2018 Skidmore Prize Winners

“Good citizens are the riches of a city.”

Not far from the constant buzzing of the Burnside Bridge, the Skidmore Fountain stands gurgling, tall and proud. Dedicated in 1888, it has embodied Portland's values for over a century through the inscription at its base. The words serve as a constant reminder of the lasting altruism of our community: "Good citizens are the riches of a city."

Despite Portland's dramatic growth and change, we have to keep in mind the foundation of active citizenship that was laid by the early leaders of our community. And no matter how controversial certain aspects of the history of our state may be, particularly Oregon's early racism, the words on Skidmore Fountain remind us always to work to create liberty and equity for every single human being.

The fountain's inscription, combined with the current progressive nature of our city, inspired the creation of the Skidmore Prize in 2004. Each year, the prize honors four young Portlanders who work every day to make this a better place and to preserve the community-oriented nature of our city we all know and love. If you've ever wondered who's really making a difference in our community, look no further than the pages that follow.

Winners of the Skidmore Prize must be under the age of 36 and work full-time for a local nonprofit. Winners will receive their awards, including prizes of $4,000 each, at the Give!Guide Campaign Celebration on February 5, 2019, at Revolution Hall.

introduction by Mahala Ray
stories by Stephanie Barnhart


Chris Bailey | Age: 32 | Micro-Enterprise Developer at Hacienda CDC / Portland Mercado

"Chris is a tireless coach, consultant, flavor guru, chef, collaborator and connector. The community seeks him out for his expertise, efficient communication skills, patience and humor. He is a testament to the future trajectory and accomplishments of entrepreneurs of color in Portland."

Shea Flaherty Betin – Director, Portland Mercado

Chris Bailey wraps up his 11 am business meeting — one of several for the day — on the patio at the Portland Mercado on Southeast Foster Road. It's a sweltering Wednesday in August. As the micro-enterprise developer for Hacienda CDC, Bailey often spends his days at the Latino market hall, where he oversees an incubator kitchen and 19 retail spaces representing different Latin American regions.

From Oaxacan to Haitian to Puerto Rican, the Latin-inspired fare available at the nine carts out front is only one of the features of the Mercado. The perimeter of the building also contains a juice shop, meat counter, beer bar and bustling commissary kitchen.

As we walk the property, Bailey introduces me to Omar, who just opened the cold-pressed juice bar Xocotl. With Bailey's help, Omar completed the Mercado's bilingual boot camp last spring and opened his shop earlier this summer.

"Chris, he's been a great help coaching and guiding us," says Omar, a Mexican immigrant who ran embroidery and dehydration businesses before moving here 14 years ago. "There are so many little details," he says, "that, as an entrepreneur and an immigrant, you don't know."

During the six-session boot camp that Bailey coordinates, participants learn product development, business licensing and insurance, cash flow, marketing, sales channels and more — in Spanish. Customized consulting meetings with Bailey and his team help prepare graduates for business ownership and operation, often at an accelerated rate.

According to Bailey, some of the biggest challenges for immigrants who want to open businesses include language barriers, technology and access to financial capital.

As a kid, Bailey would nap in the side office of the Thai restaurant kitchen his mother and aunt ran in Oahu for 30 years. From Hawaii, Bailey went to college at Portland's Lewis & Clark College, then back to the island to work as the travel editor for Hawai'i magazine. Eventually, Portland drew him back; here, he started two packaged-goods businesses of his own. One is Pozole to the People, selling a vegan, gluten-free Mexican soup starter based on a family recipe using organic chilies. The other is Bloom Caramel, which makes a dairy-free, handcrafted caramel, with vanilla, pure coconut milk and organic spices, that he is working to export to Canada, Japan and beyond.

Says Mercado director Shea Flaherty Betin: "[Bailey] brings business acumen, product development, recipe development, product testing, food chemistry, and retail industry relations to a community that needs them desperately."

Bailey has helped more than 50 small, POC-owned businesses expand and thrive through the Hacienda CDC's business incubation program, and oversees daily operations at the Portland Mercado.


Isatou Barry | Age: 23 | Youth Program Coordinator at IRCO's Africa House

"Through quality relationships with the immigrant and refugee communities, and her gift of charisma to inspire others, [Isatou] conveys to all students and families in her program the importance of education and that it is the main key to future success."

