The Oregon Dream 2017

Story type: Script writing
Vehicle: Video
Strategy: Show and tell — “We’ve arrived in Happy Valley in a big, big way and we’re just up the street.”

Impact: This video was an introduction to The Oregon Dream 2017 by Stone Bridge Homes NW, an entry into the Northwest Natural Street of Dreams in Happy Valley. It not only showcased a luxurious home but also told the builder’s story — a company that builds environmentally friendly homes is moving into the area with two new neighborhoods of single-family homes.

Post-script: “I really liked the visuals we shared in the video, but also was pleased with our ability to tell a broader story of who we are and what we’re about.” — Sam Edwards, marketing director for Stone Bridge Homes NW.

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Tiny house, big idea

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For his senior project, Oregon Episcopal School student Ted Morissette is leading fellow students in the building of a “tiny house,” to be donated for the homeless of Dignity Village in Portland.

 

Story Type: Feature Article
Vehicle: Syndicated newspaper
Strategy: Put the word out there and watch the story catch fire.

By Phil Favorite
Ted Morissette will pursue his passion for film production when he begins college next fall. But before he graduates from Oregon Episcopal School in June, he’s satisfying his curiosity about home building by leading a group of fellow volunteer students in construction of a ‘tiny house’ that will be donated to Dignity Village in Portland.

Morissette, 19, along with Kristen Dallum, a staff advisor from OES, has been leading the group for the last several months in organizing volunteers, scheduling work parties and generating donations of building materials, food and other items to help the project come together. The group has been working since mid-February — sawing lumber, beams, flooring, trim and siding, and piecing and pounding those items into place.

Now nearing completion, the tiny home will be moved from its building site on a dock at Pacific Lumber in Beaverton to Dignity Village in Northeast Portland on May 13.

“I think this could be the first of many,” said Morissette. “I had heard a lot about the tiny house movement and I’ve done a lot of research since starting the project.

“My dad’s a builder and has taught me a lot about building in general. I know that just from being on the sites as a kid,” he said.

“Ted and I had a conversation about building a tiny house about this time a year ago,” Dallum said. “We were able to give a presentation to the entire school body about our project. We also visited Dignity Village and determined that they’d be willing to accept a donation and that it would be a really good fit. They’re always in need of more and safer structures for their population. And the reception from the school has been incredibly supportive.”

According to thetinylife.com — an internet-based resource for information about tiny houses — the “Tiny House Movement” is a social phenomenon in which people are downsizing their living space. The typical American home is about 2,600 square feet while the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. They come in different shapes and forms, but all tiny houses are based on smaller spaces and simplified living.

In recent years, tiny houses have been seen as a way to combat homelessness, with many popping up around the country in neighborhoods designed for low- and no-income housing similar to Dignity Village

Dignity Village is a city-authorized encampment of some 60 residents in Portland, which began as a tent city for some of that city’s homeless. Operating on dedicated land near Portland International Airport since 2000, Dignity Village has grown to offer small brick-and-mortar homes as well as support to help residents transition to permanent housing and employment.

The home being built by Morissette, Dallum and their fellow volunteers features 85 square feet of living space on an open main level with a full loft above.

“Perhaps the resident will use the loft as their sleeping area, or maybe they’ll use it as storage and do a bed on the lower level,” Dallum said. “At Dignity Village, they have a communal kitchen and living spaces. There’s no plumbing in the home because at Dignity Village they have shared bathrooms within the neighborhood.”

The tiny house will replace a condemned structure that currently sits empty at Dignity Village.

“We’re all built out here, so the only thing we can do is replace houses,” said Rick Proudfoot, community spokesman for Dignity Village. “We’ve built these before ourselves and it’s great to have the outside community involved. It brings awareness to what we’re doing and the challenges we’re facing.”

OES, an independent school in Southwest Portland for grades Pre-K through 12 that requires upper school students to complete about 160 service hours over their four years.

“It’s about helping kids find their power for good,” said Martin Jones, director of communication at OES. “Most kids exceed their service commitment and continue to work in the community through graduation. When these kids hit high school age, they’re really in control of these projects.”

