Foundations for a Better Oregon is disrupting the root causes of inequity in educationdarion Mon, 11/30/2020 - 15:44

Investments in strategies that support crucial system inputs that are designed to shift culture within Oregon’s education system and build new approaches to addressing old challenges are essential to developing an ecosystem where innovative ideas, people and students thrive.

For more than a decade, Foundations for a Better Oregon — formally Chalkboard Project — has done this work, serving as a powerful catalyst in merging vision with action by shifting conversations from focusing on increasing funding for education to evidence-based discussions about educator quality, accountability, student achievement and improving student outcomes through innovative pilot projects and building greater accountability through data and research.

Today, Foundations for a Better Oregon is a highly respected organization with well-earned political capital, recognized for its independent and nonpartisan voice. This new iteration of the organization defines its strategic priorities by critical structural and cultural changes Oregon must make to disrupt the root causes of inequity and radically accelerate progress for children: In a better Oregon, research and data is community-centered; investments in education are equitable and coherent; and decision-making is inclusive and participatory.

You can learn more about Foundations for a Better Oregon here.

Foundations for a Better Oregon Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs Amanda Manjarrez facilitates a workshop with community-based organizational leaders during Meyer’s 2019 Gathering for Student Success at PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste) in Woodburn.

Foundations for a Better Oregon Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs Amanda Manjarrez facilitates a workshop with community-based organizational leaders during Meyer’s 2019 Gathering for Student Success at PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste) in Woodburn.

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ICYMI: Nez Perce Tribe invests in lodge conservation easementdarion Thu, 11/19/2020 - 03:54

Last month, the Nez Perce Tribe secured a conservation easement for 9.22 acres of land along the Wallowa River, permanently protecting an area on the Tribe's ancestral homeland that is known as Waakak’amkt or “where the braided stream disappears into the water.” This accomplishment will also preserve the Wallowa River’s eastern channel and wetland areas from future development.

The Wallowa County Chieftain documents the historic purchase, made possible by grants from organizations such as The Collins Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Community Foundation and others:

The easement is part of a growing presence of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) people in their Wallowa County homeland. That includes the preservation of the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage site, Nez Perce participation in management of the county’s 1,800-acre East Moraine property, the work of the Joseph-based Nez Perce Fisheries in restoring coho salmon, lamprey eels and eventually sockeye to the rivers here, the Homeland Project in Wallowa and the Precious Lands preserve (Hetes’wits Wetes) in the Joseph Canyon area.

'Our efforts will continue to interact with the land,” said Shannon Wheeler, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee chairman. “That’s where our people are from. … When the Nez Perce people were leaving (in 1877), one of the elders asked people to turn around and look at the land because it might be the last time that they would see it. … So any chance that we get to come back, I see a lot of smiling faces when our people are there, and I think the land smiles when the Nez Perce are there.'

Read the entire piece here.

The new conservation easement will preserve the Wallowa River’s eastern channel and wetland areas from future development. Photo by Ellen Morris Bishop/For the Wallowa County Chieftain.

The new conservation easement will preserve the Wallowa River’s eastern channel and wetland areas from future development. Photo by Ellen Morris Bishop/For the Wallowa County Chieftain.

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ICYMI: Meyer Adopts Advanced Equity and Sustainability Approach in Construction of New Portland HQkwilson Wed, 11/18/2020 - 20:50

The 14-month project to build Meyer Memorial Trust's new headquarters is complete, thanks to a deep partnership with values-driven real estate developer, project^ and award‐winning design firm, LEVER Architecture. 

The Skanner reported on Meyer's $10.8 million, 19,829 sq. ft., three-story office building and garden, located at 2045 North Vancouver Avenue in Historic Albina. 

“Investing in a permanent space is a commitment as an Oregon-serving foundation, we wanted to deepen our connection to Historic Albina and use our new building as a resource to further support and invest in communities across the state,” said Michelle J. DePass, Meyer’s president and CEO.

“Typically, architecture in philanthropy is hierarchical, with the best spaces reserved for executives. But as a justice foundation that places a premium on equity, it was important to give every employee access to windows and natural light and to make the most desirable office space accessible to everyone.”

You can learn more about the building on our Meyer HQ page here.

And you can read the whole Skanner story, including photos, here.

