New grants projects connect underserved communities with local parks and programs

Portland Parks Foundation is pleased to announce the new grantees from our Small Grants Program, which provides capacity building support for organizations whose work aligns with PPF’s mission to ensure a thriving and accessible parks system for a healthy Portland. “We are excited to work with our new grantees, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)  and Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors (ECO). These projects directly address PPF’s priority for supporting underserved communities that have barriers to accessing the benefits of local parks and programs,” said Jessica Green, PPF’s Operations Officer.

IRCO’s Slavic Youth and Families Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Community School Program at Gilbert Park Elementary.

IRCO’s Slavic Youth and Families Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) Community School Program at Gilbert Park Elementary.

IRCO is nationally and locally recognized as a culturally and linguistically specific community-based organization with a deep understanding of the diverse communities residing in Oregon. Their proposed project supports Portland’s Slavic Community, Oregon’s largest refugee-based community, which includes diverse ethnicities such as Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, and Czech. “After experiencing religious and political persecution, conflict, and corruption, Slavs are often isolated and reticent to mainstream systems. Almost one in three Slavic children live in poverty, twice the rate of White children. One in five Slavs speak English less than well. These disparities represent significant obstacles for Slavic families seeking resources through PP&R,” IRCO wrote. Through this project, IRCO will provide opportunities to engage Slavic community members with Portland parks spaces and programs through information sharing and events. IRCO hopes to not only increase Slavs’ access to parks, but also help “provide the sense of belonging that Portland’s public spaces, and by extension the city itself, is ‘for them.’”

Students participating in an ECO program at Kingsley D. Bundy Park in SE Portland.

Students participating in an ECO program at Kingsley D. Bundy Park in SE Portland.

With a mission to reconnect kids with nature, ECO shared that their work “is rooted in the understanding that when kids enjoy and understand the natural world, they grow into adults who take value and take care of it.” Eighty percent of the students ECO serves qualify for free or reduced lunch and 63% identify as minority. City parks that ECO students engage with include Powell Butte Natural Area, Springwater Corridor, and Kingsley D. Bundy Park. The proposed project is to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training for ECO’s staff and board, with the goal of increasing capacity for the organization to deliver equitable and culturally responsive ecology programs. With increased capacity, ECO sees the impact of this program as helping to build “a more inclusive and diverse next generation of Portland residents who value and support access to thriving parks and natural areas.”

Congratulations to IRCO and ECO!

If you’re with a public park friends group or another community partner, be sure to keep in touch with the PPF throughout the year. You can learn more about our Small Grants Program here. Our next round of applications will be open beginning March 1, with a deadline of March 30, 2019. In addition to small grants, we also offer seasonal technical assistance workshops. Past programs have focused on fundraising strategies, equity and inclusion, grant writing, and building your board.

Portland Parks Foundation welcomes new Executive Director Randy Gragg

Portland Parks Foundation (PPF) welcomes Randy Gragg as the new Executive Director. Gragg succeeds Jeff Anderson who recently retired from the role. Bringing a dynamic background in journalism, urban planning, and advocacy, Gragg will lead the organization that serves as the chief philanthropic partner for the City of Portland’s Parks & Recreation.

For nearly 30 years, Gragg has helped to shape conversations about the city of Portland’s spaces and culture. His leadership and advocacy has helped champion a number of public parks projects, including Eastbank Esplanade, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and Lawrence Halprin’s Portland Open Space Sequence, also known as Lovejoy Fountain, Pettyrove Park, and Keller Fountain.

“The Portland Parks Foundation is proud of the impacts we've made on Portland’s Parks system, most recently the Barbara Walker Footbridge over Burnside, opening next summer,” said Mary Ruble, the foundation’s Board Chair. ”With Randy Gragg at the helm of the Foundation, our goal is to increase our visibility and expand our range of public/private partnerships to build a stronger and more vibrant parks and recreation system throughout Portland. We are honored to have Randy join us, and look to his vision and experience to take us to new heights.“

As a journalist, Gragg served as Editor-in-Chief at Portland Monthly Magazine from 2009-2013 and as a columnist and reporter at the Oregonian for 17 years. More recently he has developed exhibitions and public programs with Design Week Portland. From 2013-2017, Gragg was the Executive Director of the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape where he developed a major 2017 retrospective for the Portland Art Museum on the seminal Oregon architect and landscape designer John Yeon.