Now in his final semester at OES, Morissette completed his service-learning requirement before beginning the tiny house project. He’ll continue his education in the fall at Chapman University in Southern California where he’ll study film production.

“As a college student next year, I definitely plan to continue serving the homeless community and hope to build another tiny house,” Morissette said. “I needed a lot of guidance with this first house, but a second time around, I hope I can lead the entire project on my own.”

before he graduates from Oregon Episcopal School in June, he’s satisfying his curiosity about home building by leading a group of fellow volunteer students in construction of a ‘tiny house’ that will be donated to Dignity Village in Portland.

Morissette, 19, along with Kristen Dallum, a staff advisor from OES, has been leading the group for the last several months in organizing volunteers, scheduling work parties and generating donations of building materials, food and other items to help the project come together. The group has been working since mid-February — sawing lumber, beams, flooring, trim and siding, and piecing and pounding those items into place.

Now nearing completion, the tiny home will be moved from its building site on a dock at Pacific Lumber in Beaverton to Dignity Village in Northeast Portland on May 13.

“I think this could be the first of many,” said Morissette. “I had heard a lot about the tiny house movement and I’ve done a lot of research since starting the project.

“My dad’s a builder and has taught me a lot about building in general. I know that just from being on the sites as a kid,” he said.

“Ted and I had a conversation about building a tiny house about this time a year ago,” Dallum said. “We were able to give a presentation to the entire school body about our project. We also visited Dignity Village and determined that they’d be willing to accept a donation and that it would be a really good fit. They’re always in need of more and safer structures for their population. And the reception from the school has been incredibly supportive.”

According to thetinylife.com — an internet-based resource for information about tiny houses — the “Tiny House Movement” is a social phenomenon in which people are downsizing their living space. The typical American home is about 2,600 square feet while the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. They come in different shapes and forms, but all tiny houses are based on smaller spaces and simplified living.

In recent years, tiny houses have been seen as a way to combat homelessness, with many popping up around the country in neighborhoods designed for low- and no-income housing similar to Dignity Village

Dignity Village is a city-authorized encampment of some 60 residents in Portland, which began as a tent city for some of that city’s homeless. Operating on dedicated land near Portland International Airport since 2000, Dignity Village has grown to offer small brick-and-mortar homes as well as support to help residents transition to permanent housing and employment.

The home being built by Morissette, Dallum and their fellow volunteers features 85 square feet of living space on an open main level with a full loft above.

“Perhaps the resident will use the loft as their sleeping area, or maybe they’ll use it as storage and do a bed on the lower level,” Dallum said. “At Dignity Village, they have a communal kitchen and living spaces. There’s no plumbing in the home because at Dignity Village they have shared bathrooms within the neighborhood.”

The tiny house will replace a condemned structure that currently sits empty at Dignity Village.

“We’re all built out here, so the only thing we can do is replace houses,” said Rick Proudfoot, community spokesman for Dignity Village. “We’ve built these before ourselves and it’s great to have the outside community involved. It brings awareness to what we’re doing and the challenges we’re facing.”

OES, an independent school in Southwest Portland for grades Pre-K through 12 that requires

upper school students to complete about 160 service hours over their four years.

“It’s about helping kids find their power for good,” said Martin Jones, director of communication at OES. “Most kids exceed their service commitment and continue to work in the community through graduation. When these kids hit high school age, they’re really in control of these projects.”

Now in his final semester at OES, Morissette completed his service-learning requirement before beginning the tiny house project. He’ll continue his education in the fall at Chapman University in Southern California where he’ll study film production.

“As a college student next year, I definitely plan to continue serving the homeless community and hope to build another tiny house,” Morissette said. “I needed a lot of guidance with this first house, but a second time around, I hope I can lead the entire project on my own.”

Impact: This article was included in materials for local press outreach. It was picked up by the Portland Tribune, and the story went viral in other local newspapers, TV news outlets and spread across the country. A media value report calculated Total Nielsen Audience at more than a half-million viewers with a total calculated publicity value of $72,276.