Building exterior and public entry (Photo by Jeremy Bitterman)

Building exterior and public entry (Photo by Jeremy Bitterman)

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It isn't remotely overkwilson Wed, 11/04/2020 - 08:48

Our community will keep us going.

Those words have been my mantra in 2020, the last thoughts before I fall asleep, the thoughts I woke to this morning. I share them with you now as we take a breath and acknowledge that this isn’t over. 

What happened this election season, nationally and especially here in Oregon, what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic that has overturned normal life across the globe, what has happened in Western forests that has devastated rural communities and made caustic the very air we breathe, what has happened on our streets since Americans began to decry the institutional racism that has eaten away at our democracy since its founding — none of it is over. Whatever historians decide to call this moment of rupture and reckoning, it isn’t over yet.

No matter the uncertainty that we awoke to today and may awake to for days, weeks or months to come, the work continues to ensure our democracy lives up to its promise. That work has never been pretty, and it is rarely without discomfort. Black and Indigenous communities and people of color have long fought for the flourishing and equitable country that we all want. No substantial change toward fair housing, healthy environments, equitable education or thriving, inclusive communities has come without the leadership of BIPOC folks. In recent months, we’ve seen Black communities call for the country we all want, a democracy that serves each of us. We recognize and honor their leadership in this election cycle and in this voting season. Even as the work continues to ensure every vote is counted and marshalling resistance to injustice, so too does the work continue for institutions like Meyer Memorial Trust.

The values that guide Meyer are tailor-made for this long moment of uncertainty.

  • Responsiveness and flexibility, because we recognize that although the needs of Oregon evolve over time, there is value in long-term commitments in order to bring about change
  • Collaboration, because we cannot make change happen alone
  • Humbleness, which our founder, Fred G. Meyer, modeled and which guides us in all our interactions
  • Accountability and transparency, because measuring our progress and being honest about our missteps build trust
  • Advocacy, which acts as a lever for systems change
  • Most importantly equity, which we define as fair access to opportunities

Hundreds of years of inequity weren’t going to change last night, no matter which lawmakers won. No matter how many Americans braved rain, long lines or other efforts to disenfranchise. But our values will keep us resilient 

What I have watched these past months gives me a flame of hope. Although this country’s system of constitutional democracy can be paralyzed by partisan polarization, it can also be mobilized by it. A broken democracy is a democracy ripe for bold reforms. Protest, the bedrock of our democracy, has been reinvigorated right here in Portland, where Oregonians have raised their voices daily for more than six months, and their calls for justice have produced real results. The 2020 census self-response rate surpassed 2010’s rate, thanks to the “We Count Oregon” and “Hard to Count” campaigns, funded by a public/private partnership Meyer was proud to lead. Record-breaking voter turnout is a win. Last night, voters approved a new Portland police oversight board and signed off on universal preschool.  

In the next few weeks, Meyer will announce its new Justice Director, hired to oversee our largest-ever initiative, Justice Oregon for Black Lives. This five-year initiative is among over a billion dollars committed by foundations around the country to fuel racial justice. In a state founded as a white utopia, Justice Oregon for Black Lives is a powerful step to fund and uplift a just system of public safety and community well-being while investing in long-term, lasting strategic change.

I remind myself to credit every win, to celebrate victories where they come, to be spacious with others as each of us grapples with this year’s unique combination of struggles, to step into joy when agitators use their voices and power to call out inequities. 

It can be challenging when your inbox is full of tears. 

But we know that even in chaos there is great possibility. Eight months into this global pandemic, in the early stages of an anti-racist reckoning, faced with the environmental consequences we have known were likely, this is the time to be audacious. To refuse to settle for the old normal. To hold firm. To listen and bridge and act on our common values.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what my organization will continue to do. No matter the political winds. No matter the uncertainty. No matter how long it takes to change unfair systems. I may not know what the future holds, but I know what I’m going to fight for. Meyer will continue to lift up the voices of our grantee partners, to support justice and democracy, and to pursue our mission of an Oregon that is equitable and thriving for each Oregonian.

It most certainly isn’t over. If this year has taught us anything it is that we navigate the unimaginable, together. The challenge, James Baldwin reminded us, is in the moment and the time is always now.  


Abigail Scott Duniway

Multnomah County Elections Division's memorial to Abigail Scott Duniway, a suffragist who led the effort to secure voting rights for women in Oregon.

