Yep, it’s that time of year again, when The Advocate gives gratitude and recognition to some hand-select community members who’ve been up to good this year, creating positive forward motion and impact on the community at large.
This year’s eight elected Most Impactfuls are boasted below for their vast efforts and accomplishments in attributing to a more equitable community, rich in opportunity and social growth. We thank them for their work, in better housing opportunities for local homeless, legal advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, providing sanctuary for non-biased faith, support for disabled artists, hunger relief, parks improvement – and more.
Without further ado, here are this year’s selected most impactful citizens, from top to bottom:
1. Shawn Collins, Project Manager, Housing Opportunities Action Council
Impact in the community is sometimes difficult to measure. Often, the individuals who have the most impact are those who work behind the scenes; you don’t know to what extent the impact has because the credit doesn’t matter. It’s the community that these individuals care about, not the success of their own ventures or any one project, but the way in which their work affects the group, the community, our Corvallis. It’s with this in mind that we name Shawn Collins – project manager of the Housing Opportunities Action Council – the most impactful of 2017.
Having been in his position for more than a year, you may well recognize the name, but to understand the scale of his impact on Corvallis, you’d have to be willing to dive into certain depths of the community that many find easy to avoid. Homelessness, after all, isn’t a subject readily taken up in colloquial conversations; it’s serious, and it’s discussed when things need to be accomplished – a fact Collins knows all too well.
“The biggest challenge is trying to understand how to communicate to get people to take action,” Collins hesitates because he knows many people have come forward to help. “It’s about communicating more than just the surface level issues.”
Having already accomplished the daunting task of solidifying the men’s temporary cold weather shelter this year, as well as all the helping hands that played a role in getting its location ready, communication didn’t seem to be an issue, but it’s something he takes seriously. Homelessness is one of those topics that people think they can solve with a single solution – like finding jobs – but each individual case is vastly different from the next.
“Finding jobs sounds like a good solution, but it doesn’t work for everyone, some of the men we see at the shelter have limitations that don’t allow them to hold a job, even part time,” he explains.
Speaking to Collins, you get the sense that he cares more about what needs to be done than what’s been done already, which is a quality you want in a person within your community, especially in his role.
“If the shelter is all we get done this year, it’s not enough,” he expresses. “We preserve the community by actively engaging with the problems we do have.”
In the short term, Collins wants to find a permanent location for the men’s winter shelter. When accomplished, this will take a ton off his – and the HOAC’s – plates, giving them time to focus on the long term. Building a better system to help get people back on track is a goal that’s on the horizon.
“What we have now is not a very good system. It has good working parts, but it’s uneven,” he explains.
However difficult his job may be, especially when it feels like it’s a struggle to even make a dent in the issues he faces, he does enjoy it. He also has a great deal of gratitude for Mayor Biff Traber and the city council, as well as the Benton County Commissioners “who had the foresight to fund this position, and provide resources and support to make things like this year’s shelter possible.”
“It helps to be the guy – to have this position,” Collins reflects on his role with the HOAC. “I can see the shift in momentum and motivation; things can come together. While I do aim to make a real difference and have a positive impact on the community, in many ways, I’m just doing my job.”
2. Bruce Burris, Director, CEI ArtWorks
A legend in the regional arts community, Bruce Burris continues to fulfill CEI’s mission of creating social and economic empowerment for individuals with disabilities through his position as Director of the ArtWorks project. Through ArtWorks, Burris helps promote art careers by enabling talented individuals to follow their dreams of becoming serious artists. Among many such feats, this year Burris helped artists like Susan Woods produce her first exhibit at the Corvallis Arts Center, and Kurt Fisk show his work at the Portland Museum of Art. The future promises more exciting and challenging exhibitions at the ArtWorks Gallery as Burris continues to have a tremendous impact on our local culture.
3 & 4. Lorena Reynolds and Courtney Nicholas, Attorney At Law and Non-Binary LGBTQ+ Advcoate
Lorena Reynolds was awarded the Oregon Women Lawyer’s Workplace Leader award for her innovative workplace practices, she was instrumental in the creation, organization, and sponsoring of the first Corvallis Change Makers – a conference for women and their allies – and she also led multiple “Know Your Rights” trainings and workshops for activists of all types. Additionally, along with other local citizens, Reynolds was involved in sponsoring a free showing of the movie Hidden Figures for anyone hoping to see the inspirational film.
However, her most impressive accomplishment this year was to represent another impactful individual, Courtney Nicholas, in Benton County court. She argued for Nicholas that Oregonians who identify as non-binary should be able to obtain legal documents that reflect their identity. They were successful, and now the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles recognizes the designation on licenses.
5. Reverend Jill McAllister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis
As the senior minister for Corvallis’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a growing congregation with more than 300 members, Reverend Jill McAllister works to create a welcoming, pluralistic community of faith. Those who attend services are encouraged to be “their whole selves” and tell one another the stories of their lives, so that they can better understand their shared obligations toward each other, their communities, and the planet.
“Courage isn’t an intellectual idea,” McAllister told The Advocate in March. “It’s about the gut. It’s spiritual work. It’s about acknowledging grief and pain and then continuing.”
Outside of the fellowship, McAllister teaches comparative religion classes at Oregon State University and serves as a senior program consultant for the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. In all her efforts, she works toward a future of “right relations,” where people live in justice, peace, harmony, and equity.
6. Carrie Norris-Sanchez, SAGE Garden Manager, Corvallis Environmental Center
Almost everything at the SAGE garden is donated – time, seeds, materials – and the literal fruits and vegetables, constituting thousands of pounds, are all donated to hunger relief and social service agencies each year. Norris-Sanchez organized the interns, volunteers, garden management, collaboration with other entities, and outreach initiatives. She attributes much of the program’s success to her interns, which shows her care for the program and the people involved with it. Her time with the CEC began by volunteering with her children and blossomed into a full-time position she only recently vacated to work as the job and internship director at OSU. There, she will help students make authentic connections with the Corvallis community.
7. Kent Daniels, Board Secretary, Cascade Pacific
Kent Daniels is dedicated to improving Benton County’s public parks, recreational, and natural areas. He most recently played a key role in efforts to improve the state of Central Park, an area which Daniels – vice president of Friends of Corvallis Parks and Recreation – is concerned about due to littering and public drug use.
Earlier this year, Daniels fought in favor of Measure 2-108, which required local residents to vote before officials made decisions to sell city parks or natural areas.
Daniels has worked with the Corvallis City Council, the Benton County Commissioners, the Corvallis Parks, Natural Areas & Recreation Advisory Board, the Corvallis Civic Beautification & Urban Forestry Board, the Benton County Parks & Natural Areas Board, Downtown Living, LLC, and currently serves as secretary on the board of the nonprofit Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation & Development Area, Inc.
8. Jeff Baker, Stewardship Manager, Greenbelt Land Trust
When Jeff Baker signed on as the Stewardship Manager at Greenbelt Land Trust, in 2008 he brought years of experience working with both the environment and communities concerned with their environment.
As Stewardship Manager, Baker makes sure that work for their various projects is getting done. This can be through negotiations with public and private landowners, grant writing, assigning volunteers to different projects, and more. He has also seen an increase in property purchases and land easements along the Willamette.
Overall, Baker strives to strategically plan their conservation initiatives, increase connectivity of the environment, and preserve healthy ecosystem functions that benefit the natural world and the community. Keep up the good work, man.