For him, it is a homecoming.
Morton grew up west of Olympia in an unincorporated area of Thurston County. From his childhood, he remembers the dense evergreen forests that were his backyard, the artesian well-water that was cherished by his community and the small public schools that he attended.
A member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, Morton’s family has lived just south of Puget Sound for generations.
“I was raised on the same piece of property that my grandmother was born on,” he said. “We have deep roots here.”
Morton left Washington in 1996 to attend Oregon State University, where he received his master’s in education. After graduating, he moved to Portland with a dream of building community.
He volunteered at the Native American Youth Association before joining its board of directors, and it was there, he said, that he began to cultivate a passion for nonprofit service work.
In 2005, he joined the National Indian Child Welfare Association as a deputy director, where he expanded his understanding of the “complexities and importance of nonprofits and the nonprofit ecosystem.” He then joined the Native American Youth and Family Center as its executive director.
During this time, Morton developed an interest in volunteering and community service, and he became the first Native American elected to the Portland Public Schools’ Board of Education in 2011.
“It was an interesting experience because I didn’t go into it thinking that that was the case, but it was,” he said. “Right before I was elected, the Board of Education passed a racial educational equity policy. I saw it as a part of my role to bring community partners to the table with the district to start implementing that.”
He left the Native American Youth and Family Center in 2016 and joined the Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon’s second-largest trust, where he oversaw an equitable education portfolio that became Oregon’s largest private philanthropic grantmaking strategy focused on K-12 public education.
Over his 6½ years at Meyer Memorial Trust, his team oversaw the distribution of some 200 grants totaling roughly $50 million to education programs across the state.
“It was fulfilling, rewarding work,” he said.
Friday was Morton’s last day at the Meyer Memorial Trust. He will join the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington on April 18.
His first order of business: meeting with local communities, organizations and stakeholders to learn everything he can about Southwest Washington.
“Over the first several weeks and maybe months, I’m going to be a sponge, learning and listening,” he said. “I don’t want to come into the work with any sort of presumptions.”
Those conversations will help him craft the foundation’s strategic plan moving forward, he said.
Morton currently lives in North Portland, and he is actively looking for a home in Vancouver. He is excited to build connections across the Columbia.
“I’ve always seen rivers and interior waterways as points of connection, not points of division,” he said.
Above all, Morton said he’s excited to bring his unique set of experiences and skill sets to Southwest Washington.
“I am incredibly eager to join the Community Foundation and direct my leadership toward improving lives and communities across Southwest Washington,” he said. “Of equal significance is returning to my home state and connecting with the donors, nonprofits, neighbors and professionals who are contributing to this thriving region every day.”
Outgoing President Jennifer Rhoads will serve as an adviser for up to six months as Morton acclimates to the position.
“Matt is ready to hit the ground running and innately understands the foundation’s role and trajectory in this community,” Rhoads said. “He has an excellent background and a clear commitment to equity, both of which will add to the work our team is doing to ensure that everyone in Southwest Washington can access opportunity and achieve prosperity.”
Supporting nonprofits and helping communities succeed is what gives Morton his drive.
“There is a moment in time right now where we have the opportunity to build communities where everyone has a fighting chance to thrive,” he said. “Jennifer has been a fantastic president over the last 10 years. She has assembled a talented team. Everyone I’ve met so far is deeply committed to this region and the success of its community. That’s inspiring in and of itself. And I know that there’s an ecosystem of nonprofits and organizations that are really wanting to see their communities thrive. That’s something I can get behind.”