Meet Us Monday: Matthew Cramer
Portland is cited as the most civically engaged city in the country, which is one of the many reasons why Matthew loves it so much. Matthew is a Portland native who boomeranged back after serving as an Americorps VISTA for three years across Helena, Montana; Reno, Nevada; and Austin, Texas.
It seems serendipitous that Matthew ended up at Mercy Corps NW as he has always loved this area of the city. He grew up walking along the waterfront with his parents who worked at the US Forest Service. While in college at Portland State University Matthew put his Community Development major into practice by volunteering at Sisters of the Road Cafe (a nonprofit eatery providing area-sourced meals plus opportunities for the homeless). He even has a tattoo of the neighboring Skidmore fountain on his arm. The Portland landmark inscription reads, “Good citizens are the riches of a city” which Matthew exemplifies perfectly throughout his work.
Here at MCNW Matt serves as the Americorps VISTA Program Supervisor. This means Matthew manages a grant to support the program and connects talented volunteers from around to country to Oregon nonprofits. The VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) implement capacity building projects in areas of economic and workforce development, affordable housing, homeless services, and micro-enterprise. But Matthew’s work doesn’t end after the VISTAs have been recruited and connected to their projects. Matthew believes that supporting the VISTAs throughout their service is a crucial part of his job. “It’s important to me to be available to the volunteers and to do anything I can to ensure success for them in their projects.”
Matthew always stays updated on the VISTA’s reports, and also calls to support them. From three years of his own VISTA service, Matthew knows some of the hardships involved and wants to minimize those as much as he can for the volunteers he mentors. “If a VISTA hits a roadblock in a project we give them strategies to move forward and often refer them to trainings that can help.” He is also fortunate to have the support of a VISTA Leader, Olivia Rasmussen, who is in her second year as a VISTA with Mercy Corps Northwest.
Matthew has also developed his own trainings based on personal experiences and those of the VISTAs he supervises. One example is a series of workshops on human centered design Matthew created. Human centered design is all about developing new products, services, or innovations without removing the person who uses that service from the conversation, Matthew explains. In order to best meet needs, we have to keep the users always involved in the process. Sometimes the temptation is to design aid projects in the vacuum of an office, which will likely miss the mark.
Matthew is most proud to work at MCNW because of the role he plays in getting new social impact projects off the ground. When not busy at work “getting things done for America”, Matthew loves to visit the Columbia River Gorge, and eating at Stretch the Noodle, his favorite Portland food cart (at SW 2nd Ave and Washington). Matthew’s positivity and patriotism radiate throughout Mercy Corps Northwest. We are very lucky to have him (and not just because he brings in Voodoo Donuts to morning meeting)!