“Portland is entering an exciting era,” Gragg said. “The city is growing dramatically, not just in numbers, but with deepening cultural diversity, creativity, and awareness. With the Parks Foundation’s 16-year legacy of good work to build on, we’re ready to partner with Portland’s wide-ranging communities to create new parks and programs, refresh those we have, even rethink what a park is and where it can be.”

Gragg was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and an inaugural National Arts Journalism Fellow at Columbia University. His volunteer affiliations include roles as a board member with Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Alumni Council Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University. As board chair of the Halprin Landscape Conservancy, he co-led the development of an innovative $4.5-million public/private partnership to restore Halprin’s world-renowned fountain plazas.

Portland Parks & Recreation recently came under the leadership of City Commissioner Nick Fish, who will also be the Foundation’s City Council liaison. “Randy is a respected community leader and will bring a strong vision during this time of growth for the Portland Parks Foundation,” said Portland Parks Commissioner Nick Fish. “I look forward to building on our longstanding partnership and expanding Portland’s world-class parks and recreation system.”

About Portland Parks Foundation

The Portland Parks Foundation is devoted to building a thriving and accessible parks system for a healthy, sustainable, and creative Portland. We are the chief philanthropic partner for Portland Parks & Recreation. Through leadership, partnership, and philanthropy, we advance the City of Portland’s commitment to excellence, equity, inclusion, and good stewardship of our public parks. PPF will soon complete the Barbara Walker Footbridge over Burnside.  We have played key roles in the creation of Cully Park, Director Park, the Bill Naito Legacy Fountain, the Gateway Green Master Plan, and the Dawson Park interactive fountain. PPF also provides technical assistance and financial support to parks affiliates and friends groups.

Photo courtesy of Sabina Poole.

‘Parks Champions’ are working to create more vital, inclusive public parks

At Portland Parks Foundation, we are so pleased to honor Matthieu Kambumba and Ginger Edwards as the 2018 Parks Champions award winners. This annual award recognizes outstanding park, community center, natural area, or community garden volunteers. Honorees also get to designate a Portland Parks Foundation grant of $1,500 to a community organization that aligns with the Foundation’s goal to create a thriving and accessible parks system for a healthy Portland.

Matthieu Kambumba and Ginger Edwards.png

Matthieu Kambumba is a leader in Portland’s Congolese community and an Oregon Food Bank Ambassador. He has been integral in activating the new Wood Community Garden in SE Portland’s Centennial neighborhood. His contributions include community outreach, culturally responsive gardening classes, and securing of grants. Matthieu has designated a grant to support Wood Community Garden, noting that it means “more opportunities and resources for the Wood community to achieve [our] goal to be self sufficient and sustainable. It is the opportunity to have more time together to build and strengthen the community."

An advocate for North Portland parks and neighborhoods, Ginger Edwards has been especially active with Arbor Lodge Park. She organizes community groups and businesses to volunteer throughout the year, is part of the tree team, and helped to fund and personally maintained an ADA accessible restroom at the park’s popular and inclusive Harper’s Playground. She said, "if you do things for the right reasons, and share your goals, other like minded people will show up and join you. That is what has happened at Arbor Lodge Park and Harper's Playground. This shows that something close to me and important in our neighborhood resonates with others outside of our neighborhood." Ginger also works as Ginger has designated her grant to support Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association.

Congrats Matthieu and Ginger and thank you for all you are doing to support thriving, inclusive Portland parks!

The impact of partnership: a farewell from Jeff Anderson

As I retire from the Portland Parks Foundation at the end of October, I want to share just a few thoughts about the impact of partnership in fulfilling our mission.  

