By: Janie Spurgeon

The trials of this past year brought our community together in unexpected ways. Donors, neighbors, nonprofits and businesses collaborated on creative approaches for community support. Similar stories were unfolding inside the Community Foundation, as hundreds of donors pooled their gifts to support local relief efforts. With all this inspiration in the air, we knew our annual celebration of philanthropy had to shine a spotlight on these amazing collective efforts.

Afterall, this event is how we honor and recognize the caring, committed residents who are improving communities across southwest Washington. They give time, talent and treasure, but also inspiration that we can apply toward our own efforts. In that spirit, I wanted to share their stories and a few important takeaways from this year’s Southwest Washington Philanthropy Award honorees.

Gary & Christine Rood – Philanthropists of the Year

Christine Rood quote says It's about giving people a better chance at life in terms of health and the opportunity to achieve what they put their minds to.Gary and Christine Rood spent careers in the medical field, where they watched doctors provide life-changing care. Gary served as a hospital administrator at Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital (OHSU) and then onto Mid-Columbia Medical Center, where he helped establish a foundation. Christine worked in human resources and eventually served on the board of the foundation with Gary. These experiences made an imprint on their giving, which steadily grew alongside a business they launched together.

Today, their extraordinary philanthropy touches the many towns and cities in which they’ve lived and worked, improving healthcare and youth development through organizations like PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Foundation and Friends of the Children-SW Washington. One of their major gifts helped launch the Rood Family Pavilion, which now stands as a welcome sign to families who visit OHSU for specialized care. It’s also a symbol of the catalytic giving they love most because it inspired more than 1,900 donors to contribute $20 million to the campaign, with gifts coming from almost every county in Oregon and southwest Washington.

They are serious about giving in the “here and now” and in whatever ways necessary. Be it operating support or a capital campaign, their primary goal is to change the course of people’s lives and benefit future generations. While this means they may never see the full scope of their impact, seeing the unimaginable stories and connections created so far has brought more joy than they could have ever imagined.

Watch their award presentation here.

How their giving inspires us.

1. Catalyze collective efforts: The Roods have served sparks to ignite collective efforts. Whether through a challenge gift or by establishing a foundation for a hospital, they maximize impact by creating opportunities for others to rally around a shared cause.

2. Apply your experience: Christine grew up in a rural Oregon town with limited opportunities. Gary worked at a hospital serving remote communities in the Columbia River Gorge. Their approach to giving reflects these experiences and brings a deep understanding of the specific challenges and issues facing these communities.

3. Current needs for future impact: Addressing the needs of today with a variety of support allows the Roods to make lasting impact. Projects and programs are part of what they fund, but they also provide gifts of operating and capacity support. Giving in any way needed allows for transformational change.

Anna Cruz – Lifetime of Giving Honoree

Anna Cruz quote says I just do what I love. I've always been in pursuit of experiences and art that are tied to my Hispanic roots and traditions.When Anna Cruz arrived in Vancouver, she began searching for the culture and traditions she had fallen in love with as a child in Jalisco, Mexico. The beauty of her mother dancing and the elaborate ofrendas for Día de los Muertos were all but colorful memories, so she started asking questions.

Anna herself had been dancing since age seven and studied dance and choreography at the University of Guadalajara. Coupled with her curiosity and courage, this creativity gave life to Vancouver Ballet Folklórico and an ongoing series of dances, festivals and art shows in Vancouver, Wash. Each event brings her vibrant memories to life and carries forward the traditions she cherishes for future generations to enjoy.

When she’s not organizing events, she’s often organizing and advocating for health and access for Latino families through groups like the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington and Latino Community Resource Group. She also serves on the board of Artstra and partners regularly with Fourth Plain Forward. Cruz believes that art is a form of expression that emanates from the spirit, so it’s no wonder that her giving has shaped the spirit of our community into a more welcoming and inclusive place.

Watch her award presentation here.

How her giving inspires us.

1. Be curious: Anna makes connections and learns about her community by asking questions. Her massive Day of the Dead events grew from a single ask to host a table at a gallery and she has built her own community in the same way. Being curious about her surroundings has allowed her to find opportunities to pursue her passions.

2. Do what you love: The deep passion behind Cruz’s work also provides her with the energy to search, edit, teach, choreograph, and educate children about Hispanic heritage and to embrace their ancestral traditions through dance and other hands-on activities. This energy is infectious, allowing her work to grow and reach broader audiences.

3. Make it happen: Taking initiative is something that Anna pulls from her father. In addition to founding and directing Vancouver Ballet Folklórico, she has developed support circles, walking groups and culturally appropriate classes for Spanish-speaking residents. She sees gaps and fills the void with grit and determination.

Merril Firestone – Lifetime of Giving Honoree

Merril Firestone quote says "We all gotta do our share. It takes a community to make these things happen, and that's all I've wanted to be a part of."Merril Firestone has deep roots in Fruit Valley in more ways than one. Not only does his family date back five generations here, but they also planted some of the first fruit trees in this agricultural enclave. Nearly every Firestone child attended school in the community too, so it hit home for Merril when the local elementary school was slated for permanent removal in 2000. He stood up alongside many neighbors and advocated for keeping a school in the area. He even gave up a piece of his farm to accommodate a new, expanded Fruit Valley Community Learning Center.

After the new school was built, Merril’s involvement blossomed. He served as a board member for organizations like FISH of Vancouver and the Fruit Valley Foundation, all while steadily supporting his church and its children. In fact, he even contributed sweat equity to Ocean Park Camp & Retreat Center, climbing power poles and laying water lines so children could experience summer camp fun and education in the Methodist tradition. Merril believes it is his duty to tend to this place, not because of his roots, but because giving is what makes a flourishing community.

Watch his award presentation here.

How his giving inspires us.

1. Use every resource: Merril gave his time and his voice to help keep a school in the Fruit Valley neighborhood, and he also realized that his land could provide a creative solution. Similarly, he donates fruit from his orchards to the school and local food pantries. By tapping into alternative resources, he expands his impact.

2. Give sustainability: He provided long-term support for student needs by setting up a trust through his church that benefits the Family Community Resource Center. Every year, this trust provides food, clothing, field trips and more. Providing stable funding for this program has allowed the center to focus on new ways to serve out its mission.

3. Do your share: Growing up on a farm with little to go around, Merril was always taught to save and share. His family was big on establishing these values and their livelihoods depended on the mutual aid of neighbors. To this day, he does his share and sees giving as part of being a responsible community member.

For more inspiration on how to get involved and give back, you can watch our complete Virtual Philanthropy Celebration online. Together, we can change our communities for the better.

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About The Author

Janie Spurgeon

With 20 years of fundraising experience and a passion for helping donors create rewarding philanthropic goals, Spurgeon leads the Community Foundation's development and donor services team. In her spare time she enjoys skiing, camping and all the wonderful adventures that come with raising two children.