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Rogue Retreat is committed to serving everyone

A number of years ago when I was living in another community, I was a volunteer for a nonprofit that served homeless and unsheltered people. One day when I was standing at a table serving meals to the people coming through the line, I looked into the eyes of the man to whom I was handing a plate of food. Something startled me.

To this day, I cannot fully describe what happened to me other than to say I saw myself reflected in the eyes of this man. It was as if nothing separated us from one another except for the table between us.

It was a profound moment, one where I felt deeply connected to another so that barriers between the two of us ceased to exist. I had instantaneously connected with someone I did not know, had never met before, who I would probably never meet again, in a manner that helped me understand the phrase that has almost become a cliche: “we are all one.”

That moment altered my life. I guess I could say that I resonated with the indefinable and absolute truth that peeks through when we connect with one another in our shared humanity.

For 12 years I have volunteered with Rogue Retreat. I have been proud to be counted among its volunteers and among its leadership. For these 12 years, day in and day out, Rogue Retreat has reminded me of the importance of our work to “restore lives” of homeless and unsheltered people.

Internally and externally we say we “meet people as they are and help them reach their highest potential.” It’s not a turn of phrase, it is a practice that informs our work and sustains the fabric of our culture.

We believe our work is filled with integrity and that our work is inspired by the greatness in all of us. We hold true to our values, meeting each person as they are, then with more than 60 community partners we collectively wrap ourselves around our program participants and help them reach their highest potential. We are proud of the work we do, the work we have been doing together for almost 24 years.

Recently our executive director and founder, Chad McComas, made some public statements regarding his personal, spiritual beliefs regarding same-sex relationships that were startling if not shocking to hear. His words did not resonate with our culture, the culture of inclusivity that we have spent decades building.

Rogue Retreat’s board of directors were so alarmed by these statements that we chose to put McComas on paid administrative leave and conduct a third-party investigation to determine if McComas or Rogue Retreat has discriminated against anyone for any reason. We believe in our practices, in our service to our program participants, and among relationships built with our partners, donors, and you, we adhere to principles that support and uphold our shared humanity and in so doing, we believe we meet everyone just as they are, each person unique and beautiful as they are.

We will learn via the results of the investigation if we have indeed upheld what we believe to be true, and we will reveal the results of the investigation that will inform us as to Chad McComas’ and Rogue Retreat’s adherence to matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion with our public(s), except where doing so would cause harm to another. We expect that our investigation will conclude near the end of August.

Matthew Vorderstrasse has been named as our interim executive director. Matt spent a number of years on our board before accepting the position as development director. In 2021 he also assumed the position of director of Hope University, the consulting and training arm of Rogue Retreat.

His experience with Rogue Retreat is vast. We appreciate his commitment to our mission and willingness to step up into a bigger, more robust position during this time.

Last year, due to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to serve more than 1,200 people. By the end of last year on any given night in Southern Oregon, we provided more than 550 beds — a place to call home for our program participants.

We are still in business, but it is not quite business as usual; we are open to learning about how to better communicate with one another so all voices are heard and the language we use in all of our practices, by all who represent Rogue Retreat, reflects respect, kindness, inclusion, compassion, and hope.

We believe that with open hearts and minds, together we will continue to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our program participants and within the communities where we all live and work.

Tom Fischer is chair of the Rogue Retreat Board of Directors.