by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Brothers David and Dean Snodgrass, along with brother Drew Snodgrass, not pictured, are the driving forces behind an innovative partnership between their family business Dennis' 7 Dees and local charity Human Solutions, resulting in an annual golf tournament that this month raised more than $100,000.No doubt about it: The last five years have been tough.

The global economic crisis increased unemployment, home foreclosures and cut disposable incomes drastically for many Americans.

But it also created new awareness of homelessness, blessings, and of how we all need to pitch in to help others.

The Snodgrass family — which has owned and operated Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Centers for four generations — gets it. Always has.

Brothers David, Dean and Drew Snodgrass helped out the community with everything from school auction donations, to gifted landscaping for hospitals, to hosting blanket drives, even before the economy tanked in 2008.

And when the economy soured and shriveled the company’s profit margin, instead of scaling back charitable giving, Dennis’ 7 Dees planted the seeds for what has become a new bumper crop of generosity.

Through a remarkable partnership with Gresham-based Human Solutions, Dennis’ 7 Dees has turned its in-house golf tournament into a mega-charity event. On Sept. 12, the fourth-annual event raised more than $100,000 for local homeless families sheltered through Human Solutions.

“This is really unprecedented, it’s phenomenal,” said Jean DeMaster, executive director for Human Solutions, which provides housing and other services for homeless and low-income families in East Portland and East Multnomah County.

Terry Ciecko, who serves on Human Solutions’ Board of Directors, agreed.

“Dennis’ 7 Dees is not one of those huge corporations like Safeway, or US Bank, or a major hospital that typically sponsor these kinds of events,” she said. “And things have been hard for them, too.”

Dennis’ 7 Dees is Oregon’s largest landscaping and garden store business, providing residential and commercial landscaping, maintenance services, in addition to owning and operating garden centers in Southeast Portland, Lake Oswego, Cedar Hills and Seaside.

At its peak, the company raked in $25 million a year.

That dropped to $18 million during the economic meltdown.

“We were right there with everyone else, trying to make ends meet,” said David Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ 7 Dees.

The company avoided permanent layoffs, but did have to temporarily layoff staff until revenue rose enough to bring them back to work, David said.

All the while, the company continued its 20-year tradition of holding a golf tournament for employees — a chance to socialize and have fun, with different departments forming teams that compete against each other. Early on, a charitable component emerged, with proceeds from sold mulligans being donated to a different charity every year.

Those donations were not huge, maybe $500.

“Just something to feel good about,” David said. And that’s how the company became familiar with Human Solutions, which in 2009, was the charity selected to receive about $1,000.

The more David, Dean and Drew learned about the organization, the more they wanted to help.

“This is a charity that is floating under the radar, and it’s helping homeless families with children,” David said. “It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors. This is our community that we operate our business in. It’s really all about people who are down on their luck, and giving them a helping hand up.”

Human Solutions provides emergency shelter to 175 homeless families year-round. That number swells to 200 homeless families during the winter months.

Put another way, that’s approximately 750 homeless people, half of whom are children, DeMaster said.

So in 2010, the company turned its tournament into a charity golf tournament to benefit Human Solutions.

Dennis’ 7 Dees pools its collective resources, reaching out to vendors, clients, employees, friends and family to grow its grass-roots golf tournament into a major fundraiser.

That first year, it raised $4,000, a total that grew nearly tenfold the next year, with $38,000.

In 2012, David set a goal of $50,000. The event raised $58,000.

Then the company heard about the need for additional funding for Human Solutions’ church-based family winter shelter in Parkrose.

David and his brothers raised the fundraising bar to $100,000.

And they reached it.

Now instead of closing at the end of March, the shelter will remain open through April. DeMaster hopes additional funding will allow the shelter to stay open until the end of the school year, to avoid further disrupting the educations of homeless children.

“These are kids,” she said. “They haven’t made any choices that led to them being homeless like adults sometimes do. And they’re living in cars and abandoned buildings.”

David, Dean and Drew will no doubt set the bar even higher next year. The company’s teams and committees dedicated to putting the golf tournament together already are working on next year’s event.

But more than anything, David hopes the golf tournament can serve as a model for how other businesses can contribute in a meaningful way and make a difference in the community.

“To me, that’s the real win,” David said.

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