COOS COUNTY — This is the time of year when people see donations pay off.
United Way of Southwestern Oregon is winding up 2017 by providing grants to local nonprofit agencies. These nonprofits strengthen the Coos and Curry counties by relentlessly tackling important issues such as housing, homelessness, and assault.
Last year, United Way handed out $83,000.
“We're more than just a charity,” said Marcia Hart in a previous interview, the executive director of United Way of Southwestern Oregon. “We don't just collect money and give grants, but we support efforts that have a community impact.”
Though many who hear of United Way associate it with the worldwide or national group, the local United Way Southwestern Oregon organization began as United Good Neighbors in 1961.
“We're local and all donations go to local groups,” Hart said. “We joined United Way as a member in the mid '80s. But being a member of United Way opens up the global resources and trickles down money from large grants donated to the group. That gives us money to hand out to our local non-profits.”
This year Hart is still bringing in pledges. When she sat down with The World last week, she said that donations were $10,000 down from 2016.
“I’m in my last push of sending out letters to hopefully pick up more,” she said. “It’s been harder and harder every year.”
Hart explained that there are a few reasons for declining donations. One is that more people have chosen to give directly to non-profits, but what they may not realize is that the money goes to organizations outside of the area and never funnel back into the community.
United Way also gets most of its grant money from employee pledges, where a set amount of money is taken out of paychecks throughout the year. Usually employees pledge $10 of their pay period to United Way, designating it for a grant to a selected nonprofit, but Hart has seen those start to dwindle.
“One of our largest givers is the Roseburg Forest Products,” Hart said. “What’s great about them is not only do their employees contribute but the business has a 75 percent match of $.75 to every dollar. Last year we got in, combined with the company and employee pledges, around $23,000. This year it’s looking to be around $21,000 but I haven’t received all the pledges yet.”
The local United Way organization not only lives up to its motto of “Give where you live” by helping local non-profits, but it is also the lead agency in the Coos-Curry Housing Coalition.
“We got involved in the housing crisis,” Hart said. “We are looking into finding out why we have housing problems.”
The non-profits that United Way is giving grants to next month are as follows:
“There’s still time to donate,” Hart said.
Checks can be sent to United Way Southwestern Oregon at P.O. Box 1288 in Coos Bay. To donate online, visit www.unitedwayswo.org.
Local attorney Brett Pruess has been selected by Oregon Governor Kate Brown to take the place of Circuit Court Judge Paula Bechtold.
Pruess spent the past seven years working with Oregon Law Center, a state wide nonprofit law firm that provides legal assistance to low income clients.
“All of our clients are at 125 percent, or below the federal poverty line. If you qualify then all of our services are free,” Pruess said.
Soon after Pruess received his undergraduate degree he married his wife and the two joined the Peace Corp. They spent the next two and a half years in Bolivia.
“During all that time, both in undergrad and in the Peace Corp, I knew I wanted to make a difference and help people. I knew I wanted to build stronger communities. Law school seemed like a good way to unlock those doors, figure out the rules to the game, figure out how I can help people,” Pruess said.
While in law school Pruess truly developed a passion for the law, and decided that he wanted to practice law and not just study it. He graduated from law school in 2010 and immediately after accepted his current job with Oregon Law Center.
“This job opened up and my wife and I were ecstatic. We knew we want to be in the mountains or on the West Coast. We wanted to be in a small town where we could raise our son and have those small town values. I wanted to help people and be part of that nonprofit world, so that’s what brought us here,” Pruess said.
Pruess has practiced in front of his predecessor Judge Bechtold quite a bit throughout his career, and is very fond of the mediation program and mental health court that Bechtold helped found. He plans to keep those programs running and build off of them where he can.
“We use that mediation program all the time. It’s good for tenants. It’s good for landlords. It’s really good for the court, because it takes some of the burden off of them,” Pruess said.
For the first several months of his judgeship Pruess expects to be doing a lot of observing of the other judges to learn the ropes.
“I don’t want to bring in ideas that are just my ideas that are not based necessarily on reality. It’s like Peace Corps, the first year in Peace Corps you spend getting to learn the language, getting to know the community, and figuring out what the community wants and what the community needs. I’m going to take the same approach to the bench. I plan to spend a lot of time observing and talking to folks, seeing what’s working and what’s not.”