Gudeta Wak-Woya – Africa House Youth Program Supervisor, Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization

It's 6 pm, and Isatou Barry has stayed late — as she does every Monday — to oversee Africa House's youth council meeting. Twelve high school students gather weekly, under Barry's guidance, to plan programs and develop leadership skills. This meeting is different. The council has just one more day to prepare to host a cohort of visiting pan-African students at Africa House, and they have some decisions to make.

For starters, what should they order for lunch? Pizza in the American tradition? Or sambusa for familiarity? Which icebreaker should they play — a name game or something more active?

Barry is youth program coordinator at Africa House, a branch of the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization. A full-time finance student at Portland State University, she moved to Portland from Gambia in 2015, and began volunteering for Africa House as an administrative assistant because she was "bored," despite a full-time schedule of undergrad classes as Portland Community College while acclimating to her new home in the U.S.

On her first day as a volunteer, she was asked her to find housing for a client.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," Barry says. "I felt so challenged on my first day, and I was able to help that client. We filled out [a housing] application."
So it didn't take IRCO long to identify Barry's ability to connect personally with the diverse clients passing through Africa House, a one-stop shop for immigration and refugee services after arriving in Portland. She was hired pretty much on the spot.

Because Barry knows firsthand what it's like to leave everything behind in Africa and land in Portland, the people she encounters through Africa House — including the youth council — say Barry is open and easy to connect with.
"You can relate to her on a different level," says Milan, co-chair of the Youth Council. Other council members say Isatou is a hard worker who doesn't lounge, makes you feel like "you can do anything you want," and is the "light of youth council."

The next stop for Barry: law school, and then back to the nonprofit realm. She hopes to advocate for fair policies to help uplift minority communities.
And as for those two questions regarding the visiting pan-African students: The youth council decided on sambusa for lunch. And they decided to play both musical chairs and a name game for icebreakers.

Barry's youth programs impact more than 100 immigrant and refugee students from seven Portland schools, representing East, West and Central African nations. She reinvented the Africa House Youth Council, which builds leadership among 12 or more students as they develop programs for other African immigrants and refugees in their school communities.


Jenny Glass | Age: 34 | Founder, Executive Director at the Rosewood Initiative

"As founding executive director, [Jenny] has seen a generation of children grow, seen a handful of children die, and knows a countless number of children who are now in prison or justice-affected. She recognizes the complexities of the work she is doing. She recognizes her privilege and uses it to uplift and amplify the voices of others."

Marissa Clarke – Associate Director, Rosewood Initiative

On the corner of Southeast 162nd Avenue and Stark Street, The Rosewood Initiative community center's doors swing open every few minutes. Nearby, upbeat Latin sounds float through the air from speakers outside Su Casa Super Mercado. Families arrive at the center for an Arab speakers focus group about current neighborhood priorities. Three black elementary school kids pull up on their bikes. "Hi, Jenny!" they shout.

They're greeting Jenny Glass, founder and executive director of The Rosewood Initiative — a community-building organization in east county. Glass' 6-foot frame, bright blond hair and wide blue eyes could seem out of place in a neighborhood as diverse as Rosewood. But for the past seven years, she has been ingrained in the community, listening to and empowering its members to help create the safer, more just neighborhood they want.

Rosewood comprises the Portland blocks from 150th to 174th avenues and from Northeast Glisan to Southeast Main streets. According to Glass, more than 1,200 infants to 4-year-olds live in the district. More than 25 languages are spoken, and high school students living there attend five different schools: Centennial, Reynolds, David Douglas, Parkrose and Troutdale.

Glass moved to Portland 14 years ago, but her first real experience in Rosewood came through AmeriCorps in 2011, when Glass worked with two police sergeants attempting asset-based community development.

"I literally just knocked on doors and told folks, 'I'm learning about this community and people's hopes and dreams,'" she says. "I built relationships and drew people into the public safety effort."

During those early conversations, the sense of despair some people expressed was really hard for Glass to hear. She'd hear comments like, "Why are you even trying? What do you think you're doing? This is the hand we were dealt, and that's the way it is."

So she stayed put and built trust. She listened more.

"The second or third time you show up," Glass says, "people are like, 'OK, she's sticking around. She's doing something.'"

Now, with The Rosewood Initiative stable, thriving and hosting dozens of events each week, Glass' time is spent developing community partnerships with other nonprofits and businesses, solving the "financial puzzle" through grant writing and event planning, and focusing on long-term strategic planning. She oversees seven full-time and four part-time staffers.

Glass is measured, unhurried, thoughtful. Her long-term vision for The Rosewood Initiative includes land ownership, early-childhood services and increased hopefulness among Rosewood residents.

