Pastor Mary Overstreet Smith didn’t wait for the Red Cross or FEMA to tell her how to help the hurricane survivors in Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana after the storms of August, 2005. She listened to the voice within that told her that people couldn’t wait for help that was too long in coming. She decided to send a van for those willing to make a fresh start in Portland, Oregon, and eventually relocated, clothed, fed and housed forty families. When some of the survivors needed medical care and medications, Pastor Mary discovered that the only free clinic in her neighborhood had been closed for some time and that no local clinic offered evening hours. As she talked with her neighbors and church members, she found that many long-time community residents had no health coverage, even those who worked full time. Many simply went without the care or medications they knew they needed, or visited the local emergency room as a last resort.
Hearing about the way Pastor Mary took action to help those affected by the hurricanes inspired Dr. Jill Ginsberg, a family physician, to offer her assistance. She gathered donations from her neighbors and brought them to the Powerhouse Temple Church on N. Williams Avenue, where Pastor Mary had arranged to meet her. Little did Dr. Ginsberg know that her life was about to change forever. When Pastor Mary asked for her help in starting a free medical clinic in a small office building she owned up the street from the church, Dr. Jill could not think of a reason to say no.
That meeting was the beginning of the North by Northeast Community Health Center, and of a partnership based in faith, friendship, and a passion for community service.
Through their willingness to work together, a shared vision began to take shape. The vision included free health care for low-income adults in a neighborhood clinic that provided care for chronic illnesses. Evening hours would allow working people the chance to obtain care without missing work.
Pastor Mary likes to say the meeting of these two was predestined. Dr. Jill quotes the Jewish teaching that says, ”Although you do not have to finish the task, neither are you free to desist from it.” As these two women of faith took the lead, many friends, colleagues and community members stepped up to help. Less than a year later, on August 17th 2006, the North by Northeast Community Health Center welcomed its first patient.