More Than Nice: How Neighborliness Can Improve Lives in Oregon

NeighbORly logo

Sixteen months ago, as thousands of Oregonians saw their homes turned to ash by historic wildfires, I watched a TV news story that remains with me today. A family who wanted to help had driven their RV to a parking lot where fire survivors were gathered. There, they simply handed over the keys to their RV to a family they did not know who had lost everything.

Keep it as long as you need to, the RV family told their distraught neighbors. Here is a place to live while you figure out how to rebuild your lives. 

It is a remarkable story, but not a rare one. The past two years, while presenting Oregonians with enormous challenges, have also revealed the best in many of our neighbors.

We’ve seen compassion by checking in on older neighbors and bringing meals to fire survivors. We’ve advocated for each other’s rights, as the country grappled anew with longstanding issues of racial injustices. And we’ve directed record-breaking financial generosity toward many neighbors faced with hardship.

These small and large acts of kindness in our local communities — of being neighborly — combined to create a ripple effect of goodness for our whole state. More than mere niceties, over the past two years, we’ve seen how generosity and grace to our neighbors in need is critical to keeping our communities strong and resilient.

The evidence of neighborliness in Oregon is abundant, including an outpouring of OCF donor-funded and volunteer-supported investments to lift up Oregon artists, entrepreneurs, and fire-impacted communities — many still rebuilding, individually and collectively, after a calamitous two years. Just as the pandemic revealed and widened the gaps in our social safety net, philanthropic investments through OCF and many others are repairing and refueling  systems that keep Oregon’s communities thriving — from emergency shelter and affordable housing to support for small businesses, and a range of meaningful services spanning the entire nonprofit community from arts and education to a myriad of social services.

Examples of “neighborliness” inspire us across the state:

  • Brookings resident Georgia Nowlin volunteers on OCF’s South Coast Leadership Council. A busy business owner, among her other activities, she donates her time and expertise to ensure that small, rural organizations and communities can compete for grants that help them lift up and support Nowlin’s neighbors in Curry County.
  • The Elevate Us Fund of OCF, created by Portland executive Pia Wilson-Body provides funding to nonprofits that serve Oregon girls and women from historically marginalized and underserved communities, providing training and economic support to overcome barriers to opportunity and success.
  • In Pendleton, a $100,000 GO Kids grant from OCF is helping support a community-based effort to provide new infrastructure for safe, affordable childcare for low- and middle-income rural families. This investment will make a lasting impact on kids and parents and strengthen the workforce in Eastern Oregon for years to come.

These stories - and thousands more like them - make clear that there’s a way for each of us to help make things better in our communities. In short, Oregonians know how to be neighborly – and the need continues.

After an exhausting two years for many of us, our collective challenge is to keep the kindness going. At OCF, we’re dedicating 2022 to encouraging neighborliness in Oregon, because there’s so much work yet to do.  We need to help communities rebuild from hardship. We need more good neighbors to help us connect to one-another’s humanity again, looking beyond our differences to the values and vision we share for ourselves, our families, and our state.

I invite you to follow OCF’s work this year as we seek to grow the spirit of neighborliness in some key areas.  Each of these are complex challenges.  They can’t be solved without strong, local resolve and a willingness to come together as neighbors in a greater spirit of community and compromise.

  • Health and well-being. The future of Oregon’s children and families depends upon stable, accessible, and affordable housing. This is a complicated issue tied to chronic homelessness, mental health, state and local policies, government investment and many local community factors. OCF is committed to partnering across these issues with the goal of an Oregon where safe and affordable housing is within everyone’s reach.
  • Place and opportunity. For years OCF has been focused on the gap in opportunity that exists across communities in Oregon. We continue to focus our efforts on closing that gap – whether defined by zip code, race, or family circumstances. 
  • Land and nature. As Oregon faces more frequent wildfire, drought and other climate-related challenges, we are working with donors, community leaders and other foundations to create regional, place-based solutions to preserve and protect natural places, quality of life and economies.

We hope you’ll join us in dedicating 2022 to an increased spirit of neighborliness. Imagine what it might mean if during our current challenges we demonstrated what it really means to be a good neighbor across our entire state? Let’s invite our neighbors to a common table, to share expertise, experience, resources, and relationships. In this historic time of great division — political, geographical and ideological — the only way we can achieve OCF’s mission of improving the lives of all Oregonians is to bring people together in a spirit of kindness and openness, with a willingness to see one another as holding a common desire to make things better.

How can you contribute?

  • At a time when people are tuning each other out, let’s listen, learn, and have the grace to put differences aside so we can have difficult conversations. We need this now more than ever as we face tough challenges in our communities.
  • We can recognize and appreciate all kinds of giving — often called “The 5 T’s” — that together will help us nurture a culture of neighborliness in Oregon:
    • Time (Serving on committees and boards, hosting events)
    • Talent (Sharing skills and unique aptitudes to achieve a goal)
    • Treasure (Financial support)
    • Ties (Engaging our networks to support causes we care about)
    • Testimony (Using our voice to stand up for others and advance the OCF mission)
  • Join us throughout the year for events and opportunities that will help you engage more deeply with your community, in a spirit of learning and generosity.
  • Continue to read OCF’s monthly newsletter throughout 2022, where we’ll highlight examples of neighborliness in action. The stories will be wide-ranging — from OCF-supported and locally-led efforts in rural communities and many communities of color to advance opportunity to work done on tribal lands to preserve and allocate their water supplies, to highlighting powerful scholarships, grants and effective networks of volunteers and nonprofits that are providing fresh opportunities for students and families throughout Oregon.

Just by reading this story, you’ve already begun to help us keep neighborliness alive in Oregon in the new year. Without question, more challenges await us in 2022, but if we work together as neighbors, we can meet them head-on.  Please join us in making 2022 the year of being neighborly. 

With gratitude,
Max Williams
President and CEO