Post-script: “When we want to get the word out about one of our projects, we always call on Phil. You just can’t beat a story about good kids doing good things.” — Misty Lane, marketing coordinator for Stone Bridge Homes NW.

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Meet ‘The Fredinator’

Fred Noble has led efforts that have helped raise more than $100,000 for Ski To Defeat ALS.

Fred Noble has led efforts that have helped raise more than $100,000 for Ski To Defeat ALS.

 

Story type: Fundraising appeal
Vehicle: Social Media
Strategy: Sometimes, all it takes is a quick story-post on Facebook to generate enthusiasm for your cause.

By Phil Favorite
Let me tell you about the coolest dude I know. His name is Fred Noble, and he likes to describe himself as the most famous non-famous person in the world. That’s because he’s inspired thousands of people and made hundreds of friends in a long life well lived. He was born 75 years ago into abject poverty, passed around from orphanage to orphanage, and has been on his own since he was 15. He was an undersized high school athlete who never backed down from any challenge. He scraped together a working life for himself because he just kept showing up to the job site, whether he was needed or not. Pretty soon, they couldn’t do without him. He eventually became an expert tower man, free-climbing his way above the hills of Portland in one of the most dangerous gigs out there. Cheating death became a theme in his life. He became a world-renowned backcountry skier where no powder was too deep and no slope too steep. He became an expert extreme wind surfer, casting himself out in the Columbia River when 70 mph winds scared away the most fearless of his peers. He survived a paragliding accident in Brazil so horrific he was immobilized for 11 months, needing round-the-clock care to survive. But he found his way back to the slopes, the waves, the rivers and the skies. He kept traveling, making friends of strangers and spreading his infectious joy all around the world. He’s indomitable. And when, at age 73, he was diagnosed with ALS, a fatal disease with no cure, he skipped the stages of grief and went straight to acceptance. Now he dedicates everything he does and every dime he has to helping others with this terrible disease, and helping the great folks who help them and are working to find a cure. So this weekend, I’m walking for Fred — the man known lovingly as The Fredinator — and all the other folks and families who live with terrible disease. If we keep trying, if we’re indomitable like Fred Noble, nothing can stop us. We will defeat ALS.

Impact: After posting this “stream-of-conscience” appeal , I saw my fundraising double in a day and soon reach 200 percent of goal.

Post-script: “Phil’s enthusiasm for our cause and his ability to tap into the emotion of the event were remarkable. It was amazing to watch the reaction to his Facebook post and watch the donations pour in.” — Aubrey McAuley, director of development, The ALS Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington

Posted in Facebook, Fundraising, Non-Profits, Social Media | Leave a comment

Watching his legacy take flight

Ben-Berry

Ben Berry poses in his Lake Oswego home with a prototype of the V2 unmanned flying vehicle.

 

Story type: Feature Article
Vehicle: Syndicated newspaper
Strategy: The drone is interesting, but the man behind the drone is much more so.

By Phil Favorite
Ben Berry will tell you it’s a lucky man whose interests, training, experience and vision all converge to create the opportunity of a lifetime.

For Berry, that time is now.

After a long career in information technology and communications systems, Berry is on the verge of impacting the world in a way he may have never thought possible as a younger man.

The company he founded in 2011, Lake Oswego-based AirShip Technologies Group, is set to begin production on a solar-powered, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) — a drone called the V2. It has hundreds of pre-orders from customers around the world who plan to use it for commercial, humanitarian, civil and defense purposes.

Two things set this new product by AirShip apart from its competitors: its use of clean (solar) energy, and its extended flight endurance. Just 3-by-3-feet in size and shaped like a stingray, the drone runs on solar power during daytime flight and also is outfitted with hydrogen fuel cells for nighttime flight.

The V2 is programmable for flying and hovering and can stay aloft for as long as five days, compared to other drones on the market that have a flight endurance of just a few hours at best. With camera systems on board, the V2 can monitor and provide real-time information on specific areas of interest.

