As the season for giving approaches, days may be filled with last-minute purchases, present wrapping into the wee hours of the night, and making sure Santa’s cookies are cooked just right.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the swiftness of the bustle, how often do we take the time to stop, think and give back to the greater community of Lane County?
Whether you give to a congregation every month, volunteer your time at FOOD for Lane County or donate gifts to local charities, giving back this holiday season in any form will leave an impression. The hard part is finding which organization to give to as Eugene bears a plethora of nonprofits. So how do you decide?
We spoke to several people in Eugene about what values they look for in an organization to give to this holiday season.
Whether you decide to volunteer your time, donate products in need or sign up to become a member of the nonprofit of your choice, we hope you consider giving back to the greater community of Eugene this holiday season.
Healed by Nature
Anne Forrestel, a retired senior instructor from the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon, has been donating to Mount Pisgah Arboretum since she came to Eugene in 1998.
“I was absolutely blown away by the trails,” Forrestel says. “They were wide and wooded trails that were well maintained with no rocks or roots in the way to trip on.”
Forrestel fell in love with Mount Pisgah because her dog Iko, a border collie whose back legs were paralyzed, could roam the gentle trails using a wheelchair that carried her anywhere she wished to go.
“It was good for her soul and my soul,” Forrestel says.
Inspired by the accessible and beautiful park for her handicapped dog, Forrestel joined Mount Pisgah Arboretum as a member and later became a board member. She wanted to pay back those who had come before her to build the park.
After suffering from a brain hemorrhage in 2018, Forrestel says she became interested in how the arboretum can serve the community and herself as a sanctuary for healing.
“I had a shoulder injury that caused me to rehabilitate for almost a year, and then very soon after I had a really scary brain hemorrhage that sent me up to OHSU [Oregon Health and Science University], and I was in intensive care for several weeks up there,” she says.
Despite the long road to recovery that followed, Forrestel says much of her growth is thanks to Mount Pisgah.
“I’m back because I started walking with a walker, just 15 steps at a time at the arboretum, then 30 steps, then 50 and so on,” she says. “I know a huge part of my healing was from the arboretum. It was spiritual and wholesome healing.”
Almost 20 years have gone by since Iko could roam through the arboretum, but Forrestel continues to be involved as a donor and board member.
“I do this because this arboretum, for me, is a tremendous gift to the community as a place that is accessible, safe and welcoming for all.”
Gabriel Wihtol started donating to the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) about two years ago after finishing his nursing degree.
As a registered nurse in a local emergency department, Wihtol sees a lot of waste being generated every day on the job. “It was hard on my conscience,” he says.
To offset the amount of waste he’s creating, Wihtol donates to a wide variety of environmental agencies. When considering which organization to give to, he thinks about how his dollar is spent.
“ELAW is very different from Greenpeace in that it is hyper-local. The dollars stay in the community,” he says. “I know the money I am giving is going directly to somewhere in Eugene. I can’t say any of those dollars going to Greenpeace are going to stay in Eugene.”
The value of giving back was instilled in Withol by his parents. From a very young age, dinner conversations consisted of how the family could donate to organizations and volunteer their time.
“It may have seemingly been a small impact to them,” Wihtol says of his parents. “To me it was very formative to observe the people I love and respect do this, and I think that goes a long way in my life.”
Helping Homeless Youth
Ron Sexton is a commercial officer at Cornerstone Capital, a local mortgage brokerage, and he started donating to New Roads after a nephew of his benefitted from the program. New Roads is a subprogram of Looking Glass Community Services in Eugene and assists homeless youth up to 21 years of age.
“My daughter was in high school at the time we became involved, and we were both amazed and appalled by the number of homeless youth in Eugene,” Sexton says.
So he and his daughter made about three trips to Walmart throughout the year — especially in winter — to buy clothes, hygiene products, affordable sleeping bags and any other products needed by the program. Three years later, Sexton and his daughter continue to donate.
“We usually ask ahead of time what is most needed by the youth before going to Walmart. Sometimes it’s more girls’ stuff, sometimes it’s more boys’ stuff,” Sexton says. “It’s surprising and sad, but the item that is often most needed for them is tarps, so we always load up on those.”
Giving to youths in need makes all the difference says Sexton. “The look on a kid’s face makes you want to do it over and over again.”
Additionally, Sexton felt compelled to give through Cornerstone Capital. When an individual uses a credit card at a company’s client — for instance, Beer Station in Junction City, Sexton says — half of the processing fee is donated back to the New Roads program.
The Gift of Time
Enna Helms, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, started volunteering her time at the Chifin Native Youth Center in Springfield in 2014, when the center allowed her to host her tribe’s after-school program.
“Our tribal office at the time didn’t have the room and facilities to host a bunch of kids running around in it,” Helms says. She reached out to Dawn Malliett, the director of Chifin, and the two began to collaborate and care for Native youth.
“We wanted to open up a space for activities with other tribal kids, not just our own, and it worked out really well for both of us; it was a win-win,” Helms says.
While she has not been able to donate financially to Chifin, Helms has given many hours of her time, as well as clothes and food to the after school program. When looking to volunteer, Helms says, “I really value community, and Chifin is a space that allows for bringing Native families and children together to support Indigenous folks.”
The youth center hosts a variety of programs to promote academic success, including tutoring, early literacy initiatives, STEM programs and activities that encourage Native culture, such as drumming, crafting and learning indigenous languages.
Chifin is a unique center that provides one of the only safe spaces for Native youth in Lane County. Because Native youth at Chifin sometimes experience food insecurity or homelessness, the center is equipped with internet access, a full kitchen, a bath and shower, a washer and dryer, hygiene products and clothes.
Helms says there may be restrictions as to who can volunteer their time, since background checks are required, but volunteers are always needed to help tutor and keep students involved. Those who may not be able to donate time can help tremendously by donating clothes, canned food, hygiene products and school supplies.
Fighting Chemical Pollution
Richard Barnhart, an internal medicine physician in Eugene, started donating to Beyond Toxics when he became concerned about pollutants in the air — especially the use of pesticides and the field burning that took place near his home.
“As an MD, I am convinced pesticides are not benign to humans,” Barnhart says. “I learned that Beyond Toxics was a strong advocate to reduce pesticides and feel it is important that there is an organization of citizens working to minimize exposure to pollutants.”
Barnhart appreciates Beyond Toxics because of the organization’s ability to inform people and propose tighter regulations that affect the community as a whole, students in schools and communities of color.
While Barnhart is able to give to a wide variety of nonprofits, what he values in any organization is its ability to help those around him. “I look for an organization to help people and especially people less fortunate or people who may be financially challenged,” Barnhart says.
“I feel that as a community and local, it is important to stand up and protect people from the harm that can be caused from corporate and economic interests,” Barnhart says. “It’s above the greater good of humanity.”