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Friends' 2018 Volunteers of the Year

Friends' 2018 Volunteers of the Year
Friends' Volunteers of the Year for 2018. Left to right: Gary Sinnen, Coila Ash, Whitney Dawson, Gloria Gardiner, Sophie Larsen-Teskey, Brandon Davis, Alice Weaver (not pictured: Hilary Nally, Carolyn Stewart). (photographer: Richard Kolbell)
By Erin Middlewood

Last month at our annual volunteer appreciation event we celebrated the 410 individuals who gave their time, expertise, and indomitable spirit in 2018 to support the mission that we all care so much about.
We are grateful for our volunteers and all the ways they lend a hand, from the folks who help in the office, to all the hike leaders and shepherds, to our impassioned advocates who show up to carry out our message of Gorge preservation, or those who pitch in when a certain need arises. This past year has been a banner year for volunteer participation and here we highlight our nine volunteers of year for 2018.

Coila Ash, Volunteer of the Year

Ash volunteers as Trailhead Ambassador at tabling events and stewardship work parties, spending almost every weekend last summer helping Friends in one capacity or another. The Portland resident began volunteering with Friends in 2016. "Each year I pick a couple organizations to support that I feel are making a significant impact on environmental protection and social justice issues," Ash said. "Last year I decided that rather than spread my resources over several groups I would dig in and devote my efforts toward lending capacity toward the Friends' mission. This group of talented, smart, agile, and strategic people is a pleasure and honor to work with."


Brandon Davis, Photographer of the Year

Davis, a Milwaukie resident, began volunteering for Friends in February 2018 because he wanted to help after the Eagle Creek fire. He not only takes photos of stewardship parties, he also pulls weeds. "Donating my time to Friends has so many benefits," he said. "Getting outside and meeting people in the community, actively collaborating and bringing our strengths together to take care of and protect a place that means so much to all of us—our planet deserves at least that much. Adding my photography skills to the mix is just a bonus and gives me the chance to help tell the Gorge's story."

Whitney Dawson, Seral Society Volunteer of the Year

Shortly after the 2017 Eagle Creek fire, Dawson approached Friends about starting an emerging leaders group. The Portland resident offered to help Friends expand its base of supporters to include young, enthusiastic leaders. The group is called the Seral Society, named after the young seral forests that emerge following fires, and it went above and beyond to spread the word about Friends’ Gorge on Tap event. "We aim to bring awareness of Gorge issues to our peers, extend the connection to the Gorge and cultivate the next generation of Gorge conservationists," Dawson said. "Introducing the Gorge to new people is so very rewarding, and in turn, passing on knowledge of how to not love it to death is necessary to ensure its future."

Gloria Gardiner, Volunteer of the Year

Gardiner, a Portland resident, began volunteering for Friends in 2013. She shepherds and leads hikes, and pitched in at roughly one work party a month over the past year. "Nature is my passion, which I pursue mainly through hiking and photography throughout the West, including the Columbia Gorge," Gardiner said. "I like how Friends goes about achieving its mission: a combination of advocacy, creating good relationships, taking advantage of public relations opportunities, working with local communities; establishing, maintaining, and improving hiking trails; promoting and providing education about natural and cultural resources to children and adults, working with the U.S. Forest Service and State Parks, creating visibility, purchasing land, and litigation when necessary."

Sofie Larsen-Teskey, Youth Activist of the Year

Larsen-Teskey took over the Earth Action Club at Hood River Valley High School in June of 2016 and has been instrumental in encouraging her fellow students to become an activist. "I do this work out of respect for the Earth and also because the Earth is the least represented voice in policymaking—yet probably the most important one to listen to," Larsen-Teskey said. "By increasing awareness and finding ways to be more environmentally sustainable, I hope I am empowering my generation to understand that though climate change is a huge issue and can't be solved easily, micro change leads to macro change and we can all strive to accomplish that."

Hilary Nally, Office Volunteer of the Year (not pictured)

Nally, a Portland resident, has assembled thousands of Friends' thank-you letters over the years and is one of our most consistent office volunteers over the past three years. She also lends a hand at events throughout the year. "I volunteer for Friends of the Columbia Gorge so that I can play a small part in helping to preserve and protect the amazing Columbia River Gorge," Nally said.

Gary Sinnen, Volunteer of the Year

Friends staff know they can call upon Sinnen to help with whatever needs to be done, whether it's tabling, shepherding hikes, pulling invasive weeds or working in the office. Gary has engaged with hundreds of people at tabling events throughout the year, collecting petition signatures on a variety of activism issues such as clearcut logging and fossil fuel transport through the Gorge. "Every experience has been rewarding," said Sinnen, who lives just outside Happy Valley, OR. He decided to offer his time to Friends after he retired. "It is fun and fulfilling to be a part of such a great organization and to be able to help the cause to preserve and protect such a beautiful place—not to mention spending more time in the Gorge, and getting to places there I never knew about before."

Carolyn Stewart, Office Volunteer of the Year (not pictured)

Stewart helps in the office each week, and is willing to work on any project that comes her way. Stewart, a longtime Portland resident, has helped Friends for about four years. "I believe in Friends' mission and wanted to be a small part of the very large work that they do," Stewart said. "The beauty of the Gorge, its geology, its plant and animal life, its native culture and history and the Columbia River itself must be protected."

Alice Weaver, Public Land Stewardship Volunteer of the Year

Weaver knew she wanted to volunteer more in her retirement, but it was the Eagle Creek fire that propelled her to attend stewardship work parties. She participated in 18 work parties over the past year. Her hands have removed hundreds of gallons of invasive plants and replaced them with native shrubs. "I keep volunteering because it is very fulfilling to be helping restore, maintain, and preserve the Gorge," said Weaver, Portland resident. "I love being outdoors, and I love that I keep learning new things about the Gorge."

To learn about ways you can volunteer with Friends, visit or email Outreach Manager Maegan Jossy at