“Examples are monitoring herds of cattle for symptoms of illness, so livestock can be isolated and treated to prevent further spreading and loss,” Berry said. “Or monitoring our country’s borders to detect and prevent illegal incursion. It also can be used by first responders to execute dangerous or difficult tasks safely and efficiently.”

As co-founder and CEO, Berry sees his leadership of AirShip as a natural extension of a career focused on information systems and technology.

“In general, I’ve had a mixed background — defense, aviation, health care, state and local governments,” said Berry, a Lake Oswego resident who retired earlier this year from his job as chief technology officer for the City of Portland.

Before that, he worked for the Oregon Department of Transportation, Providence Health & Services and Hughes Aircraft. He also spent six years in Saudi Arabia working in hospital systems, logistics applications for the Royal Saudi Air Force and managing computer systems for the country’s international airports.

“The common thread in my career has always been information,” he said. “And if you look at the drone business, or the unmanned aerial business as we call it, it’s all based on a platform that provides information.”

In realms such as search-and-rescue and defense, the V2 drone literally could prove to be a lifesaver. But for Berry, it’s more than that — it’s the culmination of his life’s work, a life lived in the long shadow cast by his famous father.

Drawing inspiration

Before his death in September 2013, Benny Lee “Flaps” Berry was a hot commodity on the national speaking circuit, telling stories about his days as an Army veteran and real-life Tuskegee Airman. As a member of America’s first group of fighter pilots made up entirely of African Americans, he was a trailblazer.

As a young man, Flaps liked to dabble in technical drawings, sketching out his ideas for aircraft and monorail systems that he pictured as a wave of the future.

After being discharged from the service, he settled with his wife in Kansas, but later moved to Los Angeles where his young son Benjamin could be treated and cured for polio. An acquaintance familiar with Flaps and his drawings suggested he show them to a local entrepreneur who was making a name for himself in the airplane industry at the time — Howard Hughes.

Ben Berry tells it like this:

“So dad got in the car and went to see Howard Hughes, and he was stopped at the gate. They said, ‘You can’t see Howard Hughes.’ Dad said, ‘Well, I have the drawings.’ So they let Dad in to see Howard Hughes. And he was showing Howard Hughes the drawings and Howard said, ‘Hey, these are pretty good. Are you some kind of engineer?”

When he learned that Flaps had no formal training or college-level education, Hughes suggested he show his drawings to the dean of the school of engineering at the University of Southern California. Immediately impressed, the dean admitted Flaps into the school, where “he graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering, the first African American to do so at USC. And that allowed him to go to work in the aerospace industry in Los Angeles,” Ben Berry said.

Benny “Flaps” Berry went on to a distinguished career in aerospace, working on the technical staffs for the Apollo, Space Shuttle and Space Station programs. He also authored the book “Tuskegee Airmen: To the Moon, Mars and Beyond!”

As it turned out, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“I always knew my career would be in science and technology, but I didn’t know exactly what kind,” Ben Berry said. “But I would always be drawing, much like my father was drawing. So full circle, going to work for Hughes Aircraft myself and then working on the design for AirShip, we ended up working on the project together before he died. And he was able to show me how to dial in the center of gravity, the aerodynamics of the aircraft, and eventually we got the aircraft to fly. That is a big part of the legacy of Airship.”

Blazing his own trail

The Berry family moved from Los Angeles to Portland in the early 1970s, just before the start of Ben’s junior year in high school. He already had been taking night and summer classes, and administrators at Grant High School told him he had nearly enough credits to graduate in three years, something young Ben made a reality.

He later earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Portland and a master’s degree in business administration from UCLA while working at Hughes Aircraft in California. So began a pattern that saw Berry leave (sometimes to live and work overseas) and return to Oregon multiple times over the next few decades.

With his wife Deidra, he raised four children who went through Lake Oswego schools; all have earned or are working on college degrees. All the while, Berry has served as a role model, not just for his children but also for students and especially African Americans who are underrepresented in the aviation and technology spheres.