"Jenny has encouraged countless others to do amazing work in outer East Portland over the years," says Marissa Clarke, The Rosewood Initiative's associate director. "[She's inspired] immeasurable investments in transportation, housing, community wellness, hope — the list goes on and on."

For the past seven years, Glass has empowered East Portland's Rosewood neighborhood by operating a community center that serves 300 to 800 people each week who speak more than 25 languages.


Madeline Kovacs | Age: 32 |Portland for Everyone Program Coordinator at 1000 Friends of Oregon

"Madeline's coalition members have testified to the Portland Planning Commission and Portland City Council, making a difference in the city's housing decisions. She has built a citywide coalition focused on equitable housing that will last longer than these immediate decisions."

Mary Kyle McCurdy – Deputy Director, 1000 Friends of Oregon

For some, the phrase "it's complicated" conjures up a 2009 Meryl Streep film. For others, a relationship status. But for Madeline Kovacs, program coordinator of Portland for Everyone at 1000 Friends of Oregon, "it's complicated" is the reality of housing law and zoning code in this city. It's a complex reality she's on a mission to help the rest of us understand — and change — right now.

Her umbrella organization,1000 Friends of Oregon, is the watchdog nonprofit that defends and strengthens Oregon's statewide land-use planning program. 1000 Friends, in turn, founded the Portland for Everyone Coalition in 2016 and hand-selected Kovacs to lead it. Her unique blend of communications experience and policy development know-how perfectly fit the role, and she's been helped considerably by a background of community organizing and environmental activism that began in college.

Kovacs' coalition organizes Portlanders to advocate for policy changes at the city level to ensure abundant, diverse and affordable housing options in every neighborhood. Kovacs focuses on buoying chronically underrepresented voices in housing conversations — renters, young people, people of color, recent immigrants and adults living with disabilities.

Kovacs, by her own admission not a morning person, recently took a big sip of her Barista coffee at Pine Street Market before turning an hourlong interview into a mile-a-minute master class on this city's sordid history with exclusionary land-use policy.

With the meter of someone who has presented to more than 60 groups in the past two years and trained over 100 individuals to give public testimony about housing, Kovacs swiftly but thoroughly summarizes the issues: Cities across the United States are adding jobs faster than they are adding housing. Rental prices are rising, and families cannot find housing they can afford —pricing them out of entire regions of the country. This is why she took this job.

"I saw the need for focused community education and organizing around something both very complex and misunderstood — but critical to solving the housing shortage and housing affordability crisis," Kovacs says.

Along with coordinating the schedules and needs of 43 coalition members, Kovacs launched and manages the PFE website, facilitates citywide conversations on Twitter, sends testimony alerts over social media and email, and plans events.

For her, the affordable housing movement is not just a trendy buzzword, it's personal. Thanks to a grant from Proud Ground, Kovacs (a 31-year-old, single-earner nonprofit employee who also works at a brewery on weekends) recently purchased her own Portland home: a 1938 horseshoe-shaped apartment building that could not be built today in Portland, due to current zoning regulations.

Kovacs operates with urgency — her speech quick, eyes laser-focused, tweets answered late at night and early in the morning, work bleeding into personal life. Decisions made today about zoning, she says, resonate generations deep.

Kovacs convenes the Portland for Everyone coalition of 43 organizations, which in the past two years have presented to 60 groups and met face to face with more than 2,600 residents in an attempt to restructure housing and land-use law for all.

Skidmore Prize Finalists

Carmen Denison
VISTA Program Manager
Campus Compact
Age: 31

The Work:
Denison oversees dozens of full-time and summer AmeriCorps VISTAs each year through Campus Compact of Oregon, which works to improve racial equity and inclusion at educational institutions across the state. Denison has taken the pre-existing VISTA system in this area and transformed it from a program that promotes the white savior complex into a culturally responsive, trauma-informed resource for communities of color.

The Impact:
"The trainings and dialogues Carmen facilitates forever shape the young professionals who go into government, nonprofit, education and businesses across Oregon and the country," says Joshua Todd, executive director at Campus Compact.

Carmen IRL:
"Portland is really good at sending black and brown kids to prison but not to college," Denison says. "If we're ever going to make any change, these young people deserve to have all of the opportunities that more privileged kids have. It's better these folks have opportunities to go to college, realize themselves and their brilliance, and have some political power."

