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2018 Portland First Citizen Award Recipient Bill Russell - Portland Metropolitan Assoc. of Realtors

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Published on May 1, 2018

William (Bill) Russell is the Executive Director of Union Gospel Mission (http://ugmportland.org/) and the co-founder of the LifeChange addiction recovery community. LifeChange is a faith-based and long-term recovery program that has been nationally recognized. Bill has been with UGM since 1989.

Bill grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with middle-class parents who taught him the value of hard work. His father was a teamster and his mother an executive secretary for the accountant of Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

Bill worked a variety of jobs and started a rock band in 1971 that helped get him through college. The band is still together in Montana and Bill joins other musicians for reunion tours under the name “Bobby Joe Russell and the All Stars” in California.

In college, Bill became an intern and then the director of a legal aid operated by California Rural Legal Assistance. This inspired Bill to attend law school at the University of Idaho. He started his career as a lawyer in Lewiston, Idaho. After his conversion to Christianity in 1979, he became a deputy prosecutor for Nez Perce County, Idaho, working as the civil deputy, focusing on juvenile crime and child protective work, and serving as the County Attorney.

In 1982, Bill met Chuck Colson at the Idaho Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. Colson invited Russell to quit the practice of law and join his nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, to serve as an area director in the Northwest. Bill helped develop correctional volunteer programs for Prison Fellowship in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming from 1982 to 1989.

In 1989, the leadership of Union Gospel Mission needed to transition from traditional skid row relief focused on older alcoholic men to effective recovery for younger men and women who were drug or alcohol addicted. The Mission needed to blend spiritual transformation with work training, and deep addiction recovery.

As a deputy prosecutor and a correctional chaplain, Bill saw substance abuse devastate families and the community. As a recovering alcoholic, he held out hope that people can get well.

He came to Union Gospel Mission as Program Director in 1989 to establish LifeChange – a unique recovery community of UGM that utilizes responsibility-based recovery.

He became the Executive Director in 1998. Under his leadership, LifeChange has grown to provide residential faith-based recovery for 38 women and children at a center opened in 2013 in Beaverton. The downtown Portland men’s center now provides over 50 men full-time work, mental health and addiction recovery counseling, spiritual formation, and life skills training. LifeChange aftercare services ensure that every graduate finds quality employment, housing and ongoing group support.

UGM has stretched its purpose of feeding the hungry to serve 250,000 nutritious meals a year to Portland’s most poor homeless.

After learning of a similar program in Seattle, Bill championed the launch of UGM’s “Search + Rescue” – a new program that visits homeless encampments 5 nights a week, and provides follow-up counseling and transportation to those wanting to exit homelessness.

Search + Rescue is bringing men and women off the streets day by day and helping place them in detox, shelters, recovery, and housing programs. Bill’s hope is that UGM can facilitate the formation of private-public partnerships in every neighborhood in the Portland Metro area to provide a continuum of care in each area, and eliminate illegal, unsafe and unsanitary camps that erode livability and property values.

Bill and his wife Tamara have raised four daughters. They attend THE WELL church in Northeast Portland.

The Portland First Citizen Award was created in 1928 by the Portland Realty Board (now PMAR - https://pmar.org/) to honor civic achievements and business leadership within the community. It is considered one of Portland’s most prestigious awards, and the individuals who have received it form an honor roll of the city’s most prominent leaders during the last eight decades.

In addition to the Portland First Citizen Award, two other awards will be presented at the banquet. The Portland Future First Citizen Award recognizes a high school student in the Portland metropolitan area who is a model of civic responsibility and provides a $5,000 scholarship toward the recipient’s higher education. And, the PMAR Good Neighbor Award recognizes a Realtor® for his or her extraordinary commitment to improving the quality of life in the community with a $1,000 contribution to the recipient’s charity of choice.

Video produced by Pattern Integrity (http://patternintegrity.com) for the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors (http://pmar.org)

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