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ICYMI: Good Companydarion Wed, 08/26/2020 - 09:46

Last week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Council on Foundations recognized Meyer Memorial Trust and a broad partnership working to address homelessness as a recipient of the 2020 Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships.

Meyer was honored alongside six other foundations: Sheller Family Foundation, The Homeless Assistance Fund Inc., Quicken Loans Community Fund, The Rockefeller Foundation, Bernard Project (SBP Long-Term Home Rebuilding) and MUFG Union Bank Foundation.

The Secretary’s Award recognizes cross-sector partnerships that have been crucial to transforming communities and improving the quality of life for low- and moderate-income residents across the country. Benefits include increased economic development, health, safety, education, housing access, disaster resilience, inclusivity and access to cultural opportunities.

Meyer was recognized for its partnership with Worksystems, Inc. on the Economic Opportunity Program (EOP), a network linking employment and housing services for formerly homeless families in Portland, providing low-income residents community-based career coaching and support. Many trusted community-based organizations were critical to the effort.

The innovative EOP collaborative weaves together state, federal and local resources and demonstrates how to align and strengthen local providers while expanding services to food stamp recipients. Other partners included local employment program funders such as the Joint Office of Homeless Services (the local Continuum of Care agency) and Prosper Portland (the local economic development agency), state grant administrators (the Oregon Department of Human Services which administers the SNAP 50/50 reimbursement), federal partners within HUD (Portland Field Office) and USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

“We want to commend our award winners for their efforts to show the importance of government and philanthropy partnership,” said Secretary Ben Carson. “Today’s announcements of these awards honor the collaborative and unites us all together so that more Americans have the opportunity to be successful.”

“The recipients of this year’s Secretary's Award are stellar examples of the transformational power of strong public-philanthropic partnerships to improve the quality of life for generations of families,” said Kathleen Enright, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations. "The foundations and corporate philanthropies honored today provide insights and ideas for how to effectively respond to our nation’s most pressing challenges.”

Since the Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships was established in 2012, winners in the Northwest and Alaska include the Rasmuson Foundation, Home Partnership Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Raikes Foundation and Seattle Foundation.

Housing has long been one of Meyer’s highest priorities because we recognize that all people need a home that is stable, safe and affordable. The Housing Opportunities portfolio’s core goals address housing development and preservation, housing support services and sector strengthening. We are proud to support a strong network of nonprofit partners across the state that are addressing the needs of Oregonians and advancing Meyer’s vision of a flourishing and equitable Oregon.

You can learn more about Worksystems and the Economic Opportunity Program here.

Read more about the recipients of the 2020 Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships here.

Fred G. Meyer, founder of Meyer Memorial Trust. Image source:

Fred G. Meyer, founder of Meyer Memorial Trust. Image source:

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The story of the Portland Clean Energy Fund is live!darion Fri, 07/24/2020 - 14:53

By now, most people in Multnomah County have heard about the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF). The breakthrough 2018 ballot measure—led by a front-line community coalition including Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, NAACP Portland Branch 1120, Native American Youth and Family Center, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and Verde—raising an estimated $44 million to $61 million annually to support renewable energy, job training, green infrastructure and economic justice projects. The initiative is touted for what it will ultimately accomplish through the investment of these funds, and the story of how this initiative came together is worthy of attention in and of itself.

This week the PCEF coalition released an Executive Summary and full in-depth campaign report that details the coalition’s experiences of building trust within communities of color and with white-majority organizations; securing endorsements with unusual allies; and implementing innovative campaign strategies.

Although front-line communities led the initiative’s creation, it took strong relationships with mainstream environmental and labor organizations to create a successful campaign. These bonds will be critical in achieving the city of Portland and Multnomah County’s 2017 commitment to transition all energy sectors to 100% clean energy. It will take the unique knowledge and lived experiences of each group to ensure these funds result in projects in communities most impacted by climate change while ensuring that people of color can fully participate in the emerging green economy.

As grantmakers, we at Meyer are reflecting on what role our funding might have played in the success of this effort. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) issued a challenge to foundations to target grant dollars to address the needs of underserved communities and empower them by funding advocacy, organizing and civic engagement. Meyer joined NCRP in 2011 and began supporting communities of color in their efforts to build capacity and expand collaborative power to develop their own policy solutions.

