Several years ago, when I lived in another community, I volunteered for a non-profit organization that served the homeless and unsheltered. One day, when I was standing at a table serving meals to people passing by in line, I looked into the eyes of the man I was handing a plate of food to. Something surprised me.
To this day, I cannot fully describe what happened to me except to say that I saw myself reflected in this man’s eyes. It was as if nothing separated us from each other except the table between us.
It was a profound moment, one where I felt deeply connected to another because the barriers between the two of us ceased to exist. I had instantly connected with someone I didn’t know, who I’d never met before, who I probably wouldn’t meet again, in a way that helped me understand the phrase that has almost become a cliché: ” we are all one.”
That moment changed my life. I guess you could say that I resonated with the indefinable and absolute truth that shows itself when we connect with each other in our shared humanity.
For 12 years I have volunteered with Rogue Retreat. I have been proud to be counted among its volunteers and among its leaders. Over these 12 years, day after day, Rogue Retreat has reminded me of the importance of our work to “restore the lives” of the homeless and unsheltered.
Internally and externally we say we “meet people as they are and help them reach their full potential”. It’s not a turn of phrase, it’s a practice that informs our work and sustains the fabric of our culture.
We believe that our work is full of integrity and that our work is inspired by the greatness of all of us. We stay true to our values, getting to know each person as they are, then with more than 60 community partners we collectively rally around our program participants and help them reach their highest potential. We are proud of the work we do, the work we have been doing together for almost 24 years.
Recently, our CEO and founder, Chad McComas, made some public statements about his personal and spiritual beliefs about same-sex relationships that were surprising if not shocking to hear. His words did not resonate with our culture, the culture of inclusion that we have been building for decades.
Rogue Retreat’s board of directors was so alarmed by these statements that we chose to place McComas on paid administrative leave and conduct a third-party investigation to determine whether McComas or Rogue Retreat has discriminated against anyone for any reason. We believe in our practices, in our service to our program participants, and in the relationships we build with our partners, donors, and you, we adhere to principles that support and defend our shared humanity, and in doing so, we believe that we meet everyone as they are, each person unique and beautiful as they are.
Through the results of the research we will know if we have really stood by what we believe to be true, and we will reveal the results of the research that will inform us about the adherence of Chad McComas and Rogue Retreat to issues related to diversity, equity. and inclusion with our audiences, except when doing so might cause harm to another. We expect our investigation to conclude by the end of August.
Matthew Vorderstrasse has been appointed as interim chief executive. Matt spent several years on our board before accepting the position as Chief Development Officer. In 2021 he also assumed the position of director of Hope University, the consulting and training arm of Rogue Retreat.
His experience with Rogue Retreat is extensive. We appreciate your commitment to our mission and your willingness to step into a bigger and stronger position during this time.
Last year, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to serve more than 1,200 people. Late last year, on a given night in Southern Oregon, we provided more than 550 beds, a place to call home for our program participants.
We’re still in business, but it’s not business as usual; we are open to learning about how to better communicate with each other so that all voices are heard and the language we use in all of our practices, by all who represent Rogue Retreat, reflects respect, kindness, inclusion, compassion and hope.
We believe that with open hearts and minds, together we will continue to make a significant difference in the lives of our program participants and within the communities where we live and work.
Tom Fischer is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Rogue Retreat.