JA photo 2_cropped.jpg

We do nothing alone.  In America there’s a persistent myth of the impact of the rugged individualist.  I’m not sure whose interest this myth serves, but the truth is that ALL of our enterprises depend upon continuity, collaboration, cooperation, and community.  Even the world’s greatest innovators in science and art, or leaders in commerce and politics, acknowledge that they “stand on the shoulders of giants.”  Partnership works across time as well as tasks.   

In three years at the Portland Parks Foundation I’ve been privileged to work with selfless community volunteers on our board, on our Footbridge campaign, and among many park Friends organizations, as well as dedicated staff at the Foundation and at PP&R.  They are the greatest strength of our city—people dedicating their time and expertise to public good—and in the case of volunteers, they do it for free.  They are leaders not because they command but because they serve.

When leadership is rooted in service, partnership is a natural consequence.  We don’t go it alone.  Partners look not to compete but to complement each other’s strengths.  And, as the saying goes, partners’ “many hands” are what makes “light work.”  We get a lot farther with less effort rowing together in the same canoe than by taking on the current by ourselves.  And we owe a lot to those who built the canoe.

The Portland Parks Foundation was literally founded on the concept of partnership.  Perhaps even more now than at PPF’s inception in 2001, partnership is important to help preserve and improve the public spaces that Portlanders prize as highly as any other city service.  Even as we expect clean water to run from our faucets, or our streets to be maintained, or our neighborhoods to be safe, we expect to go to the park.  And we do just that—tens thousands of us every day—because public parks are an essential feature of the city we know and love.  They are magnets drawing others to live here.  Every Portlander has the right to be on our common ground, under the sky and trees, away from the traffic and the noise, in a place that we share as a community. 

From Forest Park to Gateway Green, it has always been a combination of private and public partnership that made this possible.  Look at what Verde has accomplished with public and private partners in Cully Park.  Look at the lively plaza downtown that is Director Park.  Visit Southeast Portland’s upgraded Sellwood Park, or the stunning Peninsula Park Rose Garden in north Portland.  These special places stem from partnership.  Reflect on a concert or sporting event or movie you saw in a park this past summer.  Hundreds of partners create Summer Free For All.  And next summer we’ll have a virtual public art installation in the erection of the Barbara Walker Footbridge, spanning west Burnside to provide safe passage along the Wildwood Trail—the latest of the Parks Foundation’s major efforts, with nearly 1,000 private donors contributing $2 million.

Successful partnership will continue to derive from leaders who serve.  Whether it’s the PP&R staff giving their best, or the community volunteers who spend evenings and weekends with their hands in the soil, or the fundraisers and private donors who give time and treasure to parks, we must complement each other’s work, remember our debt to those who have gone before, and our responsibility to those who will be here when we’re gone.  The Portland Parks Foundation seeks to make and keep these connections, and to keep Portlanders close to nature.  If our connection to each other and to nature is broken, Portland may as well be just anywhere, or nowhere.  But as long as we are here together, and we work together, we’ll be somewhere special.  Thanks for making it so.

PPF's newest board member's lasting impact on Portland parks

PPF Board Member Mary Anne Cassin. Her legacy to Portland parks includes 22 years with Portland Parks & Recreation and a planned gift through Portland Parks Foundation.

PPF Board Member Mary Anne Cassin. Her legacy to Portland parks includes 22 years with Portland Parks & Recreation and a planned gift through Portland Parks Foundation.

Mary Anne Cassin was with Portland Parks & Recreation for 22 years. At the end of her time there, she managed the implementation of the successful 2014 campaign to pass a bond measure that would raise up to $68 million for parks. We’re now at the halfway point of the implementation of that money. It is making vital repairs and improvements citywide and it has prevented many playground facility closures. Read about it here. Mary Anne has joined the Portland Parks Foundation board and we’re so delighted. We sat down with her in September, just before her first board meeting.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! What’s your favorite neighborhood park?

