Observations From My First Weeks as a 'Newbie'

Sharon Gary-Smith
Sharon with MRG grantee leaders Lisa Arkin and Alison Guzman

Being selected as the new executive director of MRG Foundation has really begun to sink in: it’s a humbling and exciting recognition of progressive justice in ‘the giving business.’ Over these weeks as a ‘newbie,’ I’ve seen glimpses of what is possible when change and commitment merge. Let me share a few of my observations with you.

What has struck me, time and again is the incredible level of engagement, boldness and clarity that the MRG community has brought to the work of progressive philanthropy, 35 years ago, and now.

In 1976, Leslie Brockelbank and Charles Gray gathered with a number of audacious and committed friends along the McKenzie River in Eugene to chart a course of social justice philanthropy that has not changed.

MRG Foundation was founded with a vision that supported peace and an end to war; promoted human rights; sought environmental protection and justice in Oregon. Today, we continue to focus our work in peace and the reduction of war, whether across borders or across communities; we uphold human rights; we support the authentic leadership of communities of color, and we address environmental justice in nature, on the land and in communities. MRG has stayed committed to funding social change that reflects the times we are in.

On August 7th, I walked, talked and sat among many supporters who were gathered at our annual Peace & Pie in the Park at Alton Baker Park in Eugene. On a sun-filled, cloudless Sunday afternoon, the talk was all about the beauty of our founders’ vision, the rightness of their commitment, and our continued engagement in social justice more than three decades later.

I laughed at the stories shared by many ‘who were there’ at MRG’s founding; who have been steadfast in their generosity. I watched a rainbow of children playing with and learning about each other. I witnessed people’s willingness to reach into pockets and invest, again, in our vision. I shared in community-building, good food and great pie.

On August 10th in Portland, I again looked out at MRG’ers, many familiar, long-term supporters, some newly-engaged. We reflected on the last seven years of gracious, focused and effective leadership of Marjory Hamann. Marjory has ensured that our finances and operational systems were strong to allow us to keep dreaming and thinking big, and moving progressive philanthropy forward, without fear.

I felt humbled and excited again, as I acknowledged that “I am that next executive director” who has been given the opportunity to encourage and lead this generous community forward; to work with a strong, brilliant staff, to be part of such a respected philanthropic foundation.

I love the possibility of history and powerful beginnings, and I assure you that while there will be changes in our world and in our organization, our commitment to justice will stay the same.

Photo: Sharon with MRG grantee leaders Lisa Arkin and Alison Guzman