What we’ve learned is that our support can’t stop at the policy win. Meyer has funded multiple projects since 2018 so that the coalition can continue playing a key role in the implementation of the ballot measure as it is established by the city of Portland. Without strong participation by the groups that designed the policy concept, the community values and priorities that have driven this effort are at risk of being de-emphasized or lost altogether.

The grants that Meyer has awarded since the PCEF ballot measure passed include:

  • $143,750 to Verde for the coalition to support early program design work by the nonprofit organizations that led the effort to establish it.
  • $100,000 to the Coalition of Communities of Color to pay for a dedicated staff position to organize and support partner organizations to continue playing a strong role in supporting the implementation of PCEF.
  • $27,000 to Resource Media to develop a communications strategy and tools to share the success of PCEF with other organizations working for a healthy environment

The bottom line is that front-line coalition-led efforts require ongoing, long-term support to ensure that the implementation of their initiatives truly leads to stronger, more resilient communities that will experience the worst of our planet’s climate crisis. You can learn more about PCEF’s efforts in my previous interview with Alan Hipólito.

I look forward to following up in another blog as the coalition's efforts prosper.


—Mary Rose

A photovoltaic solar panel array near Portland State University in downtown Portland.

A photovoltaic solar panel array near Portland State University in downtown Portland.

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ICYMI: Columbia River tribes gain new clout with major acquisitiondarion Thu, 07/09/2020 - 11:27

On June 1, the Oregon Health & Science University transferred control of the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction—an information hub that acquires data through radio telemetry and a network of observation stations and buoys for use in conducting coastal-margin science—to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, an organization that coordinates management policy and provides fisheries technical services for the Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce Tribes.

The Oregonian recently published an article about the historic acquisition:

For the fish commission, acquisition of the nationally renowned coastal center builds on a growing capacity for world-class research. The center collects and analyzes estuary data that informs everything from Columbia River Treaty negotiations to industrial dredging operations to salmon recovery strategies.

“This is a tremendous capacity-building advance for the Columbia River tribes,” says commission chairman Jeremy Red Star Wolf. “Our professional river and salmon management staffs have wanted more ocean and river connectivity in research, applied science and management. CMOP will help deliver that.

Meyer’s Healthy Environment portfolio awarded a $350,000 capacity-building grant to expand the commission’s ability to effectively acquire, manage and oversee the Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction program. You can read the full coverage of the story here.

ICYMI: Columbia River tribes gain new clout with major acquisition
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ICYMI: Meyer Memorial Trust announces a new trusteedarion Thu, 07/02/2020 - 14:19

Yesterday, Meyer Memorial Trust announced the appointment of Amy C. Tykeson to its board of trustees. Tykeson joins Meyer board chair Toya Fick and members Charles Wilhoite, Janet Hamada, Mitch Hornecker and Alice Cuprill-Comas, rounding out the number of board members to six.

"We are pleased to welcome Amy C. Tykeson as a trustee at a pivotal moment in Oregon history and in Meyer’s work to serve all Oregonians,” said board chair Toya Fick said in a press release. “Her broad experience and understanding of rural communities adds an important dimension to the stewardship of Meyer Memorial Trust.”

A third-generation Oregonian and leader in the telecommunications industry for 34 years, Tykeson brings extensive experience in business, communications and a legacy of mission-driven service to Meyer’s board of trustees. Tykeson began her communications career with Home Box Office (HBO) in Chicago and New York before taking over as president and CEO of BendBroadband, a family-owned cable and broadband company based in Central Oregon.

We are a far distance from ensuring opportunities for every Oregonian. I want to help all Oregonians thrive and work to improve the outlook for future generations. — Amy C. Tykeson

“I am thrilled to have Amy’s three decades of experience as a business leader, storyteller and long history of service to the state of Oregon on our board of trustees, said Meyer president & CEO Michelle J. DePass. “Her warmth and devotion to the human spirit is just what this institution needs as we manage new realities amid COVID-19 and the nationwide calls for racial justice and social equity. “

Currently, Tykeson serves as the managing trustee for the Tykeson Family Foundation, overseeing operations and contributions directed toward education for underserved young people, healthcare and health sciences and access to the arts.

Learn more about Amy in this press release.

Meet Amy C. Tykeson, Meyer's newest trustee
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Now is the time to change the systemdarion Fri, 06/05/2020 - 15:50

Now is the time to change the system...