Christina McGovney
Shelter & Housing Services Manager
Raphael House
Age: 35

The Work:
McGovney has worked for Raphael House for the past eight years in more than six different roles. A survivor herself, she now oversees all aspects of the shelter building, housing an average of 33 adults and children nightly. She coordinates long-term housing placements, supervises her team of 21 advocates, calls creditors and landlords, and personally created a digital tour of Raphael House's shelter in Russian and Spanish, and one for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Impact:
"Christina is training and supporting advocates; she comes from a place of truly 'getting it,'" says Lindsey Vold, youth and advocacy services manager at Raphael House. "[She] is always able to offer tangible tips and meaningful support in the moment. We have heard multiple survivors refer to the tour as being one of the reasons they felt safe making the leap and coming into shelter."

Christina IRL:
"Shelter's not your first stop. It's a last resort, either because you have no other options, or your level of safety is that severe that you need to be hidden," McGovney says. "It's like, how do you get out? [We're building] opportunities for more peer-to-peer community building, where folks who've made it further on their journey can say to the survivor who's just starting out that they got out and how they did it."

Jordan Johnson
Crisis Team Manager
Trauma Intervention Program of
Age: 28

The Work:
A coffee napkin led Johnson to TIP. She first learned about the program from the executive director, who was a regular at the Troutdale cafe where she was a barista. Jordan became a volunteer and, soon after, team manager. Now, she supervises 180 volunteers who, in 2017, responded to 2,913 scenes of tragedy (from natural deaths to child drowning) and spent nearly 10,000 hours on scene. Johnson is responsible for recruiting, training, supervising, 24/7 dispatching and debriefing all volunteers. Part counselor, part administrator, Johnson meets with each of them once a year. She also oversees TIP's fundraising events, social media and grant writing.

The Impact:
"Jordan's contributions are above and beyond, despite her young age," says June Vining, TIP executive director. "Being an active, engaged millennial, Jordan brings fresh ideas and a voice for young professionals to get involved and make a difference. She especially focuses on our TIP TEEN volunteers who are growing and learning about being in the world as contributing adults."

Jordan IRL:
"We are really serving people on the worst day of their lives," Johnson says. "It's an honor to be there and provide that support. Most people think someone wouldn't want it. But surprisingly, people still let us in — a complete stranger — on the worst day of their lives. I'm grateful we get to be part of that."
Katelynn Bessette
Director of Treatment Services
Bridges to Change
Age: 33

The Work:
With her counseling psychology background, administrative savvy and deep patience, Bessette implemented a new treatment services program from the ground up for Bridges to Change. The hybrid approach offers free housing to those participating in inpatient addictions treatment. Most have significant barriers to affordable housing — like criminal records, mental health issues and poor rental histories.

The Impact:
"Katelynn brings integrity, humility and a sharp mind to all that she does," says Terri Collins, executive assistant at Bridges To Change. "She has the ability to see the big picture and does not shrink from taking on large projects. She also brings understanding and compassion to her work even though she is one of very few in the organization who does not have a history of addiction and recovery."

Katelynn IRL:
"Addiction sucks. For the most part, people aren't choosing to be homeless," Bassette says. "They're there because they have addictions issues or mental health issues, and there aren't enough services because there's not enough funding. It's going to take a real shift in the whole Portland community to make something big happen."

Nikki Weaver
Education Director and Co-Founder
Portland Playhouse
Age: 35

The Work:
Weaver, who co-founded the Portland Playhouse a decade ago, mentors six to 12 apprentices each year from across the country, and oversees a $2 million capital campaign for a second creative space being constructed in the adjacent lot. Originally from Australia, she also oversees the Fall Festival of Shakespeare and a Social Justice Festival for Portland students, covering topics like ableism and sexuality. She recently directed the first-ever play starring inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

The Impact:
"Nikki can get 12- to 17-year-olds to gasp and 'Awww!' at Shakespeare," says Sarah Bills, marketing and PR director at Portland Playhouse. "She can conduct a group of 200 businesspeople to shake off their inhibitions and join her in a group gratitude exercise. She can inspire a room full of prison inmates to love and embrace Shakespeare and themselves. And even when she is doing this with a large group of people, everyone feels like she is speaking just to them."

Nikki IRL:
"Am I doing enough? Am I listening enough?" Weaver says, when asked what keeps her up at night. "Am I adapting, rather than pushing an agenda or an idea? It's easy as an artist to do what you want to do, then look for the support of others. But the harder part in building an arts organization is listening to what the community needs. That's a skill set that you have to tend to daily, moment to moment."

Connect with some of Portland's most impactful non-profits at giveguide.org. 

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.