More Than Just An Oval

The afternoon had been scorching hot but by evening a breeze rose up from the west and it had cooled to create a perfect Portland night.  For many of us, it would have been perfect even if it had been a sleet storm. Because on this June night, we were celebrating the culmination of years of planning and work to bring a world–class track and field facility to Roosevelt High School in North Portland, Oregon.

We were attending the 1st Annual Roughrider Twilight Track and Field Meet, and the Portland track community showed up in full force.  Nike running guru Alberto Salazar showed up with Jordan Hasay (USA’s women’s 10,000) and Mary Evans (17-year-old phenom, women’s 5000) in tow. US Olympic Javelin Thrower Cyrus Hostetler was there.

For most schools, a useable football field and track is the norm.  At Roosevelt, decay was the norm. Sub-standard the norm. Forgotten the norm. That started to change a few years back when Portland Public School District, Nike, Southlake Church, and Roosevelt boosters were able to unite to build a turf football field and replace the condemned bleachers – but in building the field the funds were again depleted and that left the near 50-year-old track as an eyesore and reminder that the kids at RHS would, once again, have to wait.

It has long been the commitment of SouthLake Church, where possible, to fill the gaps at Roosevelt. When it became clear the track restoration project was again stalled, Pastor Kip pulled together his team to re-energize the effort.  With the money dried up, we had to find a new way.

And we did. In the process, we learned that three elements would be key to completing Roosevelt’s track: vision, social capital, and leverage.

Vision: A visionary and organizer from Nike named Michael Bergmann (“Bergie”) has long thought of Roosevelt as the future home of Portland’s finest track and field facility. By using his training at Nike, he created the vision for (as Nike does routinely) an object of desire:  a red track, top quality surface materials, multiple jumping pits, and a steeplechase pit (which is the only one in Portland) and more. Bergie believed the Track at Roosevelt could be the very best – and vision attracts!

Social Capital: The main thing lacking in under-resourced communities is “social capital.” When the successful people leave, they take more than their money – they also take their connections, knowledge, insights, and ingenuity.  Many churches are loaded with this kind of capital. Pastor Kip lent all his and his team’s social capital to this effort. We made every connection we could to drum up support – which ultimately lead Portland business leaders at Nike, Andersen Construction – and more.

Leverage: In this process, we learned to use every donation as a springboard to the next. A major SouthLake donor went to his company and “leveraged” a match. Andersen Construction donated generously and then approached his vendors for support and cost reductions. These commitments were then leveraged to motivate other people, companies and foundations – and the school district – to create the funds necessary to finish the project ($675,000).

That June evening at Roosevelt was not just a few neighbors and friends watching a track event – it was hundreds of people celebrating something extraordinary that had happened.  It was the celebration of the uncommon cooperation, generosity and vision that were required to make the track project possible.  It was a celebration of organizations and people coming together for the sake of under-resourced kids and their community.

And for the first time in a long time, Roosevelt High School has the very best—and to the community surrounding Roosevelt, this track is much more than just an oval.

by Jeff Martin
National Partnerships Director, BeUndivided

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