Maps Community Awards: Meet the Winners, Part IV

Published September 8, 2023

 

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Each year, the Maps Community Foundation honors individuals in the community who are going above and beyond to “Make a Difference” in the Mid-Willamette Valley. The winners (who are nominated by someone in their community) are then given the opportunity to select a charity that will be awarded a $1,000 grant in their name. Here are the uplifting stories of our 2023 winners (part 4 of 4).
 

Dr. James Byrkit and the Salem Free Clinic

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Grant winner: Dr. James Byrkit- Maps member (Nominated by Deanne Ford) 

About Byrkit’s chosen charity: Salem Free Clinics (SFC) provide compassionate healthcare at no cost to the uninsured in Marion and Polk Counties. There are approximately 38,000 residents who do not have access to healthcare; and SFC attempts to fill that void through the work of generous supporters and a team of 232 volunteers. In 2022 alone, they provided over 5,600 appointments—including 2,777 free medical appointments, 3,370 free counselling hours, and 490 free dental appointments—to community members in need.

Why Byrkit chose Salem Free Clinics to receive the $1,000 grant: “Salem Free Clinic is an organization that really cares about people. I want to support Salem Free Clinic because they show love and compassion to all our patients and staff. This is an example of Christ and is what I strive to become like.”

Byrkit’s give-back story: Dr. Byrkit graduated from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1983 and has over 40 years of medical experience. He spends countless hours serving the Willamette Valley community by volunteering as the Medical Director at Salem Free Clinic and has traveled to other countries to provide free medical care. The now retired internist has been recognized by the medical community and is known among his peers for being humble, hardworking, and generous with his skills and care.

“Jim is always giving,” says nominator Deanne Ford. “He encourages me to use the skills I have for the betterment of others. He is also so humble and approachable. I hope to have these same characteristics in my life.”

 


Kim Dwyer and the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund of Santiam Service Integration

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Grant winner: Kim Dwyer (nominated by Melissa Baurer)

About Dwyer’s chosen charity: The Santiam Service Integration (SI) serves as a safety net for individuals and families by coordinating with community services and providers to offer medical equipment, food, household goods, furniture, gas, housing assistance, insurance navigation, and other such necessities to people in need. “Service Integration is about action,” says Dwyer’s nominator and Director of Disaster Services and Community Engagement, Melissa Baurer. “It’s about getting things done. And not being afraid to voice concerns and to challenge the current system and ask questions about why it’s done that way.” There are four SI teams (North Santiam, Santiam Canyon, Cascade, and Scio) that operate independently and share resources. The Neighbor-to-Neighbor fund of Santiam Service Integration is one of the key funding partners of the work that SI does in the community.

Why Dwyer chose the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund to receive the $1,000 grant: “The Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund is a fund that each of the four teams has. These funds are direct community donations. The funds are leveraged with team funds when funding requests come in. They can be used to assist with a variety of vetted needs including clothing, food, gas, rental and utility assistance, auto repairs, and animal care.”

Dwyer’s give-back story: Dwyer serves as the SSI Coordinator, facilitating the four teams (Scio, Santiam Canyon, North Santiam, and Cascade). In this past year, she has increased community outreach and provider participation. As a result of her work, SSI requests for services have nearly tripled—a sign of both the effectiveness of the organization and the need for services. Dwyer is also deeply connected to the community and volunteers her time on the Parent Teacher Committee of the North Santiam School District, the homeless task force for the City of Stayton, and the Santiam Canyon Long Term Recovery group as well as local events like the Sublimity Harvest Festival and the Detroit Fishing Derby.

“Kim inspires me through her dedication service to the Santiam region,” notes Baurer. “Every day she approaches the needs of the community with the same level of commitment and energy…The time she finds to serve at work and in her community as a parent is incredible and inspiring.”