“I think our youth can be intimidated by technology beyond just the consumer aspect, especially when there are not enough mentors who look like us and sound like us,” Berry said in an interview with The Breakfast Group, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to mentoring and addressing the challenges of at-risk youth of color, focusing on African American males. “I like to get them exposed to technology, so if they’re inspired they can kind of push through the hard classes in high school or college to get to where they need to be.”

His impact has not gone unnoticed.

“Ben has been an outstanding mentor to some of our students and the robotics teams I’ve coached during the last several years,” said Gary Mitchell, professor of operations and technical management at the University of Portland. “Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Ben will always make time when I call or email him, asking for just a little of his time.

“Several years ago, during his very early efforts to start AirShip, I took a group of middle school boys I was coaching to Ben’s home to share their robotics competition project. Ben captivated the boys by showing them his early UAV prototype and discussing drones, aeronautical engineering and building prototypes. His enthusiasm was contagious and the boys couldn’t stop talking about the experience for weeks.”

Leaving a legacy

With the V2 ready to go into production, Berry will spend a good part of early 2016 traveling the world, speaking on behalf of AirShip Technologies and the benefits of its newest machine. Now 63, Berry sees AirShip as the culmination of all the knowledge and hard work from 30-plus years in the information technologies sector. And he’s primed and ready to bring the V2 to market.

“I’m at the top of my game,” he said. “I’m literally using all the faculties, the work I’ve done in the past. People say, ‘Well, you’re working around the clock, Ben.’ But when you’re working on something you’re passionate about, it’s not like work. I’m not watching the clock.

“I think we all would love to have something like that to work toward, but many times we fall short of that because we really haven’t connected the dots. I didn’t connect the dots for a long time. You can always connect the dots looking backward, but it’s very difficult to connect the dots moving forward.”

His father’s death in 2013 left Berry with a sense that his time has come.

“Once your parents pass, you’re it. You’re no longer the understudy,” he said. “I have four kids and a wife, and they’re looking at me now for what my legacy is and how that influences them.

“You reach a realization that the clock is ticking and nobody has a permanent place here. What are you going to do with the time remaining? That’s part of what this dream is all about. That’s where I get my passion.”

Impact: This story quickly went viral. After publishing in the Lake Oswego Review newspaper and online, it was almost instantly picked up by Oregon Public Broadcasting’s website and repeatedly shared by professional science and industry sites around the globe.

Post-script: “I have been working in media relations for over 40 years and I can’t remember when a journalist did such a thorough job of reporting. By that I mean Phil dug very deep into the subject matter and revealed a hidden gem that was a key to the entire business story, which everyone else, including myself had overlooked. This is great writing and reporting!” — Bob Ryan, Ryan Strategies International

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Divine Kind looks to promote responsible cannabis use

weed

Divine Kind manager Al Ochosa (right) and employee Vina Wilson await customers in the Terwilliger Boulevard marijuana dispensary, which began selling recreational pot in October and joined the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce.

 

Story Type: News Feature
Vehicle: Syndicated newspapaer
Strategy: When covering a sticky subject, let the subject convey the message.

By Phil Favorite
At a recent networking event for members of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, Al Ochosa arrived ready to spread his gospel.

“I was wearing a black suit and a white shirt. I had my nametag that said, ‘Al, Divine Kind,’” Ochosa says. “I think a lot of people thought I was part of a ministry because of the name.”

But Ochosa had a different sort of message to share — he came as an advocate for the responsible use of cannabis. It’s a big part of his role as director of retail operations at Divine Kind, a medical and recreational marijuana dispensary just outside of Lake Oswego at 8601 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd. in Portland.

Divine Kind is one of the newest members of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, and the networking event provided the first exposure for some of the businesses to Ochosa and the operation he represents. The store opened in January 2014 as a medical marijuana dispensary, but business has really picked up since Oct. 1, when Divine Kind’s recreational-use operation opened.

“I did my elevator speech and I couldn’t get everybody to stop giggling,” he says. “Part of it was a nervous giggle and probably half of it was a celebratory giggle. There’s always going to be that split. But whether you like to consume or not, there has to be some common sense to the thing.”

