You are about to meet a few special people.
When Willamette Week decided to award prizes each year to Portlanders under the age of 36 who perform great service for local nonprofits, we named the award The Skidmore Prize.
Why? At the west end of Old Town's Ankeny Square sits Skidmore Fountain. In September of 1888, when the elegant, European-styled landmark was dedicated, Ankeny Square was pretty much Portland's heart. On one side of the fountain are words full of hope and idealism for this place: "Good citizens," reads C.E.S. Wood's encomium, "are the riches of a city." Portland knew then—and knows today—that personal commitment is the key to our community's health, livability and vibrancy.
This year all four Skidmore Prize winners—Stephen Marc Beaudoin of PHAME Academy, Jenn Cohen of the Circus Project, Ian Mouser of My Voice Music, and Temmecha Turner of Friends of the Children—thoroughly merit the "Good Citizen" label. They received their $4,000 prizes, each accompanied by a certificate, at a celebration at the Davis Street Tavern Tuesday evening, Nov. 8. The Skidmore Prize Celebration also marks the kickoff of Willamette Week's annual Give!Guide, copies of which are inserted in this week's paper and can be read online at wweek.com/giveguide.
As you'll see from the profiles that follow, these four Portlanders build on the examples set by the 29 previous recipients of this honor. Special thanks are in order to Davis Wright Tremaine and OakTree Digital for financial support for the Skidmore Prizes, and to Integra Telecom for helping to fund the Skidmore Prize Celebration and Give!Guide Kickoff.
If you know someone who is 35 or younger and does amazing work for a Portland-area nonprofit, you've got a candidate for next year's Skidmore Prize. The only other requirement is that your prospective nominee earn less than $35,000 a year and not be a volunteer.
Next July, WW and wweek.com will be full of announcements inviting you to nominate your candidate for a 2012 Skidmore Prize. The nomination process is open all month and easy: Just go to wweek.com/skidmoreprize and fill out the handy form. We'll then contact the nominee for further information and references.
Our rules also allow candidates to nominate themselves.
Photographs of this year's Skidmore Prize winners were facilitated by Focus on Youth, an 8-year-old local nonprofit that puts cameras in the hands of low-income, high-risk youth. Focus on Youth collaborates with professional photographers, schools and community organizations to develop projects that engage students' imaginations and creativity while building their confidence and self-worth.
Helping to raise $160,000 in Haiti relief funds wasn't his only accomplishment that night. Beaudoin, 32, had found a new mission. Soon his life would revolve around the PHAME Academy of Fine Arts, a nonprofit organization in Northeast Portland that provides fine- and performing-arts education to adults with developmental disabilities.
It's not surprising that Beaudoin, a classically trained musician, was drawn to PHAME, which stands for Pacific Honored Artists, Musicians and Entertainers. He has an extensive background in the arts and in managing nonprofits. Less than a month before last year's concert, on New Year's Eve 2009, he promised himself he would get involved with an organization that really meant something to him. He felt he had wandered off track after moving to Portland in 2005 and wanted to return to his roots.
Beaudoin grew up in Independence, Mo., where his parents had a profound influence on him, he says. His father, Philip "Ross" Beaudoin, taught him the importance of helping others—he's a Catholic deacon who's been going on yearly missions to Mexico since the early 1980s and was often involved in local charities. Beaudoin's mother, Renata Beaudoin, helped her son discover his love of music. He remembers singing from a Reader's Digest songbook while she accompanied him on piano.
Years later, after Beaudoin became PHAME's executive director, his parents told him before he was born, they, too, had worked with the disabled to put on musicals while employed at a state school in Missouri. Reflecting on this, he says, "Nothing's a coincidence in life."
After graduating from high school, Beaudoin studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and was later involved in a variety of performing arts-related nonprofits, such as the Fenway Alliance and the Boston Gay Men's Chorus. Every Columbus Day, during the Fenway neighborhood's cultural festival, museums and concert halls would open their doors to the public. He says it was during this time that he "started to see the value and the real specialness" of bringing the arts to those who otherwise might not have the means to access it.
Beneath his charming sense of humor and warm smile, Beaudoin cares deeply about the needs of others. He never questions whether he has the time, energy or capacity: He simply asks if there is a need.
It wasn't a question after a catastrophic earthquake shook Haiti in January 2010, and it wasn't a question when one hit Japan a year later, leading him to help raise an additional $220,000 for Mercy Corps when he produced another day of benefit concerts at the Aladdin.
