In the nonprofit world, it’s a maxim that effective leaders need to bring passion for their cause and lead by example with their hard work. In the case of Kevin Jeans Gail, there is so much more to the man. Those who’ve worked closely with him at the Portland Workforce Alliance describe Kevin as an uncommonly dedicated individual with creative energy and a playful spirit, and as someone with a convincing tone, calm demeanor and genuine humility.

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Below are community reflections about PWA’s founding executive director, who built PWA from an idea into a thriving nonprofit. (Want to share your own tribute? Email it to george@portlandworkforcealliance.org.)

Scott Kleiner

Scott Kleiner

Scott Kleiner, Wieden+Kennedy, past president and current PWA board member.

I remember my first handshake with Kevin….it was just over 10 years ago.

Little did I know what that handshake would lead to. Kevin is a mastermind. Not only does he have a vision for youth in this city, but he has a unique gift to carry out that vision. He knows precisely who to ask and what to ask of them to fulfill that vision. I don’t think I could ever say ‘no’ to any of Kevin’s requests. They were so simple and I knew they had a purpose that added up to a more relevant education for students and fulfilled his passion for Portland’s youth.

His kindness and tenacity built a solid program and grew a huge network across greater Portland. I know I spread Kevin’s handshake to build the reach and support of the Portland Workforce Alliance. I can only imagine the breadth of connections and how each of Kevin’s handshakes has snowballed across our community.

Carol Campbell

Carol Campbell, Grant High School principal, PWA board member.

Kevin and I connected when I became the principal of Benson High School in 2011.  He was instrumental in helping me build programs and partnerships during my two years there. He enthusiastically volunteered to help with any ideas I had on how to increase our connection to professionals. Being a new principal in the district and working at a school that focused on CTE (Career and Technical Education), Kevin’s support was invaluable. I learned a lot from him and his commitment to helping students explore careers through workplace exposure was a commitment I adopted and still believe in today.

When I started my job as Grant High School principal, there were no CTE programs in place at Grant.  I immediately contacted Kevin and he, as usual, volunteered his time and support as we developed programs for the Grant community. Kevin is dedicated to his work and his enthusiasm for career education is infectious. I always appreciate his words of encouragement. He never takes credit for the amazing work he does but is quick to acknowledge others. I feel fortunate for the opportunity to work with Kevin.

Bob Calwhite

Bob Calwhite Jr., Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute, PWA board member.

I met Kevin over ten years ago when I first got involved with PWA. My first impression of Kevin was a man who wanted to provide young people with the opportunity to succeed in life and find a career that was rewarding. Kevin’s gentle nature has a convincing tone that makes you want to do more for our next generation. Little did I know that beneath that calm demeanor was a Pit Bull. Kevin’s ability to make a stone not just shine, but to turn it into a fine crafted work of art is reflected in PWA.

I have gathered great knowledge from Kevin throughout the years and for that I’m grateful. I’m proud to call Kevin a friend.

Jeanne Yerkovich, Portland Public Schools, past PWA board member.

I’m sad to hear that Kevin has officially retired, but pleased for him because the organization continues to implement his vision for students and career learning. Kevin’s passion and hard work were instrumental in the PWA’s success and longevity.  I’m hopeful that retirement is a welcome next step for him.

Drew Park, Columbia Steel Services, past PWA board president

I met Kevin when the PWA was more of a notion than an organization and over the next few years watched him work extremely hard to build it up to what it is today. No question industry and education partners saw the importance of the opportunities the PWA offered but without Kevin’s relentless dedication to the work good intentions would have never become the good work being done by the PWA today.  Creating an organization from scratch that can then thrive and grow after the founders move on is an incredible achievement, Kevin made that happen.

Shay James

Shay James, North Clackamas School District

Kevin’s dedication to serving young people, as he calls them, is admirable. His ability to bring reliable and dedicated partners to the table to invest in our student’s lives and futures is nothing short of amazing. Kevin has an exceptional ability to allow others to lead his vision in serving underserved students, and help them gain access to skills, resources, and mentors that lead to incredible opportunities. I am so proud and blessed to have worked beside him, and I know that his legacy will have a lasting impact on kids for many years to come. Thank you, Kevin, for all you have done!

Susan Shugerman, Oregon Health & Science University, former PWA board member

I met Kevin in the very early days of PWA, when he was seeking business partners for area schools. His bright eyes, creative energy, and playful spirit undergirded his incredible dedication to youth. He modeled for us all what collaboration could be – a space where partners come together, learn from each other, share resources, and celebrate the opportunity to open doors for young people.  Kevin’s leadership has grown an amazing resource for our community that is infused with his kindness and vision both for giving back and for paving the way for the next generation.   We all owe Kevin a debt of enormous gratitude and appreciation.

JR Gustafson

JR Gustafson

JR Gustafson, Nike (retired), past president and current board member

As a friend, neighbor and colleague, I am moved and encouraged by Kevin’s quiet wisdom, courage, faith, advice and guidance. His humility is ever present, his patience is endless, his strength is boundless. His network of friends, associates, colleagues and contacts is the stuff of legend. His good works are inspiring and full of grace. It has been my honor to know Kevin for the past 20 years.

Jim Francesconi, retired lawyer, Portland City Commissioner, 1997-2005.

I have been blessed to know many great people during my life.  But none greater, none more human, none closer to the divine, than Kevin.

I have known Kevin through his three careers, all public service, all supporting others so that they could become their very best, all making the work of the Gospel his own.

First I worked with him with the Portland Organizing Project as he organized inner city churches to close down drug houses, stop banks from redlining during much different times in inner Northeast Portland, helping gang kids get jobs.    Always teaching neighbors, working people and the poor to advocate for themselves.  Always in the background, always focused on others. Never about him.

Then I worked with Kevin when he was my chief of staff at City Hall. Whether it was Portland Parks, Transportation, or the Fire Bureau (which he loved), it was always about supporting the City, our citizens, me.  Never about him.

But as important as the City’s mission is to our people, it was our schools and our young people that Kevin cared most about.  The synthetic turfs fields at several of our high schools was Kevin’s doing.   We cofounded SUN schools.  No one knows.  Just the way Kevin wants it.

Kevin’s greatest love is the Portland Workforce Alliance and its mission to empower young people. Supporting our young people and giving them the confidence and the skills they need to be successful is Kevin’s greatest accomplishment.  And our young people love Kevin because they know he is real and he cares for them unconditionally.

There are so many people who cherish Kevin and who feel blessed to know him. I am among them.

Susan Nielsen

Susan Nielsen

Susan Nielsen, PWA executive director

I count myself among the legions of people who love Kevin dearly as a mentor and a friend. It has been an extraordinary gift to work alongside him and witness his energy, work ethic, kindness and fierce dedication. The very best attributes of PWA are there because Kevin built them and insisted on them. I am thankful he will continue to stay involved and help more students find their way.

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