I had a hard time choosing just one, so I’ve narrowed it down to two. My own neighborhood park, Gabriel Park, is such an amazing urban amenity. At 90 acres, it has a stream, a forest, a community garden; it has everything; and yet it can still be a place to be quiet and contemplative. I’ve absolutely loved living near it for the past 30 years. When we built Southwest Community in the late 90s it has become an incredible resource for the city since the community center was built.

You said you had another one, what is it?

Tanner Creek Springs, because I worked on it, and because it’s such an unusual and wonderful one square block amenity. It does so much in so little space. It manages to make you feel like you’re off somewhere in a wetland somewhere with the still water, and the stream, but at the same time it still fits so much into its highly crafted space in an artsy neighborhood. I just think it’s great.

What is your favorite thing to do in a park?

That’s easy, walking in a park, you see people, you see plants, birds, it’s just a wonderful way to go through life. It’s so much better than walking anywhere else because you’re away from cars and you’re in a little bit of nature.

Do you have a moment or memory that encapsulates this?

I remember walking up the stairs at Washington Park Rose Garden one time, it hit me really hard that I was in this amazingly gorgeous place with all these roses and all this beautiful art and sculpture, and that it belonged to the people. This was no one’s private garden, it belonged to all of us.

What inspired you to join the board?

I know some of the people quite well, having worked at Parks for so long. It’s full of people I admire and miss working with, so that will be nice. The mission also inspired me. It’s close to my heart. What the Portland Parks Foundations has been able to do in its short existence is phenomenal. Public funds will not always cover, what in an ideal world they should cover. The fact that the foundation is there to help bridge that divide is wonderful.

You’ve put Portland Parks Foundation into your will - what inspired you to make this kind of commitment?

My career is so tied into Portland parks and when you think about legacy, you tend to think about what will continue to have value to people, not just people but also to habitat. That’s what kept me at Parks all those years. The benefits are so universal, no matter what kind of person you are, what kind of animal you are, even the water — everything benefits from parks. It’s hard to find any kind of nonprofit that rings all the bells that way. You can address hunger, you can get people books, but it all felt like a tiny little slice. Portland Parks & Recreation has done such a good job of being responsive to people. I know enough about park history to know that it is responsive to the culture and the needs of the time. It’s not just this static thing, it will continue to grow and evolve with what it needs to do. Parks seemed like a really good place to leave things for.

What would you tell someone considering a legacy gift but not sure of what the next step is?

Just go do it. The Portland Parks Foundation makes it so easy. They will sit down with you, answer any questions you have without pressure. You can just have an exploratory conversation. The fact that it’s a younger organization makes it more user friendly. I did a couple legacy meetings in my exploration stage, and I felt welcoming arms from the Portland Parks Foundation, more so than I did from bigger, more corporate organizations.

Do you have anything else to add?

It takes a while for any organization like the Portland Parks Foundation to find out who they are and hit their stride. I really think they’ve found it now. It’s an exciting time to be a part of it. I have the context to see that!

We’re so excited to welcome Mary Anne to our board. To learn more about legacy gifts click here.


Summer Goals: All Portlanders Play

Chariti at Peninsula Park

Chariti at Peninsula Park

By John Pfeil

Last year’s Movie in the Park at Hamilton Park gave Summer Free For All’s program supervisor, Chariti Montez, goosebumps. “Our staff were like, ‘Okay great, we’ve got a band, we’re building a stage, we’re getting the microphones set up …’ But when the scheduled performers, Tongan group Mosimosi Koula, showed up the evening of the performance, they said, ‘We don’t do this on a stage!’”

Summer Free For All empowers Portlanders to create and cultivate community and celebrate our city’s growing cultural diversity through 1,800 free activities at 77 sites all over Portland. It includes free concerts and movies, as well as free lunches and supervised playtime for kids, all in parks. In 2017, the events attracted more than 200,000 Portlanders and provided over 100,000 free lunches for kids. The program is organized by Portland Parks and Recreation in collaboration with many community partners across the city, including Portland Parks Foundation. This year, PPF raised over $66,000 from generous donors including Columbia Bank, Juan Young Trust, Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Portland Trail Blazers, and KEEN.