That Ochosa’s presence at the networking event caused a bit of a stir is not a surprise, given Lake Oswego’s current ban on marijuana dispensaries. That ban is set to expire next May, although the City Council is expected to reconsider an ordinance first proposed in September that would extend the ban and refer the issue to voters on the November 2016 ballot.

“I have strong reservations about locating a retail marijuana facility in Lake Oswego, and I know others who feel the same way,” Mayor Kent Studebaker told The Review this week. “That is why I want council to vote to submit the issue to the voters in November 2016.”

Current city code “prohibits issuing licenses for businesses whose activities violate any law — state, federal or local,” according to City Attorney David Powell. Dozens of cities and counties across the state have created similar caveats in their laws, but Portland has not — and as one of the west side’s southern-most dispensaries, Divine Kind finds itself well situated to serve a suburban clientele.

Ochosa says he’s already seen all kinds of different customers come into his store and many from Lake Oswego, from couples on their way to a weekend at the coast to “business people from Kruse Way.”

Having worked in Lake Oswego as an insurance executive in the past, Ochosa says he joined the Chamber of Commerce in an effort to reach out to the community.

“I’ve always considered the LO chamber to be a very strong chamber,” he says. “That was one of the things that I wanted to make sure I had on my punch list when I first started — to join the chamber as soon as possible. When I filled out my online application the first week here, there was no business category we could fit in. I filled it out under wellness centers, but they eventually created a marijuana dispensaries category for us.”

Keith Dickerson, the chamber’s executive director, says there was no question about admitting Devine Kind. The chamber will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the dispensary on Nov. 19. At Ochosa’s request, the event will begin at 4:20 p.m.

“What they are doing is legal,” Dickerson says. “When we’re approached by an interested party, as long as they’re undertaking a legal business, our bylaws oblige us to accept their membership.”

That was the right decision, according to City Councilor Joe Buck, who says “having a marijuana dispensary join the chamber to begin speaking to the public about this new industry is part of the process of learning what place, if any, retail outlets will have in Lake Oswego.”

“Marijuana is a part of our society and will soon be even more mainstream. Therefore, teaching responsible use will be imperative, whether or not dispensaries are located within our town,” says Buck, who voted in September to put the issue to voters in 2016. “While voters in LO approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, the question of locating dispensaries here remains less black and white.  Nevertheless, to bury our heads in the sand would be a huge mistake, and I am glad to see our new chamber member leading the way in educating the public.”

Ochosa admits he may have caught some of the folks at the networking event off guard. But he says that comes with the territory.

“I’m not the stereotypical person you would think to run a dispensary,” he says. “But for a long time, I’ve been a strong advocate and educator in this community. I’m trying to better educate people about cannabis and responsible use. One thing I’ve come to realize over the last month is that half the state voted for this, so it’s the other half we’re trying to change the hearts and minds of.”

At Divine Kind, the line between the medical and recreational operations is well drawn. Each has its own separate entrance, with the medical sales staff on the upper level and the recreational retail operation downstairs.

It’s an important distinction, Ochosa said, because many of the cannabis products available to medical patients — including oils, edibles and vapor apparatus — are not yet legally available to recreational users. Retail customers only can purchase limited amounts of dried leaves, flowers (marijuana buds), seeds and immature plants.

On the recreational retail side, Divine Kind sales associates are called “bud tenders.” On the medical side, they’re called “patient care representatives.”

“I really like our dispensary’s focus on our medical patients,” Ochosa says. “They’re two separate segments with two separate sets of needs and two separate sets of expectations. On the medical side, you have folks that have very specific conditions that demand the attention and the time afforded them for a personal consultation. Medical customers are looking for the best medicine they can find and the most knowledgeable people they can find, and also a welcoming and exciting facility to visit.

“On the recreational side, they’re looking to have a little more fun,” he says. “Now that it’s legal, they’re able to shop around and try different things. It’s all about the customer experience, just like when you go shopping at Nordstrom instead of Fred Meyer. You want to be able to have that experience, yet still expect competitive pricing and a wide selection of available product.”

