Community Shares Stories of Priceless AmeriCorps Service at the Northwest Service Academy Luncheon

A gathering to celebrate Northwest Service Academy.

Monday, 50 members of the extended Northwest Service Academy community gathered at the Lower Columbia Center here in Portland to share stories of the remarkable impact NWSA has had in the community and in their own lives. The gathering felt like a celebration and, frankly, a closing of sorts.

Last month the Corporation for National and Community Service declined NWSA’s proposal for continued funding, and we still aren’t sure why. The organization has been operating an environmentally-focused AmeriCorps program for 16 years that has brought together a who’s who of sustainability organizations, people, and projects in a region renowned for its environmental values. NWSA AmeriCorps members have built countless and far-reaching social and environmental programs.

Unfortunately, the guest of honor for the occasion Ruth Lampie, the program officer from the Corporation for National and Community Service, had arrived in town for her site visit but was too busy preparing for her site visit to attend the summer BBQ in her honor during the lunch hour. The announcement came about 30 minutes into the scheduled luncheon.

Among the speakers at Monday’s event were Idealist’s first Portland intern Bob Potter, Kathy Dang a program manager at Oregon Tilth — the organics certifier — and Katy Kolker, executive director of the Portland Fruit Tree Project which she launched as an NWSA member several years ago.

Without complaining, the gathered community went on with sharing stories and celebrating the remarkable accomplishments of NWSA.

Here are summaries of the stories community members shared:

Bob Potter, NWSA Alum

An NWSA alum, and Idealist’s first Portland office intern Bob Potter spoke.  Bob is the Assistant Director of Operations for the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. As an NWSA corps member several years ago, Bob served two terms, first as a field team member working with an at-risk youth group in Clackamas County and secondly as the volunteer programs coordinator for The ReBuilding Center, a reuse/reclaim program at Our United Villages. His outreach efforts were creative, innovative and wildly successful, and allowed him to double the volunteer capacity of one of Portland’s most innovative and respected nonprofits.

Not only was he successful with his service, but also with developing powerful relationships within the industry. Chris Bekemeier, Assistant Director at OUV, found Bob to be so talented and dedicated that they kept in touch over the years. Bob now proudly sits on the OUV Board of Directors.

Additionally, due to the NWSA team structure and many networking opportunities, Bob has developed contacts with many experts in the field. In doing so, he found himself developing a real passion for sustainable building practices.

Three years later, Bob Potter finds himself bike riding to work (to the LEED certified EcoTrust building in NW Portland), doing exactly what he wants, teaching community about sustainable housing options.

Kathy Dang, Program Manager, Oregon Tilth, developed a three-year partnership with NWSA in order to build the capacity of her programs. She recruited her first member to build a demonstration garden, begin developing the volunteer program and begin the development of curriculum and outreach to schools. In the second year, her key volunteers were activated to lead field trips, work parties and teach students and community members about sustainable, organic gardening. With her NWSA members working tirelessly on program development, she was able to write grants and forge innovative partnerships (Oregon State University, Master Gardeners…).

Because of the partnership and vision, Oregon Tilth now offers valuable services, classes and opportunities for the community. She believes that NWSA AmeriCorps has made it possible for Oregon Tilth to grow. She is also proud to say that her first member, Connor Voss, is now a permanent staff member and they are currently hiring another part time staff to manage operations. Another member — and former Idealist intern — Randall Cass is graduating soon and has been offered a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Chile.

Nancy Bond, the Resource Conservation Specialist for Portland Public Schools, spoke eloquently about her 10 years of sponsoring NWSA AmeriCorps members and how these members have developed sustainable resource and energy conservation programs and practices throughout the Portland Public School district. Such programs include Fork it Over (composting program), the Great Locker Clean Out (waste reduction), The Energy Challenge & Watt Watchers (energy efficiency and significant cost savings), sustainable lunch trays and so much more.

These programs are not only self-sustaining, but also continue to grow. Each year that PPS gets another member, they are able to address new critical issues and find workable, affordable solutions to them. Nancy, on behalf of the district, is grateful for the many years of collaboration with NWSA.

Laura Guderyahn, Watershed Restoration Coordinator for the City of

Laura Guderyahn

Gresham, OR, and an NWSA Alum, has been a sponsor with NWSA for five years. Prior to her permanent employment with the City of Gresham, she was an exceptional NWSA AmeriCorps member serving with the City of Gresham on watershed and habitat restoration projects. Since her hiring four years ago, Laura has supervised four NWSA Individual Placement (IP) members and two NWSA Field Teams to work on community outreach and restoration in the Gresham area.

Laura listed countless accomplishments of NWSA members including surveying hundreds of acres of land, organizing data on the city’s natural resources, and beginning the process of restoring natural habitat and preserving biodiversity on that land. She said that without the support of her NWSA AmeriCorps members, there was no way the city would have been able to address these issues.