Chariti Montez leads PP&R’s Summer Free for All team. Her personal story is reflective of Portland’s growing immigrant communities. Chariti was born in Salem with a Mexican immigrant father and a white mother.  Her family worked in the fields, and when she was young, her father was deported. She did not see him again for 35 years. Her father eventually returned to live in the United States through an amnesty program in the 1980s. Among other things, her experiences while growing up, first in Salem, then in Portland and Vancouver have helped shape her perspectives on how parks programs can positively impact all Portlanders

In 2015, PP&R commissioned a study to learn more about who was being served by their flagship summertime events, and who was being left out. “It found that folks who came ... were largely from the dominant culture, college educated, and middle class. We weren’t reaching people of other groups in the same percentage that live in the city,” Chariti said. Since that time, Chariti has made it her mission to help diverse communities see themselves in the Summer Free For All schedule.

That Movie in Hamilton Park is a great example of how Chariti and her team have helped the program be more responsive to our city’s growing cultural diversity. Back at Hamilton Park, directed by members of Mosimosi Koula, the group dismantled the stage and set up a few microphones in the middle of a large circle. The group sat in front of the movie screen in the grass and performed. When it got dark, they finished and ‘Moana’ was projected onto the huge, outdoor movie screen. “It was amazing,” Chariti remembers. “These are different kinds of performances, the audience is a part of it.”


Another way that Chariti’s team has transformed the program is to actively engage new communities and groups who have not traditionally accessed opportunities for partnership and participation. “The way Summer Free for All works is that a community partner applies to host a movie or a concert series. Some of those groups have been doing it for years. They were the groups that knew about it. If you are a group that knows how to navigate the system, or how to apply, or how to fundraise, or that the program is even for you, then you’re going to choose the band and the movies that you like. That reinforces the programming. If it’s always the same community group picking the same kind of music or the same kind of movies, then the people who are not included don’t come, don’t see anything for them, and don’t think it’s for them.”

So when 12-piece Cuban dance band Pilon d’Azucar played the Washington Park Summer Festival on the famous Washington Park Amphitheatre stage last year, friends pulled her aside and said, “You had something to do with this. It’s a really big deal that these performers are in this garden at this venue right now.” Any day of the year you can see visitors from all over the world in the garden, but people from that community still didn’t feel like the space belonged to them. “It was a really proud moment for the performers, and to have so many people from the Latino and Latinx community community show up felt impactful.”

“There’s this ephemeral aspect to Summer Free For All that’s really fun, this sense of community and placemaking. All of the sudden there’s a stage that, for most of these parks, wasn’t there the day before, and the next day you’re not even going to know it was there.” The stages may come and go, but the inclusiveness and diversity resulting from Chariti’s work will have impacts for generations to come.

Our picks for Summer Free For All 2018:

Friday, July 20th at 6:30 pm at Harrison Park (SE 84th Ave. and Harrison St.)

Concert: Joe Kyle - Indie rock, classical, pop vocalist, and voilinst looper

Movie: Can (2011)

Wednesday, August 15th at 6:30 pm at Laurelhust Park (SE Cesar E Chavez Blvd and Stark St.)

Concert: DJ Prashant & Jai Ho! Dance Troupe - Interactive Bollywood and Bhangra dance

Movie: Chak de! India (2007)

Thursday, August 9, 6:30 pm at Dawson Park (2926 N Williams Ave.)

Concert: Eldon “T” Jones & N Touch - groovy jazz

Thursday, August 18, 6:30 pm at Dawson park (2926 N Williams Ave.)

Concert: EMBRACE - contemporary Christian and gospel

Saturday, August 18 6:30 pm at Gateway Discovery Park (NE Halsey St. and 108th Ave.) Tonga Day 2018

Concert: Tongan 101 - Tongan/Pacific Islander music and dance

Movie: Moana (2016)


Photos courtesy Ben Brink, Fred Joe, and Luceil Rice and Portland Parks & Recreation and John Pfeil of PPF