalition-wide festival promoting East Portland and his 13 neighborhoods;
  • Producing a successful combination Neighborhood Night Out against crime and Movie-in-the-Park program;
  • Installing a soft surface pedestrian path in West Powellhurst-Gilbert Park;
  • Developing an “Adopt-a-Drain” program designed to help manage stormwater drains – efforts are underway to use it as a template for the entire city;
  • Launching a major restoration project on the Springwater Corridor between SE 128th Avenue and 136th Avenue; and,
  • Being awarded three small neighbor grants, including one for immigrant outreach and one for youth internships, as well as three Portland action plan grants, including one to launch an urban farming program, and another one for a coalition-wide graffiti abatement program.

“Thank you Mark White and the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association volunteers, members and neighbors,” Fritz concluded.

Mark White tells why he feels it important to help improve his neighborhood.

Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association President Mark White accepted the award, saying, “It is truly, truly an honor to accept this on behalf of the neighborhood association. I’d just like to say that one of the things that I’ve learned, being part of the neighborhood association, is that it’s really a group effort. There are a number of people here who have participated in everything that we do.

“I think it’s important to point out that, in 2007, the Portland City Auditor’s report showed that the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood scored as having the overall lowest livability in the city. This award is truly a truly a testament of the things that we’ve done [in the past two years] to create profound change in our neighborhood.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that a small group of people can make a big difference, despite the obstacles that are in front of them. There are too many people to thank – I see a number of them here in the audience – you know who you are, you are all very personally dear to me. Know that the neighborhood is truly, truly blessed to have you a part of all of our activities.”

At the awards, Elvin Sveen, PGNA board member Jim Chasse and Billy McKinley  sit with double-award winner Mark White.

“I’d like to take the opportunity to also say to those who are in this room – if for some reason you have not found your niche, your ‘tribe’ to belong to, a neighborhood association truly is a place where you can come and shine and give back tremendously to the community in which you live.

“I also thank the City Council for their ongoing support of the neighborhood associations, and a special thank you to Commissioner Fritz, and her staff, who have been unwavering in their support for neighborhood associations.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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