The students love the structure of the program and are so appreciative of all the people committed to their success. Hearing directly from students about how this program impacts their lives really touched me and motivated me to join the effort.
— Josie Jeremiah
Portland YouthBuilders has enjoyed multi-generational support from Tonkon Torp and its attorneys. The award-winning alternative high school delivers an innovative program to help at-risk students complete their high school education, prepare for postsecondary education and training, and gain hands-on vocational skills in construction or technology. The individualized wrap-around support provided by Student Advocates and Career Coaches helps students stabilize their lives and achieve their long-term educational and career goals, even after graduation.
The firm’s relationship with PYB began in the 1990s with (now retired) partner Ned Perry. Ned’s focus on complex construction and real estate matters was the perfect fit for the organization when it found itself in need of legal guidance during its first years of operation. At the time, the school was developing construction projects on its own. A conversation with Ned would set them in the right direction or he would tap attorneys within the firm’s real estate, labor and employment, and tax practice groups to offer additional guidance.
“Tonkon Torp has been a remarkable partner from our early days,” shared Jill Walters, Executive Director and founder of the Portland PYB program. “Legal issues can be scary, especially when an organization is new. The attorneys we’ve worked with at the firm are so generous and easy about giving their time. It has been tremendously reassuring to know that their expertise is available through a consult or a quick conversation as we’ve evolved and grown.”
After many years of providing and coordinating legal support to PYB, Ned joined the board of directors and served for six years. One of his notable accomplishments was kick-starting the organization’s entry into community-based fundraising.
“When I joined the board, there was a significant drop off in government funding and PYB had to shift their emphasis to development and fundraising,” explained Ned. “I was happy to be part of that evolution. My wife and I helped set up their hallmark community fundraiser, PYB’s Corn Hole Classic. It’s now part of the organization’s ethic to engage the community to support the PYB program.”
As Ned neared retirement, he began searching for an attorney who would be a good fit to continue the relationship. Ned shared the scope of his work with the nonprofit during an internal attorney lunch and caught the ear of former Tonkon Torp attorney Sarah Einowski, who joined the board in 2020. As Sarah prepared to depart from Tonkon Torp to teach at Oregon Law, Josie Jeremiah was inspired to take on the relationship and joined the board in May 2022.
After Josie had a conversation with Jill and Board President Steve Rudman – about their vision for the program – and with several current students, she was impressed by the multiple opportunities and benefits that PYB provides its students.
“The students love the structure of the program and are so appreciative of all the people committed to their success. Hearing directly from students about how this program impacts their lives really touched me and motivated me to join the effort.”
In addition to providing legal counsel to the board and organization, one of Josie’s primary contributions to PYB is to help organize the annual Corn Hole Classic. Although COVID-19 paused the annual signature event in 2020 and 2021, it returned in September 2022 with Tonkon Torp as a sponsor.
During COVID-19, PYB staff focused on stabilizing student needs and launching a distance learning curriculum. Staff connected with students weekly through one-on-one conversations over phone, text, and Discord to check in and gauge needs. A COVID Response Fund Drive quickly raised $96,000 to support students and graduates with direct assistance for food, shelter, bills, transportation, childcare, and jobs. Students also received technology and supplies needed for distance learning. As PYB moves forward post-pandemic, it is focused on engaging sponsors and maintaining a healthy enrollment level during a statewide school enrollment decline. The organization hopes to increase independent funding sources to continue to enhance the program with an increased stipend for students and hiring or replacing staff to pre-pandemic levels.