Everyone Should have Access to Parks

A Short Interview with new PPF Board Member Melissa Naito

Melissa’s Portland park journey started when her sister coaxed her back to Oregon on a visit 25 years ago. “She picked me up from the airport and took me to Washington Park. It was summer and we had a turkey dinner picnic, my favorite. We sat in the International Rose Test Garden Amphitheater where people were roaming around in the heat. It felt welcoming; I loved it.”

Melissa joined the board in June.

So tell us about yourself: What’s your background? What eventually led you to join the board?

 Photo of Melissa with daughter Ann Louise and husband Bob

Photo of Melissa with daughter Ann Louise and husband Bob

I’m originally from Eugene, but moved up from San Francisco 25 years ago. I was switching careers at the time. I studied broadcast journalism as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, and had done many different types of work including television production, event planning and political consulting before coming to Portland. I then got a Master’s in Public Administration from Portland State University (PSU). I met City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury while I was at PSU and eventually worked for her at City Hall. When she retired, I moved over to the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services to serve as a liaison on large commercial building projects. In all, I logged almost 15 years with the city. I left to raise my daughter. I’m also a step mom to three older kids and I have a sister here in town.  

Since then, I’ve volunteered at the Multnomah Athletic Club on a several standing committees.  I volunteer at Kairos PDX and helped develop a program at my daughter’s school called PLACE (People Leading Across City Environments). It’s a way for high school students in Portland to work on real life City issues and projects.  It’s a great way to engage in the community and understand how things get done.

What role to parks play in your life?

I mostly use them with my family. When my daughter was playing youth soccer, we were in parks all the time: Southeast, Northeast, Grant Park, Healy Heights, Portland Heights Park. Now that my daughter is in older, I enjoy the quiet side of the parks. I have the time to explore new parks I’ve never been to. There are so many gorgeous ones to see.  We were just in Forest Park and Hoyt Arboretum -- great places to enjoy nature, yet so close to home.

We will have two exchange students staying with us in a few weeks from Queens, NY.  In addition to participating in a week long PLACE program, I want to show them some of Portland’s treasures.  We hope to get them to Forest Park, Council Crest for the views, then to finish up with Washington Park, The Chinese and Japanese Gardens and Mt. Tabor.

People think of parks just as places to go with kids, but there are so many that are just quiet and beautiful.

Why did you want to join Portland Parks Foundation board?

I want to be sure everyone has access to our great parks.  Whether going to parks they have never been to or finding a way to bring new parks to underserved neighborhoods, it just seems that everyone should be enjoying our great spaces.  

I’ve known (current PPF board member) Mary Ruble a long time. We met when I first moved here and was looking for work. She’s always been involved in community service, so when I ran into her recently and she asked if I might be interested in joining the board, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always believed in public service and felt I wanted to give back in some way. Parks are what make our city so liveable.  I am excited to help out.

Sometimes I think people assume those who steward Portland’s Parks are just protecting a resource, and they are, but they are also focused on bringing parks to neighborhoods that don’t have them and adding enhancements like the Barbara Walker footbridge over Burnside. The Parks Foundation Board is a great way to work on something meaningful to so many Portlanders.  I am just excited to get started.