Oregon can use even more givers

"Giving is a kind of gateway drug, luring us into longer and more fulfilling commitments to causes and organizations. Your entry point is irrelevant — philanthropy's varied arms are entwined."

— "State of Giving"

Oregonians are generous people — a fact that won't come as a surprise to anyone who has lived here for very long — and Southern Oregon has its share of hardworking, dedicated organizers, volunteers and philanthropists.

A new book, "State of Giving: Stories of Oregon Volunteers, Donors and Nonprofits," is a sweeping compendium of the best of Oregon's community-minded people. It recognizes the value of individual and collective effort to better our communities by reaching out to those in need and by enriching the culture through art, music and theater.

Written by Greg Chaillé, longtime president of the Oregon Community Foundation, and Kristin Anderson, a nonprofit consultant, writer and educator, the Oregon State University Press publication (www.osupress.oregonstate.edu) is also a call to action. As remarkable as Oregon's record of giving is, the authors argue, we can and should do better.

Among those profiled in the book's 300-plus pages are local philanthropists Sherm and Wanda Olsrud, whose generosity to their community has helped sustain ACCESS — also noted in the book — and Kids Unlimited, among many other causes.

Also featured is Bill Thorndike, president of Medford Fabrication, a community volunteer and philanthropist whose generosity of spirit is exceeded only by his apparently unlimited energy, as evidenced by his involvement in numerous non-profits.

The Maslow Project, headed by founder and director Mary Ferrell, reaches out to homeless children from birth to 21 with food, clothing, tutoring, life skills coaching — the kinds of support that can make a difference in the life of a homeless youth.

 These stories and many, many others fill the pages of "State of Giving," and provide a backdrop for the authors' thesis: Everyone can contribute in some way to making their community better, and they need not be wealthy to do it.

Oregon ranks 17th among the states in the percentage of income donated per capita, a level the authors call "solid, but uninspiring." While Oregon ranks higher than both California and Washington, that's not reason for pride but a call to do more, they write.

"If Oregon were ranked in the top five nationally for charitable giving, our state would be a very different place — stronger, more resilient, more united, more engaged civically."

Wondering where to plug in? Opportunities abound in Southern Oregon, from helping your local Food Project fill and collect green bags every other month to becoming a SMART reader in your local elementary school. If you're short on time but want to help financially, the book includes detailed appendices on different forms of donating and how to  evaluate a nonprofit agency.

We frequently remark in this space that Southern Oregon is full of community-minded people who help make it a great place to live. There's always room for a few more.

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