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An ecosystem of good

Oregon Community Foundation: ‘We're really trying to solve the big issues, find the gaps and fill the needs’
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Amy Cuddy, regional director and philanthropic advisor, Oregon Community Foundation

Editor's note: Community Builder is a periodic Q&A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today's conversation is with Amy Cuddy, regional director and philanthropic advisor of the Southern Oregon office of Oregon Community Foundation.

Q: Tell us about Oregon Community Foundation.

Amy: Oregon Community Foundation is the state's largest charitable foundation, which supports every community in Oregon. Our mission is to improve the lives of Oregonians through the power of philanthropy. We help individuals, families, businesses and civic organizations create charitable funds to support the causes and communities they care about. We award grants to nonprofits and provide student scholarships. Donors create charitable funds that are active during their lifetime or as part of their estate plan. OCF’s most important role is to mobilize these charitable resources from all over Oregon and deploy them where they're needed most.

Q: How do you determine where funds are needed most?

Amy: Research. OCF conducts extensive research. Our research department looks at what contributes to Oregon’s quality of life and determines where philanthropy can make a difference.

Q: What are the focus areas for Oregon Community Foundation grants?

Amy: There are a lot of needs in Oregon. OCF’s priority areas are arts and culture, economic and community vitality, community engagement, education, health and well-being, housing, and land and nature. In Southern Oregon, we provide grants ranging from the Maslow Project, which assists homeless youth and their families, to the Rogue Gallery for arts education classes; from the Butte Falls Community Forest to Living Opportunities, supporting people with disabilities. We're really trying to solve the big issues, find the gaps and fill the needs. A community foundation is different than other foundations because we're a collection of funds. We manage thousands of funds created by generous Oregonians.

Our funds support a wide variety of interests, some of which align with our priority areas while other funds support organizations that our donors are particularly interested in. We help donors support their causes, their communities and their neighbors. We also connect donors to organizations they might have an affinity with and to other donors who might share their passions.

Q: What counties does the Southern Oregon OCF office serve?

Amy: OCF has organized the state into eight regions, and they're served by five regional offices in Portland, Salem, Eugene, Bend and Medford. The Southern Oregon office serves Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Lake counties.

Q: How are grants awarded to support the region?

Amy: Grants are awarded in OCF’s priority areas and additional areas of interest to our donors. Last year, we made grants to more than 4,000 nonprofits across the state. In Southern Oregon, that amounted to $24 million worth of grants. A few notable grants from last year in Southern Oregon were summer learning grants. These helped kids get extra support over the summer and catch up after the pandemic-related learning loss. Regionally, those went to several Boys and Girls Clubs and the Klamath Tribes. La Clinica has a mobile health RV that reaches folks who don't have access to health care or can’t make it to their clinics. We made a grant to support a registered nurse and behavioral specialist on board. Grants supported the Gateway Project in Talent, which helps families who lost their homes in the fire. It’s currently an RV park, but eventually will become more permanent housing.

Q: What is an example of a fund that has made an impact in Southern Oregon?

Amy: The best example is the Reed and Carolee Walker Fund. This is an unusual fund because of its size. The Walker’s made a gift of $29 million to OCF in 2003, which at the time was the largest single gift to any charity in Oregon. The Walker Fund supports Jackson County programs serving people in poverty, especially children. Over the past 18 years the Walker Fund has granted $33 million in Jackson County, which is significantly more than the original gift. At the same time, the corpus of the fund has grown to about $58 million. The Walker fund distributes about $2 million a year in Jackson County and will continue to do that forever. While the size of the Walker Fund is extraordinary, the results are typical of an OCF endowment.

Q: In addition to grants, OCF awarded over $1 million in college scholarships last year in Southern Oregon.

Amy: In 2021, more than 3,000 students across Oregon received over $11.6 million in OCF administered scholarships. That's from 555 scholarship funds. In Southern Oregon, about $1.2 million was awarded in scholarships last year. We have a wide variety of scholarship funds. Some donors have a particular type of student they want to support. Maybe it’s for someone who’s pursuing nursing, teaching or engineering or targeted to a graduate from a particular high school. College has become so expensive and there are fewer students in this generation attending college, yet we know how important education is as a pathway to a successful life. Southern Oregon has more scholarship funds than many other regions. Scholarships are definitely needed and very important.

Q: What is the source of your funding?

Amy: Oregon Community Foundation gets its funding from generous Oregonians who create funds with us. Currently, we have more than 3,000 active funds plus many more that are written into people's estates for future funds.