Over the past few weeks, I joined staff and trustees of Meyer Memorial Trust in mourning the racist slayings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others by recklessly violent police and white vigilantes.

Billions of people around the world subsequently watched the slow, calculated indifference of Minneapolis Police officers as they stole the life of George Floyd, a Black father and nightclub bouncer. Like the death of Emmett Till in 1955, the murder of George Floyd has thrust the country to the brink of change.

Sixty-five years ago, the lynching of a 14-year-old boy spurred a movement that eventually spelled the end of Jim Crow laws that denied Black Americans their share of the American Dream. With the murder of George Floyd, we are again at a precipice of change. This time, my neighbors here in Oregon and across the country are taking on the very systems that largely remain unchanged from the Jim Crow era and slavery before that.

Philanthropy spends a lot of energy talking about systems-level change. It can seem a dull topic when cities are not on fire. But it should be the root of what foundations do. I often ask myself, to what higher purpose can philanthropy aspire? And I consider how a sector that was built on inordinate wealth and privilege can help shift the conditions that hold inequities and disparities firmly in place.

But I worry. And I am not alone.

Vu Le, executive director of RVC—a Seattle-based nonprofit that promotes social justice by cultivating leaders of color—is no stranger at calling out philanthropy on his blog, nonprofitAF. Like me, Vu has been re-reading Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which Dr. King warns of the white moderate, who presses for order over justice, for calm rather than for change. Vu asks, have nonprofits and philanthropy “become the ‘white moderate’ that Dr. King warned us about?”

It is the right question, and the answer is troubling.

Dr. King wrote: “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.“

Now is the time to push forward to change the broken systems that allow more than 1,000 people to be killed by police year in and year out, and allow those killers to face little more than slaps on the wrist.

This week, in a video town hall series and a pair of online essays, former President Barack Obama addressed the calls for culture change echoing across the country, saying the status quo cannot shift without pressure. “That’s why protests work.”

He, too, spoke of systems change.

“Most of the reforms that are needed to prevent the type of violence and injustices that we’ve seen take place at the local level,” President Obama said on Wednesday. “There is a change in mindset that’s taking place, a greater recognition that we can do better. That is not as a consequence of speeches by politicians. That’s not the result of spotlights in news articles. That’s a direct result of the activities and organizing and mobilization and engagement of so many young people across the country who put themselves out on the line to make a difference.”

Justice often isn’t orderly. Philanthropy can and should break down barriers to justice anyway.

Meyer is committed to investing in meaningful, transformative shifts in policies, processes, relationships and power structures. To upend generations old systems takes collective, multi-layered, long-game work and we do not do it alone. Our grantees and community partners stand on the front lines, moving the needle and advocating for measurable change. We hear their calls and we are by their side.

At this moment, when despair threatens every moment, Meyer celebrates their uphill work as the clearest path to create an equitable Oregon where all people can flourish.

— Michelle J. DePass
     President & CEO
     Meyer Memorial Trust

Protesters in Portland during a march in support of justice for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter human rights movement. Photo credit: Fred Joe Photo.

Protesters in Portland during a march in support of justice for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter human rights movement. Photo credit: Fred Joe Photo.

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ICYMI: Meyer Memorial Trust announces relief efforts for small business

As we continue to adapt to the changing landscape of business brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, we want to reiterate to our partners that: We're with you for the long haul.

In March, Meyer Memorial Trust announced a decision to offer community lending partners 12-month forbearance on loan payments and extend the same terms on loans to borrowers in response to the pandemic.

Portland Business Journal wrote about Meyer’s response earlier this month:

Meyer Memorial is one of Oregon's largest foundations. Among other philanthropic activities, it loans money to nonprofits that use the cash to extend credit to small businesses.

This week, the foundation said Portland-based MESO and Springfield-based Community LendingWorks, two such partners, do not need to make any interest or principal payments for a year. In return, the foundation wants MESO and Community LendingWorks to extend the same terms to their borrowers.

Meyer will continue to reach out to our regional investment partners to better understand their needs. We will get through this together.

(P.S. You can read the entire PBJ piece here.)

Meyer Memorial Trust Chief Investment Officer Rukaiyah Adams. Photo credit: Portland Business Journal

Meyer Memorial Trust Chief Investment Officer Rukaiyah Adams. Photo credit: Portland Business Journal

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