According to Ochosa, business is booming. He said projected October sales are quadruple those of the previous month, and he said he doesn’t expect things to slow down anytime soon.

His goal, he says, is to make Divine Kind a “destination dispensary,” hosting events such as art openings, musical performances and expert talks that promote awareness of the operation, its products and services.

“We really need to push education and advocacy,” Ochosa says. “We have so many new recreational customers coming out of the woodwork, whether they’re daily users just looking for a new place to buy, or people that are just trying it for the first time, or folks that haven’t partaken in 20 years.

“That’s the exciting thing about what’s happening right now. It touches everybody,” he says. “Not just folks who have really bad physical issues, or professionals that may want an alternative to alcohol. I’m seeing everybody.”

For more information about Divine Kind, visit the website at divine-kind.com. For the latest on products and special offers, visit leafly.com/dispensary-info/divine-lkind.

Impact: Because of the timeliness and subject matter, this story received remarkable attention. It was heavily shared on social media, promoted by the newspaper’s website and went viral on industry-related sites.

Post-script:Phil really hit the nail on the head. He did a great job of relaying our message and I’ve been proud to share the story with a lot of people. And seeing it get picked up by Newslocker, Geonews, etc. CRAZY!” — Al Ochosa, Director of Retail Operations, Divine Kind Inc.

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Randy’s Renaissance

Randy Sebastian has rallied his company, Renaissance Custom Homes, back from the brink of bankruptcy to become a leader again in the Portland metro homebuilding market.

Story Type: Personality profile
Vehicle: Blog post
Strategy: Everybody loves a good redemption story, and this one tells itself.

By Phil Favorite
Randy Sebastian has that twinkle in his eye again.

Arriving at an interview for a recent Oregonian story about vintage-style new homes, an upbeat Sebastian oozed the confidence he’s known for — a confidence born from many years as one of the Portland area’s most successful homebuilders.

But tough economic times in recent years fell hard on his company, Renaissance Homes, forcing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in late 2008. At the time, Sebastian, the company’s CEO and founder, vowed that Renaissance would survive, but the next two years required some serious belt-tightening.

“It was brutal,” he said. “It’s kind of like the rug’s been pulled out from under you. I had 94 homes that didn’t close, that were sold and were built for clients. It wasn’t that they didn’t want them; they either couldn’t get the funding or their old home wouldn’t sell.

“Like most builders and developers, we went through a huge reorganization process, a big shuffling of the deck.”

Sebastian, 46, said the company downsized from 108 to 17 employees. He spent much of 2009 looking for ways to rebound despite the slumping economy. Late in the year, he believed he’d found a way back — building energy-efficient, vintage-style homes on infill lots in Portland.

The move sent the company in a different direction, veering some from its bread and butter, building suburban subdivisions.

“About a year ago I wrapped my mind around the idea of building vintage LEED homes in Portland,” Sebastian said. “I knew we were going to have to do it the way we’ve always done it — our way — and make it really easy to buy one of these homes.”

Sebastian and his team developed a collection of 10 floor plans for its Vintage Collection and gave each a Portland-oriented name such as The Cleary, The Vista and The Meier & Frank.

Renaissance scoured the city for buildable lots and now has eight homes in its vintage line ready to sell in some of Portland’s most desirable neighborhoods.

“We’ve been kind of quiet, keeping a low profile,” Sebastian said. “But now we have 26 lots in Portland, we’re rolling, and I’ve told all my would-be competitors, I am committed to this. We’re going to be a force.”

Ah, that’s the Randy Sebastian we’ve come to know over the years.

Impact: This story created trust between the subject and the author and created strong business and personal ties between the two.

Post-script: “Phil has an amazing knack at getting to the heart of a story. His warmth and genuine human curiosity reflect in his outstanding work and the relationships he builds with others. I count him as a friend and trusted consultant.” — Kelly Asmus, Director of Marketing, Renaissance Homes

 

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