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A Tradition of Giving

From basic needs to camps for teens, the Fair is all about philanthropy

When you give to the Fair, the Fair gives back. For starters: The first Oregon Country Fair in 1969 was a fundraiser for the Eugene Alternative School. From its very beginning, the Fair has reached out to the Fern Ridge and Veneta areas, as well as the larger community of Lane County. And with its programs devoted to philanthropy, donating a combined total of about $50,000 every year, OCF and its impact extend beyond the famed three days of summer celebration.

“Out of that initial drive to give and do good in the world — that was the seed that started it all off,” says Charlie Ruff, general manager for OCF. “As a nonprofit entity, it’s our mandate to give back.” 

Through the Bill Wooten Endowment Fund, named after a co-founder of the Fair, OCF donates specifically to schools and youth-related arts programs in the Fern Ridge area. With increasing budget cuts, elementary schools lack funding for arts programs, which makes donations essential to the continuation of arts-oriented activities.

The Endowment Fund also supports Culture Jam, a weeklong camp for teenagers that emphasizes art and self-expression. The camp takes place on the Fair’s grounds, where campers partake in a series of creative workshops. 

Robin Bernardi, program coordinator for Culture Jam, says that the camp is a life-changing experience for both counselors and teens. “They find they can take creative risks,” she says. “A theme of the camp is finding your voice and finding out what you care about, and recognizing you can make a change in your community and the world.”

Workshops throughout the week focus on anything from African drums to social activism. The camp is in its 12th year, and 55 campers will participate in this year’s Culture Jam. Bernardi says that the Bill Wooten Endowment Fund provides scholarships for Fern Ridge area teens, giving them the opportunity to mingle with campers from across the country. “Those who go are just transformed,” Bernardi says. “It’s really representing the heart of the Fair — making something great happen as a group.”

In continuing with the Fair’s values, the Jill Heimen Vision Fund, which honors the attorney who helped make OCF a nonprofit, distributes about $25,000 per year to a selection of organizations that fit the Fund’s yearly theme. This year’s theme focuses on basic needs, so recipients of the grants include the Egan Warming Center, Fern Ridge Community Action Network and Parenting Now. The money goes toward specific needs like shoe gift cards for homeless children in the Bethel School District or repair work on the Tamarack Wellness Center’s pool.

“These grants are essential to some groups, and we feel very privileged to be able to share what we have,” says Norma Sax, administrative assistant for OCF. 

Want to help out? Buying a ticket is the first step. Portions of the Fair’s proceeds go toward their philanthropic programs, while a dollar from each ticket purchase goes to OCF’s Green Ticket program, dedicated to making the Fair more sustainable. At the Fair itself, donation boxes abound, and OCF’s website is currently accepting contributions.