The appointment process for a circuit court judge takes a while, beginning with a paper application that details ones history in the legal field. Then a panel interview is conducted either in person or by phone, the panel consists of attorneys and governors council. A number of applicants are chosen by the panel as finalists, and meet with the governor. After that an extensive background check is conducted, which according to Pruess took around three weeks. Finally the governor chooses an applicant to appoint.
“After the application, the panel, and the interview with the governor it is just a lot of waiting around and seeing if you were picked,” Pruess said.
Pruess said that he’s sad he’s leaving Oregon Law Center, but excited to tackle the new challenge of being a circuit court judge.
“I think the people of Coos and Curry county are fortunate that they have a judicial bench that is extremely talented…I’m looking forward to learning from the people who have more experience and I’m ready to get going,” Pruess said.
Pruess’s official appointment date will be Jan. 2, along with another new judge named Andy Combs.
COQUILLE — After more than 20 years, the Coquille Indian Tribe finally may be freed from unfairly cumbersome forest management rules.
The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to pass the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, which “decouples” the Coquille Tribal Forest from federal land management rules. The Coquilles are the only U.S. tribe bound by those rules.
“We are tremendously relieved and grateful to have the Senate address the disparity that has burdened our forest for so long,” said Tribal Chairwoman Brenda Meade.
Sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Greg Walden (OR-02) and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. the bill cleared the House in July – the latest of DeFazio’s repeated attempts to decouple the Coquille Forest. Until Thursday, the legislation had never passed in the Senate.
The bill still needs President Donald Trump’s signature.
“While there is still much work to be done to correct our nation’s injustices towards Native Americans, the passage of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act is an encouraging move towards progress,” DeFazio said. “This legislation will finally grant the Coos, Cow Creek and Coquille Tribes the long-deserved opportunity to manage their own economic development and exercise their own authority over tribal lands.”
“The passage of this bill is an important step for these three tribes. The Cow Creek and Coos tribes see a restoration of lands and the Coquille will finally be able to manage their forest lands the same way as other tribes,” Walden said. “This bill ensures these tribes can sustainably manage these lands to benefit the environment and local economy, creating jobs in their communities. I am proud to have worked alongside my colleagues to pass this long-overdue bill out of Congress, and look forward to the President signing it into law.”
“While more can and must be done to rectify the injustices that tribes have long faced, passing this bill into law marks an important step forward in recognizing the sovereignty of western Oregon tribes,” Wyden said. “By returning land to both the Coos and Cow Creek tribes, and by putting the management of Coquille’s lands on equal footing with other tribal lands, this bill honors and respects each tribe’s right to be economically self-sufficient and provide jobs and resources for their communities.”
“With the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, we will enable tribes to enhance their self-determination and ability to restore ancestral lands, while creating greater economic opportunity,” Merkley said. “It’s long-overdue, and I am thrilled this bill is heading to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”
The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act passed the House of Representatives in July. The bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously in March.
The Coquilles are one of three tribes being helped by the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. The bill cedes 17,519 acres of federal land to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and 14,742 acres to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. It provides the two tribes a land base for the first time since their restoration as federally recognized tribes in the 1980s.
Congress took a comparable step with the Coquille Tribal Forest in 1996, though on a smaller scale. The 5,400-acre Coquille Forest was intended to help the tribe support education, health care and elder services.
The 1996 legislation, however, tied the land’s management to the standards governing nearby federal lands. This special legal burden – unique among U.S. tribes – hamstrung the Coquilles’ ability to manage their lands efficiently and effectively, Meade said.
Despite this legal handicap, the Coquille Tribe has achieved a consistent record of sustainable harvest, surpassing the performance of any federal forest in the region. It employs scientific forestry in tandem with environmental values that have protected its ancestral homelands for thousands of years.
Being freed from the federal rules will let the Coquilles make further management improvements, using a science-based, adaptive forest model that creates more wood-products jobs for the community, Meade said.
“Our people have managed these forests since time began,” Meade said. “We are excited to once again be in control of a small piece of our homeland.”