Duncan Campbell has fulfilled his vow to help children in difficult circumstances. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
By Jodi Schneider McNamee
The accomplishment that brings the biggest smile to Duncan Campbell's face these days is providing the most challenged children a nurturing relationship with an adult role model who spends quality one-on-one time to help them thrive.
Circle of Friends, founded by Sisters resident Duncan Campbell, is a volunteer mentor program in Sisters. It is modeled after Portland's Friends of the Children, founded in 1993 by Campbell.
Campbell remembers his own childhood and how he had a need for a friend.
"Most people think I had a great mentor growing up, and that's why I started the program, but it was because I didn't have one that I knew how important a friend could be," says Campbell.
Growing up with alcoholic parents, with his father in and out of jail, Campbell felt alone most of the time. He had no one to encourage him to succeed.
"I grew up in a classic welfare family. My parents lived in bars," Campbell recalled.
A vast majority of children repeat the behavior of their parents. Yet for reasons that he has a hard time explaining, Campbell graduated from high school and also received his undergraduate and law-school degrees from the University of Oregon. He paid for his education by living at home and working three jobs - washing dishes at night, pumping gas on weekends and a summer job washing cars.
Campbell promised himself if he ever had the resources to do so, he would help other children triumph over similar circumstances.
After college, Campbell became a certified public accountant for Arthur Andersen and quickly decided that CPA work was not for him. He ended up creating his own business, one of the first forest and nature resource investment firms, in 1983. His firm, now known as Campbell Global, is responsible for more than 3.1 million acres of land worldwide.
Campbell found himself in a good financial position, and sold the company in 1990. He never forgot his childhood, and started volunteering with the juvenile-court system in Portland and made an effort to get to know the troubled youth. Campbell began to see a pattern with the same children getting into trouble over and over again. That's when he decided to develop an organization that gave back to others exactly what he lacked growing up: A friend.
Then Campbell hired a child psychologist for a two-year research project to verify his conviction that earlier intervention and consistent involvement from adult mentors would build resilience in at-risk children. Noticing positive signs in the resulting data, Campbell formed Friends of the Children in 1993 in his old neighborhood, a section of Portland scarred by poverty and crime.
Adult mentors or friends are professionals who develop relationships with kindergarteners or first-graders and maintain contact with the children through high school.
"We go in and ask for the most challenged kids in the school," said Campbell.
The primary goal of the organization is to support participating children toward earning a high school diploma, but it's been evident that mentors inspire many to achieve more.
Campbell and his wife, Cindy, kept their home in Portland where his organization thrives, but they also have roots in Sisters.
"My wife and I fell in love with Sisters 40 years ago on vacation, and bought a home soon after. We live here during the summer and one week a month during the winter," said Campbell.
"During the summer of 2010 in Sisters, I recruited two interns from Portland that were students at the University of Oregon. Christopher McClellan and Ashley Miller volunteered with Sisters Park & Recreation District and Sisters Elementary School a couple of days a week to do different activities with the children. The idea was to find children with a real need for a mentor," recalled Campbell.
They found that Sisters School District had children that could benefit from having a long-term mentor or friend.
"Next, I decided to find a director in Sisters to head up what is now called Circle of Friends, and through a mutual friend I was introduced to (executive director) Beth Hanson. She was a natural; I knew she would be a wonderful asset to the mentors and the work. In 2011 Circle of Friends was established," said Campbell.
"My biggest reward is being with the children from time to time and the sense of contentment and genuine satisfaction at seeing them succeed at life."