But Beaudoin isn't just a fundraiser. He gives 10 percent of his salary back to PHAME and donates his time and money to other local nonprofits such as Basic Rights Oregon, the Cascade AIDS Project and Fear No Music.
As fate would have it, Beaudoin brought his philanthropic heart and optimistic energy to PHAME at an opportune time. Not only was the recession taking its toll on the academy, but founder Carol Stady had recently retired.
"His leadership has been phenomenal," PHAME board member Ethan Dunham says. "Since Beaudoin arrived, he's helped double PHAME's revenue, created jobs that pay living wages, secured its first official office space and brought in a new, younger generation of donors.
"He has a passion for the population that is extraordinary," Dunham says. "He connects with the students very well."
Pat Hansen has been a student at PHAME since its inception in 1984. He says it's "one of the special things" in his life, and that Beaudoin "knows how to work with the students."
"He's got us doing a lot more theater stuff and more performance places for us to sing at," Hansen says with a grin.
Beaudoin is hard at work promoting "Sparkle! A Night to Shine with PHAME," a Nov. 20 gala at the Tiffany Center he hopes will raise $100,000 for the academy.
"What drives me," he says, "is knowing that all the late nights, early mornings and weekends, and all the very gritty, unsexy cranking-out-the-sausage, behind-the-scenes work...affect the lives of these individuals in a very profound way."
For many of the students, PHAME is their only creative outlet. Some take the bus all the way from Vancouver, Wash., and Oregon City to attend classes.
As for Beaudoin's Skidmore Prize money? He's giving it all to PHAME, of course.
This is the Circus Project, the only pre-professional circus-training program in the country designed to meet the needs of homeless and at-risk youth. Cohen—the founder and artistic and executive director—works as many as 70 hours each week passing on her gift.
Since 2008, Cohen's Circus Project has produced 21 public performances before more than 10,000 people. But the most important work happens behind the scenes in drop-in classes, open-gym sessions and performance-troupe trainings at which the Circus Project serves up to 150 marginalized youth each year.
"Jenn's allowing us to share her dream," says Charlotte Ives, a 21-year-old performance-troupe member who lives at an Outside In housing facility. "Taking me in is kind of like taking in a pit bull. Jenn had no idea of who I was before working with me."
It's no coincidence that stories of Circus Project youth echo Cohen's own experiences as a young adult.
âI felt completely out of place growing up, and circus saved me,â she says.
Raised in a Chicago suburb, Cohen was eager to leave her community and graduated from high school in three years. In the next 18 months, she attended three colleges in different states and was at one point pursuing a degree in primatology, the scientific study of primates.
To her family's initial disappointment, Cohen found her love for circus was the one thing she couldn't leave behind.
"Many of the youth I work with are the first ones in their family to go to college," she says. âBut I had the opposite problem. I was the only one not to.â
Cohen, 35, first discovered the power of circus at age 13 at a flying-trapeze program at Club Med in Florida. Six years later, she decided to pursue her dream and teamed up with Chinese acrobatics master Lu Yi. "I had no money, and he [spoke] very little English, so we were quite the combination," she says. But with their powers combined, Cohen launched a successful career as an aerialist, and she was soon performing internationally in Berlin and Paris.
"That was a time of great professional success, but I was extremely lonely and depressed—a combination that led to a breakdown or what I like to call a âbreakthrough,ââ she says.
Cohen returned to the United States in late 1999 determined to find happiness. She began intensive therapy and developed a passion for "process work," a type of therapy that blends spiritual practices with Jungian psychology.
Revitalized and inspired, she returned to circus once more—this time directing several youth at the San Francisco Circus Center. Thanks to Cohen's assistance, their circus act earned national recognition.
"That was the experience that sparked my interest in working with marginalized youth," she says. "A lot of the kids I worked with were severely at-risk, and I wanted to help them."
To do so, Cohen realized she needed more education in therapy. So, at 29, she went back to school to earn an undergraduate degree and a master's in process work from Portland State University. She worked closely with professors who helped her rediscover what she calls her "sensual relationship with the wind." In 2008, Cohen brought her dreams to life through an 80-page thesis, "The Circus Project: Applying Process Work Techniques to Circus & Theatre Arts with At-Risk Youth."
As the title implies, Cohen's involvement with the Circus Project has been nothing short of a process—ripe with struggle and success.
