Community organizer honored by Ford Family Institute

Scott Swanson

JoAnn McQueary of Sweet Home is one of eight Oregon residents named Ford Community Fellows by the Ford Institute for Community Building.

The fellowship award is given to rural residents in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif. “who have demonstrated a commitment to community service and a dedication to the pursuit of rural community vitality,” according to an Institute statement.

The Institute, an initiative of the Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, which was established in 1957 by Kenneth W. and Hallie E. Ford, founders of Roseburg Wood Products, is focused on developing “successful citizens and vital rural communities” in Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif.

McQueary and other fellows will each receive a $12,000 annual unrestricted money award, which can be renewed twice. Fellows are expected to develop their own plans for exploring, learning and practicing the art of community building, according to the statement.

McQueary emphasized that the award is the fruition of years of work, not only by her but by others in and out of the Institute’s community leadership building programs.

“It really feels odd to get this award and I’m really honored,” she said. “But this is not about me. This is about people who keep moving forward, who stay engaged, who work through difficult issues. I’ve just been there to facilitate learning, to help people take advantage of opportunities offered by the Ford Foundation.

“I have taken the lead, but these things won’t happen if people don’t grab the goal and carry it forward.”

Public service has been a primary focus for McQueary for many years. She and Tim McQueary, her husband of 45 years and a former Sweet Home mayor who is an active member of many countywide and statewide boards, have been major players in the Ford Institute’s efforts in Linn County in recent years.

But her involvement goes far beyond that.

A resident of Sweet Home since arriving as a first-grader, McQueary was a private kindergarten teacher until the Sweet Home School District incorporated kindergarten into its offerings. She and another woman were asked to coordinate the program and write the curriculum for 12 class sites in the district. She also was a private age-group swimming coach and managed the Sweet Home pool in the late 1970s.

“I’ve just really been blessed with fabulous opportunities,” she said.

Later, she became involved in a wide range of other causes, ranging from victim advocacy to tourism. Those include serving as: director of the Albany Visitors Association; as an advocate at a grief and trauma center for children; as a crime victim advocate and a volunteer coordinator who recruited and trained such advocates for the District Attorney’s Victim Assistance program; as a community service specialist for the Linn County Sheriff’s Office; as a volunteer at a camp for youngsters with cancer; as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA); as a wish-granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; and as a founder and member of the Visit Linn Coalition, an ad-hoc county-wide group that she conceptualized and helped found to encourage communities within Linn County to work together to boost local tourism.

She also is active as a Sweet Home Area Revitalization Effort (SHARE) Steering Committee member, as a board member for the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, with the nonprofit Rural Development Initiatives (RDI) Fund Development Committee, with Linn-Benton Community College’s Fund Development Board, with the Oregon Community Foundation’s Southern Willamette Valley Leadership Council, and with the LBCC Culinary Arts Advisory Board – “my real favorite – it’s all about food.”

She’s also engaged in activities throughout the county, in Lebanon and Brownsville as well as Sweet Home.

“What’s good for Lebanon is good for Brownsville, is good for Sweet Home, is good for Albany,” she said. “We have reached a time that our resources are so depleted that we must cross those boundaries and work together. I think we’re really doing a good job of that.”

That’s what the Ford Leadership Program is about: developing local leaders who continue that process, McQueary said.

The program, offered since 2003, is divided into classes or “cohorts” of local residents who are trained in leadership and collaboration skills to achieve specific goals. According to the program’s website, it is based on the belief that “vital rural communities develop from a broad base of knowledgeable, skilled and motivated leaders, a diversity of effective organizations and productive collaborations among organizations.”

Participants, ranging in age from high-schoolers to retirees, select a project to work on and use classroom activities and instruction to begin the process of accomplishing that goal, funded by local fund-raising activities and grants from the Ford Family Foundation.

“It all starts with the class project,” McQueary said.

Her involvement began when Tim McQueary was asked to help collect a group of Linn County residents for the first local cohort, in 2005.

“I was in the first leadership cohort,” Joanne said. “Tim was on the nominating group and I said, ‘Pick me, pick me.’”

The program’s graduates have contributed to its continuation through three more cohorts over the next seven years.

McQueary was grouped in that first cohort with local community and business leaders such as Doris Johnson of Pacific Power, Jolene Watson of Umpqua Bank in Lebanon and Sally Skaggs of Santiam Place Wedding and Event Hall, along with Berlin Road resident Bob Thayer, who was a graduate of the second cohort, who became facilitators and trainers for later cohorts.

“That group of people were the ones who raised their hands and said, ‘We’d like to make this happen again,’” she said. “They were a community ambassador team, doing recruiting and being volunteer facilitators and advocates, who set up sites and made arrangements for (holding the program).”

That first cohort selected the development of a Cheadle Lake amphitheater in Lebanon as its project and, McQueary said, that effort has recently be revived by members of that group, who plan to complete it by 2014, in time for the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest to hold its first graduation ceremony there.

“People in those cohorts have gone on with their life,” she said. “Some have gone away and not used their training , but others have continued to utilize the gift they have been given.”

The fellowship is a chance to build further, she said.

She plans to take advantage of advanced leadership training offered by the Institute and bring together graduates of the four east Linn County cohorts to “have some dialogue about what is important in our communities, clarify community priorities, and organize and move to action what’s been identified.

“What else can we do? What more can we do? What else can we do to build capacity and strengthen community vitality?”

She said the cohort training provides “grass-roots support for all the good work that people are already doing.

“There’s way more going on in Brownsville, Lebanon and Sweet Home than what is affected by the cohorts.”

McQueary said that, as a fellow, she also wants to be a “resource” for local community nonprofit groups looking for resources to support their efforts.

“I’m really committed to carrying out the work of the Institute of community building,” she said. “I want to make sure our east Linn County community is taking full advantage of this.”

She said a lot of the pieces are in place to achieve big things in east Linn County, with “outstanding” local graduates of four cohorts scattered through the community and support from the Ford Family Foundation.

Plus, she said, she has connections from her other activities.

“One thing you learn about (in the Institute) is social capital. I’m blessed with one of the largest social capital accounts on the planet, being able to connect with people.

“I’ve had the best opportunities, just absolutely the best opportunities. It just keeps getting better.”