Civic Leaders: Path and Purpose with Mark Grabow

Posted on January 20, 2015

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002 Mark Grabow, Hatfield Fellow, City of Portland, Civic Leaders ELGL Blank by VOLSTA

Civic Leaders is an exclusive local government web-interview series hosted and operated by Springbrook Software, produced by the VOLSTA Media Network, and syndicated on ELGL. Each month the show shares a candid look into the challenges and triumphs experienced by passionate public employees that are committed to their calling.

The Show

A man on a mission. Mark Grabow’s unique past has helped create a warm, loving care for others, which he consciously carries with him as a public servant. After duty in Portland State University’s Hatfield Resident Fellowship Program for postgraduate students, he shares his experiences, lessons learned and what is on the road ahead.

In this episode, Mark discusses:

00:28 – INSPIRATION: How his childhood influenced his path and purpose.

01:47 –  MOTIVATION: What keeps him motivated as a 24-hour-professional.

03:06 – REAL IMPACT: When he realized he can actually make a difference in the world.

05:37 – CUTTING TEETH: What he will take with him as a Hatfield Fellow.

07:42 – CAREER AHEAD: What’s next in 2015 and beyond.

Can’t watch YouTube at work? No worries, here’s the transcript of the interview


Local government requires a commitment to serving others. What inspires you as a public employee?

letknowledgeservethecityWhen I was a small child [my family and I] lived the majority of the time out in the woods, either in a tent or in a trailer. Throughout this time…[there was a lotta love within my family] that helped bring us through it, and also there’s a lot of tribulation–it was a rough time for us…and it was the kindnesses of others–the kind action of others…of the churches, of people we’d meet in campgrounds–random folks on the street extending their kindnesses to us…that really impacted me and shaped my life and made me want to be a servant to others.

We would go door-to-door selling ornaments to pay for our school books and I realized as I’ve gone through this that I want to be that person to offer some help to offer some voice to another family…who also is struggling while they’re trying to make ends meet to maybe just get enough money to pay for their school books.


With such a strong motivation to serve others, how do you carry that with you day-to-day?

The number one thing for me…is that it’s not enough for me [as] a dedicated public servant professional–it’s not enough for me to simply work in the local government…that if I truly believe in my mission and my cause to be the best public servant I can be, I need to get involved out of the office–out of the office when I clock out at five o’clock–I’m always a public servant professional–when I clock out of work at five o’clock, for 24 hours for the rest the day until I clock back in the next day–I’m still a dedicated public service professional. And so for me that number one is to stay involved, to get involved, to give back–volunteer outside of work–do something for the community outside of work because it’s not enough to just do something as a public service professional for the local government, what we, what I must do, if I truly believe in my cause of service–I can’t just do it for a paycheck–I need to do it when there’s no paycheck given–and that volunteerism–doing it outside of the work–that’s huge for me, that’s my number one.


At what moment did you realize that you could actually make a tangible difference in the world?

When I was seventeen years old I was living in Canada. I had been kicked out of the house by father when I was a teenager and ended up going to six different high schools and this was a challenging part in my coming-of-age and figuring out what it was that I wanted to do–what path. I enjoyed working [with] service and volunteering and my step-father encouraged me–because I wanted to try something a little more outside the box–he encouraged me to apply for a position on a suicide hotline.

imagesWhile I was on the suicide hotline […], I only had one [hard] call–most of the time it is cry for help calls or a person calling because they are lonely. I experienced a person who had called in who had slit their wrists at the elbows and popped a bottle of 40 sleeping pills–and there was a short window of time for this person to receive help before dying–and in a nutshell: a person must be given permission to send an ambulance, unless there’s imminent threat to another.

[I didn’t have this] permission to send the ambulance [and we had a heavy conversation] of “What is the point of living? Why? Why live? What do you have to live for?”…and stripping down a lot of what we carry as a facade, and getting down to the root of what am I hurt about and what do I want to change, how can I have a better life…and as will happen in these hectic times, there’s someone that sits in [on] the call with me [to give guidance] and to encourage “Yes, you’re saying the right thing”–they told me I had done it–a really well-done job. The person accepted life, we got the ambulance there on time. [The technician] got on the phone and told me that [in another ten minutes] the person would have bled out…and we save the man’s life–I saved a man’s life. That was a defining moment for me in public service.


The Hatfield Fellowship program provides leadership skills and experience to dedicated postgraduates; how has that equipped you for what’s next?

33333My biggest takeaway from the Hatfield Fellowship and what I would say to other young, emerging professionals is: persevere. Persevere, persevere, persevere–don’t give up, keep fighting for it. Because if you’re passionate about public service, this line of work in local government is a great career–but persevere. It’s been hard for me even being selected as a Hatfield Fellow and having done the other things that might have [put me on] a different trajectory–running the ICMA chapter at PSU as the President and Founder was neat–but it got me out there. [It maybe got] a foot in the door, but it didn’t get me through any doors. It was, persevere. Getting a Hatfield Fellowship got me out there, it’s not going to give me that next job but it’s going to help me find–if this is what I want to do then I need to persevere.

I’m working right now with a number of these fourteen Hatfield Fellows–incredibly bright people…and we’re all up against the same challenge…to establish ourselves in this really rewarding career of service. So, persevere, that is my biggest takeaway–for me, every day.


What are you looking forward to in your career in local government?

I am super-excited about the opportunities we have to make some really significant change. It’s exciting where we are at right now as a country and it’s 2015–[we are living] in the future right now, we are living the future every day. I’m really excited for the change–the opportunity that that breeds. When I worked in disabilities before in my previous career, we had this slogan–this adage that we would say, and it was “Challenge, is opportunity”. And [I would] say this to kids as a mantra–challenge is opportunity. [I would] encourage these people with whom I worked to meet every day–while they embraced it with a disability–challenge is opportunity–it’s going to be a challenge every day, but I’m going to do it. And I’m going to find those opportunities to make it better.

Right now what I’m really excited for is that there are some big challenges–we have some serious challenges, some questions about our water resources, about the way we’re going to interact with our environment, about the increasingly dense urban areas–urbanization and increasingly expanding urban-renewal boundaries. How are we going to interact with all of these…this intersection of us and the environment, and the government and how the policy works out–suffice it to say, I’m excited for where we’re headed and the opportunities that are evident.

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