Volume XI | Issue 1 | Spring 2011
In 2009, Vernonia residents celebrated the passage of a $13 million bond measure to help fund new schools after the flood of 2007 devastated the community. Photo: Ryan Knutson, courtesy of OPB

Perspective changes to hope

My work with the Ford Institute has helped me rediscover optimism, hope

I’ve often mentioned to family and friends, and sometimes to our leadership classes, that being the director of the Ford Institute has changed my life. Quite literally it has changed my perception of the world, a world with so many faults that pessimism would seem the most rational response. But, now I know better. The 3,500-plus graduates of our classes have helped me rediscover optimism and hope. 

instead I found myself surrounded by positive people

My career has been primarily in academics, having been a professor for more than 20 years. Universities are heady places, and it is the norm to focus on research about society’s problems, the bigger the problem the better. Optimism in the university often felt inappropriate if not naïve. The glass was nearly empty; there were many leaks, no recharge, and essentially no hope.  

When I took this job in the spring of 2003 I expected to be immersed in rural community problems, but instead I found myself surrounded by positive people. The participants in our leadership classes opened the window on a new reality. I discovered there are many, many civil, optimistic people working very hard for the benefit of their community. I greatly enjoyed, and still do, visiting new classes and experiencing that optimism and commitment. And I know I’m not alone. From our evaluation program we have learned that class participants rate “positive acquaintance” as the number-one benefit of the leadership class. 

Doing the impossible

And the optimism is not misplaced. I’ve seen too many examples of communities doing the impossible. In 2007, Lake County set a vision to be “Oregon’s most renewable energy county” with the goal to be a net energy exporter by 2012, and they will achieve that goal (see story, below). Vernonia, which lost all three of its schools in a December 2007 flood, came together as a community, planned and gathered resources, and started construction of its new school complex in December 2010. There are many other examples.Virtually every community we have engaged in the Ford Institute Leadership Program has a positive story to tell. 

Thank you

Thank you for helping me see the glass as not just half full but, despite leaks, as constantly being replenished. I could not ask for more as I move toward retirement at the end of this year. 

Although I’ll technically be retired, you’ll find me traveling the back roads of the state, visiting small towns and looking for opportunities at the intersection of leadership and hope.


A sign announces the biomass plantGround has been broken on the $90 million, 26-megawatt biomass plant in Lakeview.

Lakeview shares success tips

In early January, I visited Lakeview to see the changes related to the community’s new vision. Not only was there a $90 million, 26-megawatt biomass plant under construction, which will produce more than 80 permanent living-wage jobs, there were scores of other projects — from residential solar hot-water to massive geothermal projects. I was traveling to Fossil the next day so I asked the Lakeview group what I should share about their success. Their answer was quite specific.

First, don’t try to duplicate what we’ve done; understand your own situation and develop your own vision and goal.

Second, engage the entire community in achieving the goal; success is never about one large project.

And, finally, when using natural resources, such as for the biomass project, the environment is always first; what is good for the forest sets the limits of resource use.


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