"I was headed toward personal bankruptcy," she says. "There were several times when I thought we'd have to close our doors in a month."
But thanks to a thick Rolodex and several well-timed grants, Cohen has watched the Circus Project—and with it, dozens of homeless youth—thrive.
"People are finally understanding that circus is a viable method of working with at-risk youth," she says.
For the youth, the power of the circus speaks for itself.
"We've all made some sort of steps since being here," says Taylor Coghill, the youngest member of the Circus Project's performance troupe, "whether it's finding an apartment or a job or getting sober or all of those things. It's not like Jenn sat us down and taught us job skills, but she's given us the space and support to make it on our own."
But Cohen says it's not enough for the Circus Project to be a feel-good thing: "We do shows that people want to go see, and then afterward they say, 'What? Those kids are homeless?' Now, that is the magic of circus."
A self-described "scrapper from a poor family in Southern Oregon," Mouser calls his mother the same. During his childhood, he found music by way of her encouragement.
"She was always like, 'Go take your trumpet up onto a mountaintop and just play from the heart.' I mean, it was crazy," he says. From third grade until about his sophomore year in high school, Mouser was somewhat content playing his music in the woods, where he lived with his mother, stepfather and three sisters. âNo electricity, no generatorâit was pretty sweet.â
While he enjoyed being in the woods in Williams, other parts of his environment were less desirable. After his mother divorced his father, whom he describes as a "druggie," she got remarried—to an ultra-conservative Christian. Mouser's grades suffered, and at school he was viewed as a troubled kid.
Between flunking out of classes, being in anger-management groups and getting into fights at school, he discovered Wilderness Trails, a faith-based camping group run out of Medford, when he was 12.
"It was like the first time I was able to be seen for being a good kid," he says. Faith became a part of his life, but he describes it more as simply finding love "without any of the other stuff around it."
At 17, Mouser picked up the guitar. What he had previously found in faith, he discovered again in instruments. But music wasn't the only thing that led Mouser away from faith. When he had the choice to go to either Hidden Valley High School or Rogue River High School, he figured Rogue River sounded like a place that needed saving. "I thought I'd be a missionary," he says, laughing.
Once he started volunteering and getting involved in his new community, however, Mouser says he saw for the first time a group of non-Christians serving others. "I was like, 'Oh, I thought only Christians could be good Christians,'" he says. By the time he was 19, after talking to more classmates, he decided he "wanted nothing to do with God…so, it was kind of a choice."
Between high school and college—originally at Western Oregon University and then a year at Lane Community College—Mouser found work, first at a slaughterhouse, then a rock quarry.
"My first day on the [slaughterhouse] job, this guy comes up and has a cow eye in his hand and says, 'Here's lookin' at you, kid,'" he recalls. "I knew it was not my cup of tea."
After a bad breakup with a girlfriend and finding another guy who had experienced a bad breakup, Mouser decided the logical thing to do was to form a band. Calling themselves American Hit List, Mouser and his bandmate moved to Portland, got a record contract and toured the Pacific Northwest from 2006 to 2009.
While in the band, he kept working—holding down three jobs at one point. That's when another friend, who worked with kids in a mental health center, suggested Mouser do the same.
"I'd worked with kids forever...so it just seemed like a really good fit," he says. He began working at Albertina Kerr in 2003, and had jobs across the board, from treatment counselor to psychiatric technician to music teacher.
Mouser enjoyed the work but didn't enjoy being in charge of kids. One day, he decided to bring his guitar. He says mornings were the hardest, trying to get 10- to 12-year-old boys out of bed, but when they heard him playing music, they slowly came out of their rooms and sat, fascinated, watching him play.
"They were just boys, without their guards up, and that was the first time I'd seen them like that," he says. "Music does that. It transforms just any weird-ass space into magic."
After a lack of funding prevented him from continuing his music program at Albertina Kerr, he began teaching private music lessons, which led to him teaching a different kind of student.
"My heart is for disadvantaged youth that would never really get this opportunity," he says, "and I was working with rich kids."
Ironically, it was a private-school student who led to the founding of his organization. In 2008, her parents donated an SUV to Mouser and said, "Form a nonprofit, and give us the tax receipt.â
My Voice Music worked with about 90 kids that year; this year, it's working with 500.
Since 2008, Mouser has accumulated a wide variety of instruments, which he keeps in his basement studio and garage. Keyboards, guitars, a mandolin and a variety of computers have all been donated to him help provide resources for the kids.
