Camas-Washougal Community Chest awards $110K in grants

Funds will help 28 programs directly benefit nearly 18,000 local residents

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Brad Richardson, director of the Clark County Historical Society and Museum, talks at a "Celebrate Main Street" history event in Ridgefield in May 2019. The historical society received a grant from the Camas-Washougal Community Chest to do a similar event at the Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas on July 2. (Contributed photos courtesy of Clark County Historical Society and Museum)

Although most people have a broad sense of history — the things we hear in school or learn about inside a museum — Brad Richardson, director of the Clark County Historical Society and Museum, says many folks are beginning to seek something a little more intimate when it comes to learning about the history of their own communities.

“People are looking for meaningful and unique experiences that can’t be replicated,” Richardson says.

That’s what inspired the historical society’s “Celebrate Main Street” theme, which connects historical facts and stories to the buildings and downtown corridors people already associate with their city’s past.

“Main streets are such an iconic piece of who we are as a people,” Richardson says. “And when we can celebrate the history of the town inside one of these physical spaces on ‘Main Street,’ it helps with story preservation.”

In July, the historical society — in partnership with the Downtown Camas Association and Washougal’s Two Rivers Heritage Museum — will bring its popular, 10-year-old speaker series to Camas’ “Main Street” with a free event inside Camas’ historic Liberty Theatre on July 2.

A good chunk of the event’s funding is thanks to the Camas-Washougal Community Chest, a grant-funding group that has been enriching Camas-Washougal families’ lives since 1946.

“We are beyond thankful to them,” Richardson says of the Community Chest, which agreed to fund $2,000 of the group’s request for $3,063.

The historical society event is a good fit for the Community Chest, which has been enriching the lives of Camas-Washougal families through its annual grant-funding program for the past 74 years.

The Community Chest announced this week that it has awarded $110,000 to 28 nonprofits for programs that will directly benefit nearly 18,000 Camas-Washougal community members in 2020.

Richard Reiter, the Community Chest’s campaign chair, said the grant-funding group is unique in that it collects nearly all of its proceeds from local Camas-Washougal residents, employees and businesses — and gives the money to nonprofits that directly benefit Camas-Washougal families and individuals.

“We’re trying to make the community a more livable and culturally enriching place,” Reiter said, adding that the grants awarded each year showcase a diverse array of programs that assist local families with everything from basic needs via the Inter-Faith Treasure House to environmental education for Washougal students through the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and cultural events like those offered by Opera Quest Northwest and the Journey Theater arts group.

The history event in Camas is one of five new grant recipients included in this year’s Community Chest grants.

Richardson, a trained historian who plans to speak at the July historical event at the Liberty Theatre, a similar event held at the Old Liberty Theater in downtown Ridgefield in May 2019 was a sold-out hit with locals looking to connect to their town.

“(The Ridgefield event) was very engaging and well-attended by individuals from Ridgefield and across the county,” Richardson stated in his Community Chest grant proposal.

The Camas event, he added, will begin with a gameshow-style trivia segment focusing on Camas-Washougal history and segway into a narrative history — “it will almost feel like you’re being guided through a story,” Richardson said. “We’re having a conversation, not lecturing anyone. I was born and raised in Camas-Washougal, so I’m looking forward to (the July 2 event).” ”

The historical society will partner with the Camas High School’s drama department to secure student-actors for the performance elements. At the end of the evening, participants will be able to ask history questions about the Camas-Washougal area and share their own stories of living and working in the area.

“It’s going to be a really fun event that gives people some broad strokes (on) Camas-Washougal history,” Richardson said.

The Liberty Theatre holds about 300 people, but the historical society hopes to partner with KXRW, a community radio station serving the Vancouver area at 99.9 FM, as well as its affiliate in Portland, XRAY Radio at 91.1 and 107.1 FM, re-broadcast the event on FM channels or stream the content on the stations’ websites.

