Harry Olsen, Founder and Director of Projects
Harry, a Portland native, is the Founder and Director of Projects of PHOENIX Rising Transitions. He was incarcerated for a total of eight years during the 15 years between 1976 and 1991. While in prison, he worked to change his life, deepening his spiritual exploration and practices. The last time he got out (August 1991) there were hardly any programs to assist in re-entry. Fortunately, he had family support. But he envisioned doing something that would help his friends who were also coming home from prison and wanting something different. The idea of PHOENIX Rising Transitions formed as he took classes in Cultural Anthropology (Mount Hood Community College) and Decision-Making Psychology (Portland State University). It grew as he encountered the Industrial Areas Foundation model of community organizing through local affiliate, the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good (MACG). These strands of spirituality, scholarship and community-building led to a new paradigm of how the community can effectively respond to the complex impact of crime and incarceration on individuals, the community and society. Olsen received an Associate Degree from Mount Hood Community College (2000). He served as a volunteer chaplain in the Oregon Department of Corrections for many years and was awarded their Outstanding Citizen of the Year award for Religious Services Volunteer (2003). He is a Certified Recovery Mentor and has mentored scores of former prisoners for over 20 years. He has also worked as a community organizer and trainer since 2002.
Contact Harry: firstname.lastname@example.org or (503) 866-1554
Karen Meurer, Executive Director
Karen has been the Executive Director of PHOENIX since 2009. Karen served on the PHOENIX board for three years prior to joining the staff. Before moving to Oregon in 2006, she was a church relations associate at Bread for the World in Washington, DC; a director of Christian Education/Children’s and Family Minister at three United Methodist Churches in Maryland; and the Executive Director of Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore. She was also a campaign organizer at Partnership for Safety and Justice in Portland. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Indiana State University; a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky; and a Master of Liberal Arts from Johns Hopkins University. She received training in community organizing from the Industrial Areas Foundation in 2005 and has served as a trainer for local MACG Leadership Institutes.
“Though not a religious organization, PHOENIX has given me an outlet for working on the social justice values that are deeply embedded in my faith.”
Contact Karen: email@example.com or (971) 645-0446
Anna Debenham, Life Skills Coach and Facilitator
Anna joined our staff as our Life Skills facilitator in 2016. She is an expert in The Three Principles. Anna explains:
During my years running a successful coaching practice, I came across a groundbreaking way of working with people which involves understand the principles behind our states of mind. Having been deeply impacted by these Principles I now devote my time to sharing this understanding, which points people to their innate resilience and explains how our experience of life is created moment to moment from the inside out.
I work with people in a variety of settings including individuals, couples, in business and groups in prison. Clients have found this approach simple yet profoundly transformative. It has led to high performance at work, peace of mind in everyday life and more ease and well being in the face of life’s challenges.
Contact Anna: firstname.lastname@example.org
Board of Directors:
Donald Henschel is a Texan who moved to Oregon with his wife in 2014. Before getting started in behavioral health care, Donald worked in software and then in market analysis and consulting in the electric power industry. He became interested in working with people in crisis when he began volunteering as a sexual assault survivor advocate in Austin, Texas. He has since worked in dementia care facilities and in the Austin State Hospital. Now he is studying at OHSU to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner and works part-time as a community mental health nurse. He joined the PHOENIX board in the fall of 2015 after doing a practicum with us studying the impact of incarceration on health.
David joined the PHOENIX board in the fall of 2015 after going into the prison each week for almost a year. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Madison, Wisconsin. He worked in medical device research for four years before deciding to stay at home with his two young sons for another four years. He then changed careers to IT and worked with enterprise software implementations in the electric utility industry for 18 years. During that time, he started meditating and exploring Buddhist spirituality and the integral theory of Ken Wilber. This gave him a passion for understanding how people see the world differently and how worldviews can change. A few years ago he and his wife moved to Portland, which created new opportunities for personal growth. At this point in his life he wants to support the major changes others want to make in their own lives, and PHOENIX Rising Transitions is a natural fit for this work.
Willow joined the board in February 2014. She is a naturopathic and chiropractic physician. She is on the board of the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland. She has participated in PHOENIX projects both in prison and in the community. She has led PHOENIX’s in-the-community Nonviolent Communication (NVC) class. Willow volunteers with CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates for foster children. She is an accomplished equestrienne. As an Eponaquest instructor, she leads Equine Therapy workshops designed to develop leadership skills. She led a workshop solely for PHOENIX members in the summer of 2013.
Danny joined our board in the fall of 2015. He is a former PHOENIX mentee and house resident. He recently graduated from Portland State University where he studied film and women’s studies. While at PSU he served as a mentor for fellow students. Danny has a passion for social justice and riding motorcycles. He is also a popular speaker for PHOENIX.
Josh previously participated in Phoenix both behind and beyond the walls in various degrees between 2005 and 2010. His work with Phoenix ranged from active core team membership to co-facilitating leadership training (both with Phoenix and with MACG) to serving on the board to participating in the mentorship training program. After a hiatus from volunteering he has returned to Phoenix and was recently reinstated on the board with a rejuvenated vigor for community organizing. He currently splits his remaining free time between work as an accounting clerk, volunteering with Operation Nightwatch, and continuing a journey of personal growth and discovery.
Harry Olsen is also a board member.