If it’s true that all good things must come to an end, then today is as good as any to face that bittersweet fact.
After two years of working alongside some of the smartest, most creative and dedicated people around, I’m getting ready to close the books on my time at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.
I started there in the fall of 2016, just nine months after I had taken a buyout from The Oregonian/OregonLive, intending to transition into semi-retirement. Instead, I wound up getting an adjunct teaching gig at two local universities and falling into a wonderful part-time opportunity at PWA, where I worked in service to a great organization with a great cause: helping local high school students prepare for college and career.
As I explained a year ago on this blog:
“With literally a handful of employees, [PWA] builds relationships with local employers and educators to serve up a steady diet of career-related learning experiences that introduce area high school students to jobs and careers that might have eluded them otherwise. The school year calendar is loaded with career days, field trips, job shadows, internships, mock interviews, classroom visits — and the NW Youth Careers Expo, a signature event that brings 150-plus employers and 6,000 students together for a day of career exploration at the Oregon Convention Center.”
The two years have passed quickly and I’ve been enriched, professionally and personally, by my time with PWA.
Today marks the final meeting of the board of directors during the 2017-18 calendar year. The board will elect new officers, say hello and goodbye to new and departing board members, and welcome a slew of guests to a year-end gathering at a downtown architectural firm.
I’ll wrap up my work in the following days, clean out my desk, return my laptop, and turn my attention to other things, including a busy summer calendar and several loose ends related to my college classes.
But first, a look back at some of the work and all of the people at PWA — our self-described “Dream Team.”
My September 2016 blog post: “My other job”
I was hired as the communications coordinator, the only part-timer in an office with three other employees: Kevin Jeans Gail, the founding executive director; Susan Nielsen, the program and communications director; and Kristen Kohashi, the program manager.
While Kevin and Susan worked constantly to create and nurture partnerships in the education and business communities, Kristen focused on graphic design (both print and web) and served as a one-woman IT department in addition to managing an after-school mentoring program.
I played a supporting role in the areas of grant writing, social media, database management, and writing for our blog and newsletter. Occasionally, I’d get to represent PWA at local schools and colleges, and other times I’d recruit friends and former co-workers to attend and/or help out at the NW Youth Careers Expo and other events.
Last fall, we were thrown for a loop when Kevin had to take an extended medical leave from work. Susan stepped up as interim executive director and essentially did two jobs (her own and Kevin’s) for the next several months.
Sherri Nee, a former journalist who helped start two nonprofit projects in Portland, had just joined our team in September, primarily helping with Career Days and recruiting employers to participate at the Expo and a related breakfast event. Shortly after, Kari Smith Haight came aboard as program coordinator, assisting with grant writing and helping Kristen manage the after-school mentoring program.
Sometime during my first year with PWA, we dubbed ourselves the Dream Team. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the nickname really did embrace two things — the fact that we accomplished so much with so few people and resources; and the happy reality that our personalities meshed so harmoniously.
As a group, we tend to be extroverted introverts (except for Kevin, whose outgoing personality and passion for kids makes him among the most well-connected individuals in the city). More importantly, we work efficiently, without ego and in total support of each other and our target audience — the kids.
That dynamic continued with the hiring of Sherri and Kari, who fit in seamlessly with their self-deprecating humor and outstanding work ethic. My personal bonus? Being the only guy in a room with four other women and hearing so many stories about husbands, children, pets, food, fashion and personal foibles, real or imagined.
As for the work, my favorite memories include:
- Seeing the diverse faces of Portland teenagers light up on a field trip to the PCC Swan Island Trades Center, where they worked in teams to wire a simple electrical circuit, and at Oregon Health & Science University, where they learned about potential careers in radiology, speech therapy and other areas other than medicine and nursing.
- Speaking to a journalism class at Parkrose High School with Molly Harbarger, a former newsroom colleague who’s half my age and still working as a reporter at The Oregonian/OregonLive.
- Recruiting caring adults of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer in various capacities, including as writing mentors, classroom speakers, mock interviewers or Expo exhibitors. Some friends came to show their support simply by attending the PWA Expo Breakfast and then making generous financial contributions afterwards.
For all of the above, I am thankful. I’ve had the privilege of working with great people, of meeting a lot of great community leaders who serve on the PWA Board, and of hanging out with energetic high school kids and their teachers and principals.
I’ll miss driving out to the PWA office in Southeast Portland three afternoons a week. But I know I’ll also welcome the opportunity to claim that time for myself. With another year of teaching ahead of me at Portland State and WSU Vancouver, it will do me good to let go of one thing in order to focus on another.
Thanks, Dream Team!