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Oregon Gymnastics Academy lands top three in Best 100 Nonprofits to Work For list

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Sydney Flynn jumps off a balance beam under the watchful eyes of Oregon Gymnastics Academy coach Katie Candeaux. The Oregon Gymnastics Academy team had reason to be head-over-heels excited this past week.

The Beaverton nonprofit learned it was the recipient of a $5,000 grant from Nike’s Oregon Community Foundation to support its work with at-risk youth.

This news came on the heels of OGA securing the No. 3 spot on Oregon Business magazine’s fourth annual 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon in the Top Large Nonprofits category. This ranking is up from the organization’s fourth-place recognition in 2011.

Both the grant and Top 3 Large Nonprofits ranking serve as recognition that Oregon Gymnastics Academy is living up to its mission to promote and motivate character, fitness and health in the lives of its athletes, employees and community through the sport of gymnastics.

“I am so humbled by this award,” said Lisa Havelind, OGA’s executive director. “There are so many amazing nonprofit organizations in Oregon doing exceptionally important work. It is an incredible honor to have our organization recognized among these other great organizations, particularly, as a great place to work in Oregon.” 

In order to make the list, OGA employees were among 5,000 nonprofit workers from 169 agencies to complete anonymous surveys ranking satisfaction and importance of workplace qualities in six categories: benefits and compensation; work environment; decision-making and trust; performance management; career development and learning; and sustainable workplace practices.

“This award is significant because as an organization, we recognize that our people are our greatest asset,” Havelind said. “The award validates that OGA has created a work environment that recognizes and rewards the phenomenal talents of a diverse group of employees.”

Recognizing true talent

Libbi Houghton, a recreation coach and marketing and events manager, joined the OGA team as a seasonal floor coach in May 2006.

“They saw a high-potential employee in me, and since then gave me more classes, taught me how to teach and kept growing me as a professional,” she said. by: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Gymnastics Academy coach Libbi Houghton hugs student Hannah Adler.

While Houghton was working toward her business marketing and theater degrees at Pacific University, OGA leaders supported her and allowed her to seek more challenges within the organization to further her professional development.

In 2008, the same year she graduated from college, Houghton planned a successful fundraiser for the organization, putting her marketing skills to work. Just as she was looking for her next career move, OGA offered her an assistant manager position.

“My boss wanted me to stay here and take off as an employee, and that was really cool,” Houghton said. “Every time I ever questioned staying or exploring a new career, she would ask what I needed to stay and found a way to make it happen.”

Houghton earned another promotion to manager in 2010. She said there are several reasons why she has remained part of the OGA team after landing her dream job.

“Our special needs program and dedication as an organization to use gymnastics to enrich lives,” she said were at the top of her list. “We are here for the kids, to enrich their lives and help give them opportunities to find success.

“It unites us. We want to do the best job we can for the kids. We are here because we love what we do and love working here.”

Kate Candeaux, who works with special needs gymnasts in OGA’s unique All Star program, shares Houghton’s passion for her coaching and management duties.

“I was a mom before I was an employee,” Candeaux said.

Four years ago, she enrolled her daughter Kailey in private lessons with OGA.

“She has an autism spectrum disorder,” Candeaux said. “I was looking for a customized program that understood her special needs. OGA offers private, highly trained coaches here. They understood my daughter.”

Kailey, now 7, has flourished with the support and instruction she has received in the gym.

“She went from extremely cautious and overly aware of her surroundings, unable to tolerate any group interaction, unable to leave my side to being able to attend a group class with no assistance,” Candeaux said. “Now, she rules this place.”

When costs became an issue for Kailey to continue more than two years ago, OGA offered Candeaux a job, something she is grateful for.

“I have a background teaching special education,” she said. “They gave me the flexibility to be a mom first and have an extremely meaningful career. Everyone here supports me 100 percent.

“I thought I would never be able to work again. Now, I have a job I love that I look forward to coming to. I am very, very lucky.”

Second home

The Oregon Gymnastics Academy, 16305 N.W. Bethany Court, has become a second home for employees, families and aspiring competitive gymnasts alike.