That partnership, Richardson said, “will provide an opportunity for all residents of the Clark County area to have access (to the historical event).”

New grant recipients include dance company, Camas skatepark

The historical event is one of five new Community Chest grant recipients in 2020. The other four are:

o Dance Evolution, a Camas organization, will use its $4,000 Community Chest grant to provide free dance lessons for toddlers and preschoolers, as well as girls ages 9 to 15. The group also plans to add free programs for boys and for students with developmental disabilities in the future.

Aspen Tufares, of Dance Evolution, said the grant money will help fund the group’s three, free “Wiggles: Music and Movement” toddler classes, as well as the “Vibration Dance Project” for pre-adolescent and adolescent girls.

“This program is designed for girls going through a challenging time in their lives,” Tufares stated in her grant application. “Dance is the perfect practice for girls who may be struggling with issues of self-image and emotional expression, because it is a universal language that can heal, inspire and connect us. Dance is a way out of one’s head and into the body, when words don’t come easily.”

o Kiwanis Camp Wa-Ri-Ki, an 18-acre camp located in Washougal and Skamania County in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which provides an outdoor experience for the region’s at-risk youth. The camp intends to use its $3,000 Community Chest grant to help fund a new climbing wall at the existing gymnasium and to repair a bridge on a walking trail.

The camp served more than 3,500 youth and 500 adults in 2019, and estimates it will serve about 150 Camas-Washougal youth ages 6 to 12, as well as local adults in 2020.

“Our project addresses the need for youth to get moving,” stated Barbara McCullough-Jones in her grant proposal for the Wa-Ri-Ki camp. “We know youth are experiencing an increasing number and intensity of depression episodes, which affects their school and home life. Studies are now showing that an effective ‘prescription’ is not more chemicals. Instead, movement through outdoor education programs is proving to make a difference in mood, self-esteem, increased motivation and physical health.”

“With funding from (the Community Chest),” she added, “we intend to install two climbing walls of increasing skill level, demand and physical challenges for youth … (and) complete moderate repairs to the walls of the gymnasium to prepare them for the climbing apparatus installments … and (repair) a walking bridge that leads to the activity area.”

o The Clark County Veteran’s Assistance Center will use its $3,000 Community Chest grant to buy food for the center’s daily breakfast and lunch program, as well as for a monthly food box program to assist veterans and their families.

“This grant will go toward our health and welfare program. It will ensure that we will have food supplies every day to continue to serve our clients,” stated Corinne La Fors, of the Veteran’s Assistance Center, in the Community Chest grant application.

Individual veterans and those who have families are eligible to receive a food box once a month that will sustain them for one week. The center also has a lounge at its Vancouver site for homeless veterans and provides hot or cold breakfasts and lunches to a minimum of 10 veterans each day.

La Fors stated in the application that the center serves all of Southwest Washington, including Camas and Washougal.

o Camas skatepark: Although this project is a new Community Chest grant recipient, the nonprofit overseeing the grant — Partners with Camas Parks and Recreation — has been awarded Community Chest grants in the past.

This $2,500 grant will help rehabilitate the existing, 12,500-square-foot outdoor skatepark in Camas, located off Northeast Third Avenue and Shepherd Road in Camas.

Skateboarders sounded the alarm in early 2018 that the park, built as a joint venture between the cities of Camas and Washougal in the early 2000s, was in serious need of an upgrade.

The only outdoor skatepark in East Clark County, it was built to be a “street course” with ramps, rails, picnic tables, a loading dock and stairs. But skaters say the park and its elements have deteriorated significantly over the last decade.

Partners with Camas Parks and Recreation had asked the Community Chest for a $25,000 grant, but the grant-funding organization did not have enough money to approve a grant of that size for the skatepark. Instead, the Community Chest offered 10 percent of that amount, or $2,500.