The two most important tenets of My Voice Music, he says, are to "provide fun in the midst of a challenging, lame-ass time in your life," and also to give kids a place where they can develop personally through music.
My Voice Music recently released its first compilation album. In addition to 27 tracks of material written and performed by students, it features introductions to each song by the likes of local mystery writer Chelsea Cain and Portland Mayor Sam Adams.
Mouser plans to give his Skidmore Prize check to My Voice Music with hopes that other organizations will match his donation. His biggest goal is to acquire a permanent space for rehearsal and meetings.
"We have a motto, which is: Believe. Create. Give," Mouser says. "Believe in yourself enough to create something that means enough to give back."
Khaleeah is one of the eight girls. She's in the fourth grade. Friday is her day with Turner. It has been that way for two years. Before that, it was Tuesday. The depth of their relationship is immediately apparent. Khaleeah looks at her mentor with pride and respect. Laughter and hugs abound. The presence of love is obvious.
In many ways, Turner was born to be a mentor. Throughout her childhood, she faced challenges similar to the youth at Friends of the Children.
"She...experienced the meaning of a troubled home and foster care," says Gloria Fluker, Turner's supervisor when she worked for Self Enhancement Inc., in North Portland. "However, she also experienced a caring, nurturing and consistent relationship with an adult. This nurturing experience helped her change her view of the world, and she made a decision to replicate the experience for children and families through her mentoring."
Turner was the first person in her family to go to college. Now, while working full time and raising a daughter, she's enrolled in graduate school. There's a fierce drive in her, that much is clear. Her girls need only look to her for a guide to success.
Turner attributes her success to those caring teachers, grandparents, and college and community advisers who were her rock as she grew up. "Having someone show you that type of support really does make a difference," she says—especially when that support has longevity, as it did in her life and does in the lives of the children she mentors through FOTC.
Research shows the most important influence on a child's resilience and future success is a consistent and nurturing relationship with an adult. At-risk, vulnerable youth benefit extraordinarily from a relationship with a mentor. Friends of the Children's mentors dedicate a remarkable 12 years to each child.
FOTC children are selected for the program when they begin school and continue with a mentor (changing mentors up to three times) until they graduate from high school. The full-time, paid mentors provide a stable and sustained relationship for children who face enormous obstacles to success. The organization guarantees four hours with a mentor each week to every child, with no summer break, spanning kindergarten to graduation. So Khaleeah reads with Turner, who points out mistakes and checks for comprehension. Turner also rides bikes with Khaleeah and the girl's mother.
Successful timber investor Duncan Campbell founded FOTC in 1993. Having been raised in a troubled Portland home with alcoholic parents, he promised himself that if he ever had the means, he would help other troubled children succeed. To date, more than 1,300 have been aided by FOTC's national organization, which has chapters in Portland, Boston, New York, Seattle, and Klamath Falls and Sisters.
Friends of the Children has three long-term goals for participants: achieve success in school, and avoid the juvenile justice system and teen parenting. The mentors set specific goals and work with the children to achieve them. "It is so rewarding to see their healthy choices pay off for them and give them positive results," Turner says. "This taste of success has a ripple effect that will teach them more lessons than I ever could."
When Khaleeah reaches sixth grade, she will become a "teen" at Friends of the Children, allowing her to go on fun outings each Friday and hang out in the "teen area" of the basement, which is filled with games, couches and computers. Khaleeah says she wants to skip fifth grade and go straight to sixth, to the good stuff. But Turner reminds her that they are working to "build a strong foundation." After they've laid that framework, the fun can begin.
Turner's commitment to working for nonprofits is clear. In high school, she worked as a peer mentor, and was an academic tutor at Oregon State University. After graduating with a degree in philosophy and ethics, she returned to Roosevelt High School to provide student advocacy and support in the Open Meadow Step Up program. She's also worked as a mentor for Sisters Reflecting Beauty, and taught at a school operated by Metropolitan Family Services.
Her extensive, well-rounded experience illustrates her dedication to mentoring youth and to the nonprofit sector. "Even after a difficult day, the next day she was always ready and willing to start again," says Michael Navarro, her former supervisor at Open Meadow. "Temmecha never backed down from a challenge at work.... She truly believes that all students are capable and able."
In five years, Turner wants to be in an executive role, teaching and helping others to understand how to mentor young people effectively. She would like to host workshops to share the skills she's learned, including offering advice on how to effectively manage a Rubik's Cube-like schedule.