New for us was one-time funds from the state of Oregon to distribute during the recent crises. The Oregon Legislature approved $41 million to OCF for summer learning grants, which were used to open pools and parks closed during the pandemic, get recreational facilities going, provide opportunities for kids to have social interaction after being isolated, and to have some in-person learning over the summer.

There's a misconception that most money donated to OCF goes to Portland. It's simply not true, in fact, the opposite is true. There's actually a net transfer of wealth from the Portland Metro area to the more rural areas of the state. Southern Oregon is well supported, and on a per capita basis, we receive more than our size would indicate.

Q: What is an opportunity gap?

Amy: We all like to believe in the American dream about hard work and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. But for many, it’s just not true. The circumstances of your birth and where you live can be more influential than personal gumption or work ethic. It’s very hard to climb out of poverty. It happens, but it’s harder than most people realize. This gap in opportunities starts early. About half of children in the United States are born to single parents. Single parents simply don’t have as much time to give to their children as in a two-parent family. The gap between single and two-parents households reading to young children is estimated to be 1,400 hours a year.

In Oregon, about half our children are born on Medicaid. One out of five children are living in poverty. In Jackson County, that’s one of four. This affects many aspects of their lives, whether it’s the opportunity to play sports or participate in enrichment activities. Do they have access to quality child care? Are there books in the home? It’s clear that not all kids have the same opportunities. This is the opportunity gap.

Our research shows that Oregon kids who have fewer opportunities are most often from rural areas, from low-income families, and are children of color. These are the children we are most focused on helping. We’re trying to close the gap by making grants and developing initiatives to help those kids. For example, we have a children’s oral health initiative because that’s a crisis for children. There are many families who simply cannot afford to take their child to a dentist. OCF staff members also serve on committees to advocate for programs at the state level that will help close the opportunity gap.

Q: How did you come to work at OCF?

Amy: I was born and raised in a very small town in Connecticut. I moved to Southern Oregon 36 years ago to work at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I had a long and wonderful career in a variety of roles, primarily in marketing and communications. I started at the Oregon Community Foundation in 2003 as a consultant to the Walker Fund when it was being developed. I've had many different roles over my 19 years at OCF assisting donors, working on grant programs and conducting research.

Currently, I have the immense privilege of helping people in Southern Oregon create their own funds and charitable legacies. I talk to prospective donors about the options that OCF has and how to make their philanthropy as impactful as possible. I explore with them how OCF can help support their goals. Taking care of their children or other relatives is quite understandably their first priority, but many people also want to leave a legacy of caring for others, of making their community stronger, making the world a better place, and this is where I come in to be of assistance.

Q: Why is this work important to you?

Amy: With all that is troubling in the world, it’s a pleasure and an honor to be part of this ecosystem of good, on behalf of generous donors. We have enthusiastic volunteers across the state, about 250 of them in Southern Oregon alone. We work with community partners, nonprofits, civic organizations and public-sector partners to make life better. It feels good to be part of something good. There is really a power in people coming together.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges that Southern Oregon faces?

Amy: Housing and mental health needs, there’s no surprise there. These challenges have existed for some time, but the pandemic and the fire dramatically increased them. We found that our safety net is vulnerable, it doesn’t really catch everyone.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

Amy: I’m inspired by people stepping up to make their communities better, whether they’re contributing their time, their talent or their treasure. I’m really inspired by seeing neighbors helping their neighbors. That’s the Oregon way of doing things, pulling together to help one another. It’s definitely the OCF way, too.

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

Bio: Oregon Community Foundation

For nearly 50 years, Oregon Community Foundation has worked with donors, volunteers and community partners across the state to transform generosity into impact.

The Southern Oregon office is located at 818 W. Eighth St., Medford, 97501. To learn more, visit www.oregoncf.org or call the Medford office at 541-773-8987.

Does your ZIP code define destiny? You can find OCF’s recent research report “Cornerstones: Economic Mobility and Belonging in Oregon” at https://oregoncf.org/community-impact/research/top-report-2020/.

If you’d like to attend a virtual presentation of the report with OCF’s research team, email Amy Cuddy at acuddy@oregoncf.org for registration information.

In the wake of the pandemic and the Labor Day 2020 fires, Oregon Community Foundation established nine emergency response funds in eight months and gave about four years’ worth of grant-making in a single year.

OCF is continuing to support rebuilding and recovery efforts across Oregon with innovative solutions such as Project Turnkey, which uses funds allocated by the Oregon Legislature to turn motels into shelters. Rogue Retreat operates one in Medford, and OHRA operates one in Ashland.

OCF’s report to the state Legislature about Project Turnkey can be found at https://oregoncf.org/community-impact/research/oregons-project-turnkey-report-to-the-oregon-state-legislature/