 


Melissa Buis and the Transformative Justice Community


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Grant winner: Melissa Buis (nominated by Kim Klotz)

About Buis’s chosen charity: The mission of Transformative Justice is to facilitate a paradigm shift within the criminal legal system from punishment to accountability. They advocate for a shift from the current criminal justice practice to transformative, healing, and community-based alternatives. They believe that through programs, support, advocacy, and engaged peace-building practices, Oregon can serve as a national model for a modern and effective criminal justice philosophy and practice.

Why Buis chose the Transformative Justice Community to receive the $1,000 grant: “I would like the donation to go to the Transformative Justice Community because this is an organization that recognizes the expertise of those who were formerly incarcerated for creating safer, healthier communities. In an age of mass incarceration, we need to understand that healing is a better form of justice than punishment.”

Buis’s give-back story: Buis is a Professor of Politics and the chair of the Politics, Policy, Law, and Ethics department at Willamette University. She teaches a class on restorative justice that takes students inside the Oregon State Penitentiary where they work collaboratively with prisoners to explore the effects of how the current penal system prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation. She also helped bring world-renowned garden designer Hoichi Kurisu to the Oregon State Penitentiary where he donated his time and resources to create a Japanese-inspired healing garden in the otherwise bleak prison yard. This space now serves as a safe and reflective space that promotes physical, mental, and social wellbeing. Through her work as an educator and as Director of the Transformative Justice Initiative, Buis has spent countless years advocating for better experiences and outcomes for those that are and have been incarcerated.

“Melissa inspires me because she started as a voice for those that had their voices taken away and then stayed long enough to see some regain their voice and supported them as they find their own strength and redirection toward success,” says nominator Kim Klotz. “She inspires me, as a female, to demonstrate strength, commitment, to listen and represent and to remain steadfast.”


 


Shawn Gutierrez and VETcare


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Grant Winner: Shawn Gutierrez (nominated by Lauren Gutierrez

About Gutierrez’s chosen charity: VETcare is a transitional program in Salem that assists veterans who are homeless or in imminent danger of being homeless as well as those who are re-entering the community after being incarcerated. VETcare provides housing, substance abuse treatment referrals, life skills training, mental health services, case management, suicide prevention services, advocacy, and employment services. The facility can serve a maximum of 30 veterans at one time, but it is estimated that Oregon has more than 7,000 homeless veterans.

Why Gutierrez chose VETcare to receive the $1,000 grant: “I chose this organization for many reasons. VETCare is a facility that helps homeless veterans get back on their feet by providing substance-free, wrap-around services all in one location. The other reason is that I am a retired Army veteran who wanted to give back to the veteran community. I found my calling providing Mental Health Counseling to veterans. As veterans, we face a myriad of challenges that are overlooked by the VA and DoD and my goal is to show them that they possess the tools and ability to work through their challenges.”

Gutierrez’s give-back story: Gutierrez is a mental health counselor at VETcare who spent 20 years in the Army. While there, Gutierrez saw and felt the lack of mental health services and support for veterans and wanted to do something about it. Upon retiring from the Army, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in record time and is now a clinical mental health counselor. He provides regular counseling and support for veterans in the community who have fallen on hard times and need help transitioning back into society. He also plans programs focused on grief, trauma, and PTSD that use talk, art, and group therapies to provide engagement, self-awareness, and healing to those in need. Gutierrez also sees patients in his private practice and is working towards getting certified with the VA  to see veterans who are in the VA system, giving them the option to receive more focus counseling in the Salem/Keizer area.

“Shawn is inspiring in so many ways,” says nominator Laura Gutierrez. “His commitment to improving a system that is hard to navigate and has failed many veterans is awe-inspiring. He saw a problem and decided to help fix it. He works hard to ensure everyone has the support they need and is driven to get veterans back on their feet so they can contribute positively to our community.”


We have more amazing give-back stories to share with you in the coming days. These four individuals are just a few of the 17 Community Awards we gave out this year. In the meantime, click here to learn more about the Maps Community Foundation and discover what we are doing to ensure a healthy, vibrant life for our members and all of the residents in Willamette Valley basin. 

Just catching up? Meet more of our 2023 winners herehere and here.  


 

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