The resources available to the city are limited due to budget cuts, but despite this challenge and because of the outstanding service  NWSA members provide, the funds were raised and secured. The City of Gresham has come to depend on the quality service NWSA AmeriCorps members provide. She is grateful for the program and her members every day.

Tualitan River National WIldlife Refuge

Kim Strassburg, the Visitor Services Manager for the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge/USFW, has sponsored NWSA AmeriCorps members for four years, starting back when the refuge was identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A nonprofit called Friends of the Refuge formed to help raise funds to restore the refuge and bring in community to enjoy its beauty. This small but dedicated friends group applied for AmeriCorps funding through NWSA and the beginning of a three -year partnership began.

In those three years, NWSA corps members played essential roles in identifying restoration projects, developing a volunteer program, designing an education program and replicable environmental education curriculum (addressing state standards and benchmarks), training volunteer naturalists and rovers, and hosting the school groups that began pouring in. With the help of NWSA members, solid infrastructure and systems blossomed, and the organization built a visitor center.

The refuge came to life largely due to the support the organization received through NWSA AmeriCorps. Over the years, Kim has contracted with two of her four members and hired the other two. The partnership has been win-win and she so honored to have been part of the Lower Columbia Center community!

Katy Kolker, Founder & Executive Director, Portland Fruit Tree Project &

Katy Kolker, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Rosemarie Cordello.

NWSA Alum, was a two year member with the NWSA at Growing Gardens. During her term of service, she developed and executed a Community Action Project addressing food security — a requirement for all NWSA corps members.

Katy’s NWSA Community Action Project project ultimately grew into her own nonprofit and a contender for a 2008 Echoing Green fellowship, the Portland Fruit Tree Project.

Last year Katy applied to sponsor an NWSA member. In one short term of 11 months, her AmeriCorps member Bob has built the capacity of the program exponentially. He has developed new programming, recruited new volunteers, developed and led gleaning work parties, and because of this collaboration, PFTP has been able to donate thousands of pounds of fresh, healthy fruit to community members who would have otherwise gone without.

The impact is ongoing. Without the support of NWSA AmeriCorps, none of this would have been possible. Katy deeply respects and appreciates the NWSA program, staff and her own experience which paved the way into her own niche profession.

Molly Chidsey

Molly Chidsey, the Sustainability Coordinator at Metro Regional Government, began her relationship with NWSA as a sponsor at Multnomah County two years ago. She was thrilled to learn about our program and once accepted, got moving on the county Climate Action Plan (still being supported by current AmeriCorps members). When she transitioned to Metro to continue her work in sustainability, she applied for a P2 member to take on the incredible assignment of identifying, tracking and monitoring carbon emission both within the Metro building as well in external spaces managed by Metro. No small task!

She immediately began to see results and was astounded by the level and caliber of professionalism her member possessed. She has been able to accomplish so much more with the support of her P2. What Molly did not mention was how she helped the PVIP Coordinator to develop a Climate Change Action Group, which led many sustainability experts to NWSA, three of which currently support AmeriCorps members in their sustainability initiatives (City of Gresham – Dan Blue, Multnomah County -Kat West/Tim Lynch, and Clark County – Pete Dubois)

Monica Smiley, Executive Director, Tualatin Riverkeepers & NWSA Alum, served with The Nature Conservancy eight years ago. Her experience as an NWSA member allowed her the opportunity to develop a strong sense of direction, leadership and dedication to the conservation of natural resources. After her term ended, Monica went on to become the Executive Director of Tualatin Riverkeepers (TRK). She has sponsored four NWSA AmeriCorps members who have collectively built education programs serving thousands of youth, and volunteer programs engaging hundreds of volunteers.

Not only does Monica believe that the collaboration with NWSA built TRK’s capacity to deliver programs to the community, but also notes that her member experience with NWSA was instrumental in helping her to define her role in the environmental movement, a cause she cares for deeply.

Ben Duncan, Health Educator, Multnomah County Public Health, Governor Kulongoski’s Environmental Justice Task Force & NWSA Alum, served five years ago with Center for Environmental Justice at Washington State University, Vancouver, WA.

While Ben said that his undergraduate degree at OSU was valuable, he called his member experience with the NWSA his “graduate degree.” Ben’s service was organizing students and community members around issues of social and environmental justice. He said his NWSA experience was highly valuable because he was exposed to industry professionals and training that he never would have been offered in a regular entry-level job.

His experience was so profound that it led him into his current profession of environmental health and justice. His story was powerful and was a testament to the kind of experience and leadership NWSA and our sponsors provide to blossoming environmental professionals.

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