Celebration Honors Philanthropists, Unveils Social Justice Fund

Vancouver, Wash., June 2, 2021 — The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington (CFSWW) hosted its Virtual Philanthropy Celebration on Tuesday, June 1. The event featured a philanthropy awards presentation, a keynote from Eric Liu and the unveiling of a new Social Justice and Resiliency Fund. 

The event honored local philanthropists like Vancouver, Wash. residents Gary and Christine Rood, who received the 2021 Philanthropists of the Year Award for their outstanding charitable leadership. The Roods spent careers in the medical field, where they saw the immediate need and life-changing impact of healthcare. In addition to supporting health related organizations, the couple also strives to improve the lives of future generations through youth development organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington and Friends of the Children. Janie Spurgeon, Executive Vice President and Chief Development for the Community Foundation, presented the award and noted that the Roods efforts “have engaged and benefitted thousands, and is set to impact countless others in the future.”

Anna Cruz and Merril Firestone were also recognized with Lifetime of Giving Awards. Spurgeon said this award was created to “acknowledge those who make intentional sacrifices in order to give more generously to others.” Anna Cruz has advocated and organized to expand access to arts and culture events and healthcare for Latinos in southwest Washington. She currently directs Vancouver Ballet Folklórico and serves as a board member for ARTSTRA. Merril Firestone actively gives to education, hunger and faith related causes. He also advocated alongside other neighbors and gave up a piece of his farm to keep a school in the Fruit Valley neighborhood—an area his family has called home for five generations. His support for students attending the school will continue in perpetuity through a trust he established.

An annual review from Jennifer Rhoads, President of the Community Foundation, highlighted COVID-19 relief efforts. She said the organization’s fundholders gave more than $17.8 million to meet increasing needs and that the SW Washington COVID Response Fund distributed more than $8.5 million rapid-response grants to 113 organizations in 14 months.

“Everyone put in extra hours and went the extra mile to ensure that local philanthropy remained strong at a time when nonprofit programs and services were needed most,” Rhoads said.  

The Community Foundation has established 377 charitable funds to assist individuals, families and businesses with their philanthropic goals. Through these funds and additional gifts, the foundation has grown its charitable assets to $320 million and granted $249 million to nonprofits in its 37-year history.

Rhoads also announced the next phase of its regional recovery efforts, which will be carried out through the Social Justice and Resiliency Fund. Contributions can be made at cfsww.org/donate and will support organizations led by and serving marginalized communities who are experiencing greater consequences from the pandemic.

“By focusing on these segments of our community, we can make a greater difference in people’s lives and the trajectory of our shared recovery,” Rhoads said. “We believe it’s how we can do the most good with the resources available.”

The event also featured a talk from Eric Liu, co-founder and CEO of Citizen University. Liu is also a national best-selling author and touched on themes from his most recent book, “Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy.” He explained that people define culture through their actions, which ultimately shapes what is possible within the structure of any society. In these ways and to varying degrees, he said, everyone in the United States has and can wield power to create change.

“You’ve got to find ways every day to consciously name your power and use your power to advance civic character,” Liu said. “It’s about us taking responsibility; not individually but collectively. The actual rule that should define the way we live together is that we’re all better off when we’re all better off.”

Liu’s remarks were tied to the event’s theme of Together We Can, which was created to showcase the impact created when people find common purpose. A recording of the celebration is available online at event.cfsww.org/. The program was made possible thanks to generous support from its Gold Sponsors: Columbia Bank, Columbia Trust Company and Leslie Durst.