Holly Hooge is a Bethany mother who has been bringing her daughter Allyson, 11, to the academy for five years.

Allyson, a Stoller Middle School sixth-grader who has Down syndrome, started with private lessons and this fall advanced into Beginning 2 class.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Gymnastics Academy coach Bobbie Duncan assists student Allyson Hooge during practice last week. Oregon Business magazine named OGA the No. 3 Top Large Nonprofit to Work For in Oregon. “This is a great place for her to be,” Hooge said. “Each coach has built her confidence.

“We are all on the same page. I want them to really push her because she is a child first, who happens to have a disability, and she loves to perform. This is a priority for us. We treat it like she’s on a team, so the commitment is there.”

Allyson’s team of fellow gymnasts and coaches have embraced her every step of the way as she braved new apparatus and physical challenges.

“This recognition for OGA is long overdue,” Hooge said.

Sarah Gilstrap, a Sunset High School freshman who has been training at the gym for 10 years, agreed. The 14-year-old competes as a Level 8 gymnast.

“I just love gymnastics, love being active, and I’ve made lifelong friends here,” Gilstrap said. “It is fun to learn new skills and be able to flip around and do things.

“They give me a lot of support. I can talk to my coaches about anything. They are there for me and know how to push me to get things done and be a better person.”

Gilstrap can be found working on floor routines or perfecting her gymnastics skills in the gym about 20 hours a week.

“This is my passion, and I want to compete in college,” she said.

The drive and motivation of OGA’s young athletes fuels coaches like Leah Grant, who has led All Star classes for special needs gymnasts since March 2011.

“This is the kind of place people can come and stay,” Grant said. “We see kids start in mommy-and-me classes, who have been here for years.

“We have the opportunity to keep up with them. We are invested in their lives and their success. That is very powerful.”

Grant said it was exciting for her workplace to garner recognition.

“It is so well-deserved,” she said. “We have so much to offer here. People have to hear about this place.”

Knowing the award was based on employee responses means a great deal to Havelind.

“The commitment of my staff to our mission and to the athletes in our programs is something I am in awe of every day,” Havelind said of her team. “Our employees are always developing new and innovative ways to improve our programs and provide greater support to our local community.

“Our work environment fosters this creativity and is one of the many reasons OGA is an exceptional place to work.”by: JAIME VALDEZ - Children in the 6 to 12 age group warm-up before gymnastics class at Oregon Gymnastics Academy.

Nike grant boosts OGA’s Community Outreach Program

Nike’s Oregon Community Foundation last week awarded the Oregon Gymnastics Academy a $5,000 grant to support the Beaverton nonprofit’s ongoing work with at-risk youth.

“This award is one more example of our dedication, as an organization, to our mission,” said Libbi Houghton, OGA’s marketing and events manager. “OGA’s mission is to promote and motivate character, health and fitness in our community.”

However, for hundreds of families across the region, the expense of gymnastics classes is too much. Recognizing the need for low-cost gymnastics classes in several communities in the area, OGA employee Samantha Logan set out in 2009 to meet the needs of these kids.

Logan formed a partnership with the SUN Program at Faubion Elementary School in Northeast Portland. Three years later, OGA has taught nine terms of classes and reached more than 80 children — many of whom have continued to enroll in gymnastics classes each term and have shown marked improvements in behavior as well as skill development, Houghton said.

The Community Outreach Program has continued to grow.

In July, OGA formed an additional partnership with Barnes Elementary School in Beaverton. Beginning this month, OGA will offer free after-school gymnastics classes to students at the school.

“OGA’s presence has made a lasting impact at both schools, and we look forward to continuing to enhance each child’s life through the sport of gymnastics,” Houghton said.

Nike’s grant will aid that work.

The Oregon Gymnastics Academy offers competitive and recreational artistic gymnastics, recreational cheer classes, open play times for all ages, birthday parties, parents night out, day camps and a distinctive special needs gymnastics program in its 25,000-square-foot facility at 16305 N.W. Bethany Court in Beaverton.

For more information about all of its programs, visit www.ogagym.org, call 503-531-3409 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..