Portland native at prayer breakfast: Making a difference fulfills us

Leaders gather for Clark County Prayer Breakfast at the Hilton in Vancouver

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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Larry Whittlesey has much to say about the choices we face every day and how our handling of those choices will determine whether we make a difference in our community or not.

“Making a difference in our community will be determined by the choices we make as a group of people, as individuals, as organizations, as families, as churches, as YMCAs, as nonprofits,” he told a group of several hundred breakfast attendees. “It’s the choices we make that will determine whether we make a difference in our community.”

Whittlesey was the keynote speaker of this year’s Clark County Prayer Breakfast. In his event biography, Whittlesey is described as “always being the community pastor.” He was born in Portland but has lived around the western United States before returning several decades later. He serves as the national director of the U.S. Mission Network for the YMCA, a role that causes him to travel the country and promote the Christian aspect of the YMCA’s mission.

In his speech, Whittlesey said that people are full of all kinds of motivations, including building wealth, leading successful careers and filling their memories with a lifetime of unique exciting experiences.

But he believes people are truly enriched through service.

“I believe what really fulfills us is making a difference in the world around us,” he said, “so that we can lay our head on the pillow for the last time and think something good happened because we were around. … Now, like many things in life, that truth is simple, but it’s not easy.”

He argued that people can make a difference in their community when they continue to open eyes, ears and hearts, make honest investments of their resources, offer their time and energy, have inclusive love for all people, have courage, earn respect and seize the power of collaborative effort.

The 16th annual event was held at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

James Autry, executive director of Serving Our Neighbors and the event’s organizer, said that since its creation 15 years ago, the breakfast has consistently provided a place where people can pray and honor civic leaders, first responders, veterans, wounded warriors and elected officials,

“That’s what this is all about,” he said.

Joanne Kendall was the morning’s honored citizen for her years of work in helping the community’s homeless residents get the resources and assistance they need. Along with her husband, Bob, Kendall founded Open House Ministries in 1986 after spending years serving homeless mothers and children at Esther Short Park.

A brief video about her and Open House Ministries’ work was shown to the crowd. The Kendalls were acknowledged in a speech, and Joanne Kendall was given a standing ovation by the attendees.

“It was really a beautiful surprise,” she said after the breakfast. “It says this community is truly attached to each other, to take a little old lady like me and say such a lovely thank you — I’m really impressed.”