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Community Foundation for Southwest Washington promises ‘to exercise our voice’

Organization steps up its work surrounding racial equity, housing

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 12, 2023, 6:11am
3 Photos
Community Foundation for Southwest Washington president Matt Morton, left, and senior communications officer Maury Harris stand outside of the CFSW office in downtown Vancouver following a recent board meeting.
Community Foundation for Southwest Washington president Matt Morton, left, and senior communications officer Maury Harris stand outside of the CFSW office in downtown Vancouver following a recent board meeting. (Taylor Balkom/ The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington has made its feelings clear regarding two high-profile issues.

First, in January, the foundation endorsed Proposition 3, a proposed 10-year, $100 million affordable-housing levy in Vancouver that will be decided in Tuesday’s special election. It was the first time the organization had ever actively endorsed a levy.

Second, kicking off Black History Month at the start of February, the Community Foundation published a blog post titled “Stewarding Safer Communities for All.” It reflects on the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers and brings attention to violence and racism locally. The post calls on the community to get involved in work being done by local organizations such as the NAACP Vancouver branch and Odyssey World International Education Services. It also highlights community events happening throughout February and resources to learn more about police reform and Black well-being across Washington.

“Our philosophy is, how do we take this global issue and hyper-localize it?” said Matt Morton, president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, reflecting on the blog post. “There’s this bigger issue that isn’t just 2,000 miles away, isn’t just in other communities, but it exists here. And there are community organizations that are doing work right here, who are addressing these issues in this community.”

These are just two of the recent ways in which the Community Foundation has began to even more actively advocate for underrepresented voices — a need identified during the organization’s strategic planning session that took place over the past year and a half.

“We’re taking some opportunities that maybe we didn’t take in the past to exercise our voice because the communities that we have identified within our strategic framework, the disparities that we’ve identified in our strategic framework — we need those communities who experience those disparities to know that we’re paying attention,” Morton said.

The five values

When Morton took over as president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington last April, the board was in the midst of developing a new strategic framework for the organization. In December, that framework was finalized.

The values that arose from those planning sessions — attended by donors, grantee partners, internal staff and board members — are not new to the foundation, but instead a purposeful rearticulation. Those values are: “Learn at every turn,” “Make a place for everyone,” “Forge connections for good,” “Equity is essential” and “Serve generations to come.”

In addressing disparities in Southwest Washington, the Community Foundation sees its role as supporting changemakers who come from within the impacted community.

“Everything that I know about thriving, self-determined communities starts with creating opportunities where communities can determine those solutions themselves,” Morton said.

One way the Community Foundation supports this work is through the Social Justice and Resiliency Fund. This fund provides aid to organizations that address challenges faced by historically marginalized and underserved communities in Southwest Washington.

Racial equity at the fore

Cristhian Canseco Juarez has been on the board of the Community Foundation for almost a year. Canseco Juarez grew up in Vancouver, after immigrating from Mexico as a young child.

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“Growing up in a very predominately white community, in a family who did not speak English … I got to experience and see firsthand the experiences my family and I went through as undocumented immigrants,” Canseco Juarez told The Columbian.

Canseco Juarez wants to help create a community where everyone feels that they belong and that their voices are being heard.

One way the Community Foundation is trying to build trust within the community is by viewing its work through the lens of racial equity.

“One of the things that stuck out to me is centering racial equity,” Canseco Juarez said. “When we center racial equity in everything that we do, everyone benefits.”

One of Morton’s goals is to continually shed light on injustices and support Southwest Washington groups that are working to break down systemic barriers.

“We work to identify a unique and acute disparity that needs to be addressed,” he said. “And then we invest in the space that allows us to either reduce that or eliminate it entirely.”

The new strategic framework is the latest step for the Community Foundation, which will now create a strategic plan detailing the organization’s objectives.

“This (strategic framework) document is not static — it is a living document,” Canseco Juarez said. “We will continue to adapt and learn and change.”

For more information about the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington’s new strategies, visit cfsww.org/planning-a-framework-for-our-future.

Columbian staff reporter