May 1, 2021

A love of Oregon, nurtured by idyllic summers and strong familial bonds

Janet Hamada as a child with her brother, Matt and grandparents, Maki and Horace Hamada

For a kid from Chicago’s hardscrabble Southside, travelling to Oregon for summer vacation was magic. Even the air, so fresh and clear, was a wonder. One indelible memory I have was asking my mother why everything in Oregon looked so much crisper. Only years later did I realize that it was due to the air quality, untainted by the steel mill exhaust that was omnipresent back home.

But that was only a small part of the magic. I was privileged to be able to visit my family in Hood River every summer when I was a child in the 1970s and 80s. The mountains, the orchards, the lakes, the rivers, small town Little League games, dripping popsicles on the lawn, the sweet scent of Grandpa’s roses—all of these combined to show me another way of living.

These were treasured experiences, but I did not make the Mid-Columbia Gorge my full-time home until I had explored urban centers throughout the country as a social worker and nonprofit consultant. A confluence of factors brought me to Oregon. Four things happened at once: First, I married a Brooklyn boy who was also enamored of the Pacific Northwest. We wanted to raise children where we could send them to a safe public school. I also landed my dream job in Hood River. And this allowed me the opportunity to share in the last years of my beloved grandmother’s life.

The dream job was to provide structure, support and ensure continuation funding for community health workers at The Next Door, Inc., a grass-roots organization that has assisted Columbia Gorge residents since 1971. After three years as a program manager of Nuestra Comunidad Sana, the health promotion program at The Next Door, I was promoted to be the executive director. For the past 14 years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading a team of dedicated and passionate people who care deeply about making our community a better place.

As a grantee of Meyer Memorial Trust since 1991, I was not surprised to receive a call from Meyer’s then CEO, Doug Stamm back in the summer of 2016. What was surprising, however, was that I was being considered as a potential trustee. How often do foundations want grantees on their boards? I still ask that question as, after five years, I’ve become immersed in the world of philanthropy. The answer? “Not often.” Yet, this is a true mark of inclusion by an organization that consistently honors diversity and lifts the voices of communities most proximate to the issues it seeks to solve.

I am humbled to now serve as Meyer’s board chair, a dream for someone such as myself who has fought long, tireless battles to gain recognition for the utter strength and resilience of everyday Oregonians.

I pledge to continue this fight for my neighbors, especially those not celebrated in headlines; those lost to view who toil and suffer, but who deserve everything I have and more. In my new position, I plan to work alongside my team members at Meyer and our many grantees to live out our mission of a flourishing and equitable Oregon. I hope to make my idyllic childhood summers more of a reality for all Oregonians.