In her grant application, Vicki Kerr, of Partners with Camas Parks and Recreation, stated that the cities of Camas and Washougal’s parks departments are expected to each chip in $75,000 toward the park’s rehabilitation. Recent fundraisers hosted by skateboarders and interested small businesses have raised another $7,000.

A cost estimate by Collective Concrete Construction shows the cost of upgrading the park to a poured-concrete set-up that will resist adverse weather and last longer than the wooden elements in the original park, will likely cost about $230,000.

Kerr stated in her application that the skatepark benefits youth and skateboarders of all ages in Camas and Washougal, giving them “a place to practice, socialize and come together to do what they love.”

“Revitalized (skateparks) provide an attractive space away from city streets, where skateboarders can practice their sport and feel valued by the community,” Kerr stated. “The current park lacks many of the features that skateboarders want. This proposed addition addresses the desires of the community by creating a park that will last for many years to come.”

Along with the five new projects, the Community Chest also funded 23 returning nonprofits, including nearly $44,000 in grants to its main beneficiaries: the Children’s Home Society East County Family Resource Center in Washougal ($13,000), which funds parent education, youth support groups, emergency basic assistance and behavioral health and health care services; Family Promise of Clark County ($12,735) to help cover a portion of the cost for a part-time resource manager for the Family Promise day center at St. Thomas Aquinas in Camas, where homeless families in the Family Promise program have access to showers, computers, a children’s play area, an outdoor recreation space and life skills classes; the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership ($10,000) to provide classroom lessons and outdoor applied learning programs for youth, including habitat enhancement projects near Gibbons Creek in the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge outside Washougal; and the Inter-Faith Treasure House ($8,000) to help fund emergency and daily food needs for at-risk families and individuals, as well as the emergency utility assistance and school backpack food programs and person-in-crisis outreach efforts.

Other programs funded by the 2020 round of Community Chest grants include the Janus Youth Program, which provides outreach and overnight stays for runaway and at-risk youth in Camas and Washougal; Friends of the Columbia Gorge for that group’s “Explore the Gorge” environmental outdoor education program for Washougal sixth-graders; ReFuel Washougal to buy 25 waterproof sleeping bags, a refrigerator/freezer, C-TRAN bus passes and more to assist at the Washougal Senior Center during Friday night community meals and severe weather shelter for at-risk and unhoused individuals and families; and the Camas Farmers Market for its “Produce Pals” program, which teaches children about where and how food is produced and gives a weekly $2 token for youth to select their own food at the farmers market.

Dinner in White to benefit Community Chest in 2020

When the Community Chest kicked off its 2020 round of funding in October 2019, Joelle Scheldorf, the new president of the Community Chest, told the Post-Record that the grant-funding organization’s leaders had feared a downturn in donations after the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Camas announced major layoffs in 2017, but that the 2019 fundraising cycle proved just as robust — if not more so — as in previous years.

Georgia-Pacific still donated $10,000 to the group in 2019, and paper mill employees continued to give through pre-tax deductions. The group also gained a few more employee groups that were willing to donate to the Community Chest on a “per paycheck” basis, including public city and school district employees in Camas and Washougal. Individual donations also were up in 2019, but Scheldorf said the organization’s leaders haven’t yet figured out what made the difference.

“We’re always analyzing data and trying to figure it out,” Scheldorf said.

Reiter said the group is looking forward to a new partnership in 2020 — the annual Dinner in White benefit, which has traditionally given its proceeds to efforts to secure a new Washougal library building, but will, according to Reiter, benefit the Community Chest in 2020.

“The Dinner in White (organizers) reached out and wanted to partner, to get the word out about the dinner and the Community Chest,” Reiter said. “This year’s Dinner in White will be held indoors at the Black Pearl. It was held outside, but the weather didn’t always cooperate. Last year, it rained. So they decided to move it inside.”

Reiter said local residents will get more information about the Dinner in White and the Community Chest fundraiser as the event moves closer to its traditional September date.

To learn more about the Community Chest or to make a donation, visit camaswashougalcommun