County Health Contractor builds better relationships by volunteering

February 21, 2018

Amanda Jones, a project coordinator with the construction firm JE Dunn, holds up a piece of clothing.

“Where do the undergarments go?” she asks her team of construction engineers, hunched over a waste-high pile of clothing donations in the basement of Bud Clark Commons.

Volunteers with the construction firm JE Dunn sort clothing donations at Bud Clark Commons.

“Who’s got shorts?” Nick Woodard asks.

“Do shorts go with the pants?” Jeremiah Wray asks.

Senior project manager Kyle Boehnlein, meanwhile, sorts boxes of personal hygiene products while field engineer Griffin Chard folds a throw blanket.

The team from JE Dunn Construction has sorted donations at Transition Project’s Bud Clark Commons every month since they began building the new Multnomah County Health Department Headquarters next door on Feb. 20, 2017.

“They’re like clockwork,” said Brian Ingel, an administrative support specialist at Bud Clark Commons. “It’s a lot of organization. And their organization helps us respond to people's needs more quickly.”

The construction crew is among more than 800 people who volunteer at Transition Projects, staffing severe weather shelters, preparing meals for people without housing, and coordinating the annual Portland Veteran Stand Down.

This group is incredible,” said Tamara Chacon, Transition Projects’ volunteer coordinator. “Volunteers make a huge difference. For our clients,  and for us to get things done. If all these donations sit down in storage, they’re not a help to anyone.”

When the team began volunteering last year, the donation room was filled to the ceiling. Today clothes hang neatly on racks, or are folded in labeled cardboard boxes. Yet each week there’s a new pile to sort.

“What’s astounding is it’s never enough,” Chacon said. “No matter how much comes in, it’s never enough.”

Clients need new or gently used and clean seasonal adult clothing, new socks and underwear, and new hygiene items such as soap and shampoo.

Transition Projects doesn't always get exactly what they ask for. On this Friday, field engineer Griffin digs through handbags. Project director Tom Heger pulls out a box of Sharpies. And project engineer Woodward tries to decide where to put a copy of the book, “The Bush Dyslexicon,” a 2016 Portland Yellow Pages and a box of Red Currant Incense.

The group, whose members are mostly male and trained as engineers, can find it challenging to categorize women’s clothes.  Heger holds up a flowery linen scarf. “What is this?” he asks the team.

“A handkerchief,” project manager Boehnlein suggests.“I thought it was a tablecloth,” Heger says.

Volunteers with the construction firm JE Dunn sort clothing donations at Bud Clark Commons.

“Guys, there’s a scarf box right here,” Woodard offers.

“No one would wear this,” Boehnlein says. “It’s too scratchy.”

Next Heger pulls out a knit sweater wrap. “What do you call this?”

“A long sleeve shirt,” Boehnlein says, as he hangs a satin grey summer dress. “Where do you put a casual dress?”

Volunteering is just part of the job, says Boehnlein.

“This is normal for us.,” he says. “If we go out to a job site, we try to volunteer in that immediate area. It’s just part of who we are as a company. We try to support the community that has given us the opportunity to build.”

Multnomah County selected JE Dunn to provide pre-construction cost estimates and in 2014, to build the new nine-story, $93.1 million new headquarters. The company, which has had an office in Portland since the 1920s, is best known for building the Rose Quarter (Moda Center) Entertainment Complex, KOIN Tower, Providence Health & Services LEED Gold Oregon Headquarters & Regional Laboratory Campus, Pioneer Courthouse Seismic Upgrade & Rehabilitation, Port of Portland’s Deicing Facility, the LEED Platinum OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences & Skourtes Tower project on Portland’s South Waterfront.

Heger said that having the construction team volunteer helps the company maintain good relationships with neighbors who could understandably feel frustrated by the commotion of construction. Bud Clark Commons’, and its employees and clients, share the city block with the new Headquarters across from Union Station. Construction that began a year ago is not expected to be completed until early  2019.

The engineering team arrives at Bud Clark comes during lunch once a month and sorts men’s and women’s clothes. Often they’re joined by volunteer Claudia Schechter.

Schechter comes twice a week to help out in the donation room.

“I’m 73-years-old. I hate gyms; I get terribly bored,” she explains. “Here I get my lifting, pulling, pushing. Plus I care about it.”

She’s worked alongside a lot of volunteers in her two years with Transition Projects, she says. She enjoys the team from JE Dunn because they take the work seriously but seem to have a good time.

“I’ve worked with these guys since they started,” she says. “It’s a fabulous thing the company chose to do. It’s just wonderful.”

For more information on how to donate or volunteer at Transition Projects, visit their website at