KOBI Spirit of Community Moment: Lisa Mensah Five on 5

This year OCF is celebrating its 50th anniversary by sharing stories about the spirit of generosity in Oregon. This is from KOBI TV’s Five on 5 interview with Lisa Mensah, OCF president and CEO.


KOBI: Welcome to our Five on 5, I'm pleased to be joined today by the CEO of the Oregon Community Foundation, Lisa Mensah. Good to see you.  

LM: Very good to see you, good to be here. 

KOBI: Congratulations first on the position. 

LM: Thank you.  

KOBI: Just named I believe roughly six months ago.  

LM: Four.  

KOBI: Okay, yeah so time flies, ok. So, you have a variety of nonprofit and some political experience, how did all of that prepare you for a role like this? 

LM: You know, when you get a call from the Oregon Community Foundation, it is a juicy call and I feel like it's the kind of institution that takes the full breadth of one's life experience. I've worked at a foundation. I've worked at a think tank. I served in the Obama Administration of the Department of Agriculture. I've been on rural development, and now it's a chance to bring it all home.  

KOBI: And how do those roles in particular help you in this state, your home state, you know, with the with the very different you know geography if you will of the state is you know, the big city Portland obviously where most of the state lives, but Southern Oregon, OCF has a big role here as well and in other parts of the state. 

LM: Now you're getting to why I took this job. I love rural areas and I love this state. I come from a fishing family, so I fished most rivers and ocean. But you know, part of what makes the Oregon Community Foundation special is that it's for the whole state and it's been this way from its beginning. You know, we're celebrating 50 years and the whole time it was a foundation created to serve the whole state, and that's what I was interested in. I love the chance to knit together, work together with communities that are both urban and rural for this beautiful place that we call home. 

KOBI: You're doing my job for me, you're segwaying perfectly for me, I was about to ask you about 50 years for OCF, this year in 2023. What accomplishments from the foundation's history stand out most to you? 

LM: Well, I was a banker for a while, so the fact that a small community foundation has already contributed two billion dollars to the state - 

KOBI: Billion with a B in case anyone didn’t hear you. I want to call that out.  

LM: Yes that’s right, is significant. But, I think the other thing is that we've been in so many fields. This is driven by the needs that local donors and recipients identify. So, all communities are not alike, all things are not you know intense at the same moment, and this community foundation allows people to dream about what it is that they need fixing. So that's what's great, there are notable accomplishments that two billion dollars has helped a lot of kids, helped a lot of scholarships, helped the arts, kept musical instruments in school, helped our climates, suppressed fires, built housing, worked on issues of mental health and behavioral health, but I like to just arrive in a community, that's what I've been seeing here in Southern Oregon. You know, yesterday I was throughout Josephine County but I ended up in a library in Grants Pass, and that's what's exciting to me. I got to see the real community come together in this place. It was a little chaotic, it's not the libraries I grew up with there were dogs reading, they had a canine reader program. 

KOBI: I love those programs.  

LM: Grown-ups, people doing their telecommuting, it was a bustle. And it's kind of a representative of what I see in this job. Let's allow communities to name what they want to work on and then help them do it together. Volunteers of all ages, you know, a goal that communities set and then we get to be the fuel to that fire. 

KOBI: Wow I like that, very good. We're gonna take a quick commercial break, we'll have more with Lisa in a moment, stay with us. 

KOBI: Welcome back to our Five on 5, again we're here with Lisa Mensah, she is the CEO of the Oregon Community Foundation. We talked a lot about OCF’s work statewide and here in Southern Oregon, obviously doing a lot of different things, a lot of different pots so to speak, we've done a lot of stories about the Almeda and South Open Chain Fires and Project Turnkey facilities here in Southern Oregon and OCF being a huge part of that, what else is happening in our neck of the woods that you want to share with our viewers? 

LM: Well, I'm really happy to be here to finally see some of this work. You mentioned Turnkey which is really our deepened effort on housing and you're going to see us stay close to communities and work with them on future ideas about housing. This was an effort where we helped the state deploy its dollars. But what we've been hearing about is how the community wants to go further to match its needs. We're supporters of the Jackson County United Way and we've been working with them as they address needs after the fires. You know, what I've seen here, I've been really wanting to listen to what is happening locally and so I started out in Illinois Valley yesterday and heard multiple youth programs, arts programming. You know, I think people would be surprised at the level to which arts contributes to the economy and to how many local artists are here and as well as the big and major arts institution. So, I just see lots of potential for growth, lots of potential for coming together, lots of potential for increased volunteers - that's what a community foundation does. 

KOBI: Yeah, and with that in mind, in covering so much ground that you have with us today, is there anything our viewers can do watching at home and how they can get involved with OCF or help out in any way? 

LM: Well, the first thing, we have an office here in Medford and it actually has a community room. So, as we come back after this time, I hope they'll reach out, your viewers, and come see our space we'd love to share it with non-profit groups, but also be in touch. We have opportunities to volunteer, opportunities to give, this is how you build community and there are hard things that are ahead of us to rebuild everywhere in the state, but I hope people will think of the Oregon Community Foundation as kind of a first stop to give back and to build. So, that's what I would encourage, be in touch. 

KOBI: Great to meet you, congratulations on the new position. 

LM: Thank you, love it, thank you. 

KOBI: Stay with us, we’ll be right back.