Portia Murry Erickson has always had a heart for volunteering. Even while just in high school she was serving in a nursing home, and in college she was a leader for the Campfire Girls. “Whenever someone asks for a volunteer, I find myself raising my hand. My husband says, ‘Just sit on your hands!’ ”
This good-natured and caring Arizona native finds that her greatest passion and commitment is with helping the homeless. Currently she is the chairman of CASS, Central Arizona Shelter Services. “ It’s a weird time of life – I’m transitioning from kids to CASS and I’m very content with the way everything is going! CASS is participating in a community that is building a consortium of leaders for the resolution of homelessness. CASS has an unbelievable board and an engaged staff. Now we can really be creative. The word I would use is ‘seasoned’. We now have years of experience and we make every decision with our clients in mind. We’ve learned so much in the last six years. Today we are engaged with others, implementing an aggressive plan to end homelessness.”
Although now retired, Portia has had a long and varied resume of work experiences. “I am proud of my professional work experience background. It has certainly been diverse! My original degree was in education. I taught social studies right out of college.” After the teaching stint, she worked in court administration for four years, then went back to graduate school for International Management. “Out of nowhere, I received one of the first Presidential internships under Jimmy Carter. In Washington, DC I had a number of assignments but my favorite was my position in PR for the General Services Administration Motor Pools. After my time in Washington, I aspired to write a book but instead I did anything but, including driving my dying aunt all around the US in a 33 ft RV. Following that I worked in and out of Maricopa County including a brief stint for a national law firm. I’ve really feel I had such luck to be touched by so many people!”
All of Portia’s employment experiences culminated with her position as Assistant County Manager for Justice and Law Enforcement. “I feel like I worked my whole life to get to that point.”
In her personal life, Portia has been married for 20 years to Chas Erickson. “He’s a true native, even his parents were born here. So together we come from the mining and ranching legacy in Arizona’s history.” She also is mother to a daughter, 17, and a son, 15. “They are both active in sports. We attend lots of games. And I’m usually the one to take snacks--I love to feed people! My daughter plays basketball for Chaparral High School and my son plays football for Orme Ranch School.”
For other leisure activities Portia plays the guitar (not well), works out (see story of Charles Barkley below!), and supports her husband’s business and hunting pursuits. What she appreciates most about Arizona is “the history of this area, and its legacy in the worlds economy and politics. Since my family and husband’s family have such deep roots here, we feel like this is our country.”
Since Portia Murry Erickson feels so at home in this area, it must be only natural that her sense of mission is to those who have no home. Through CASS she hopes to end homelessness. “We are making progress, thank God.”
What are your volunteer activities? Over the years I have always been involved with some sort of volunteer activity. I have participated in direct service, primarily with the elderly, with fund raising and community involvement organizations such as Junior League and Board of Visitors and with criminal justice committees. My passion and major commitment, however, is to the homeless. I have been a member of the Board of Directors of Central Arizona Shelter Services since 1994. I have held every office and participated on every committee except those that handled money. (Good idea on their part.)
Which social event is your favorite? The CASS Mardi Gras, probably because I had a chance to help create it and also because it is not just an event, it is really a great party. My second favorite event is Country Thunder. Every spring, my teenage daughter and I rent an RV and drive to Florence, Arizona to enjoy 4 days of country music. You can't beat that!
Favorite Restaurant? Jordan’s on 7th Street.
Who is your hero and why? At CASS and the Human Services Campus I live among heroes. The funders, the Board, the management, the staff, the front line and especially the homeless who fight their insurmountable problems to reestablish their lives, put me in awe everyday.
My fictional hero is Scarlet O'Hara. No matter what you might think of her personality, she had traits that put her regularly in to the hero category. She had unlimited perseverance, she was brave in the worst conditions, she was loyal to those around her and she took care of those who needed help, no matter the cost to her. In the real world and because he succeeded in ways that I could have never imagined, (in a place that I lived in and loved for many years) is David Smith, our county manager.
Who is the most interesting celebrity you have ever met? The most fun brief encounter I ever had was with Charles Barkley. We happen to belong to the same fitness club (go figure). I had seen him often interacting with others and I have to say he was always most gracious and interactive. So it happened that I am lifting free weights and I look in the mirror (why do they do that to middle aged over weight women) and I see that Charles and I are pumping iron right next to each other. And so I say “I can't wait to tell my kids that I lifted weights with Charles Barkley". He laughs and a few moments later puts his hand under my three pounder and says “Tell them I spotted you." Ok, so I’m in love, but to top it off, a month later I hear he donated money to our family shelter!”
If your life were a movie, whom would you want to play your part? No option, Reba McIntyre. She is thin, she is funny and she can sing country western. Maybe I should have put her in the category of hero.
What gives a woman/man style? Their smile.
Do you have any Pets? I was the last of 3 girls growing up, so although we had lots of pets, they were assigned to everyone but me. When I grew up I had a cat I loved named "Murry" who aspired to be a snake. He disappeared one night while terrorizing the neighborhood. So I got myself a yellow lab and she was the love of my life. ( Her name was Scarlet). I now have 2 labs named Sadi and Dolly and a cat named Sassy.
When you move, what will your home tell its next owner, about you? That I put up many pictures and other decorator items, and many, many times. I am the queen of nail holes.
What words describe you best? Nurturing, I love to feed people; silly and funny, but I could be my best own audience; brave, good willed.
What words would you like others to use to describe you? nurturing, silly and funny, brave, good –willed; I want to be the kind of person my animals think I am (not an original thought as you might have guessed).
What was your first job? · My first job was at the Big Dipper in Clifton. I aspired to be a soda jerk like my father’s first job, but was relegated to cleaning the window shades. Not long term employment! My first real job was as an Administrative Assistant to the Court Administrator in Maricopa County.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Procrastination
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Self Victimization
What is your greatest indulgence? Paperbacks and Wine
What is the greatest gift you have ever given and received? Notes. But once when I was volunteering in a nursing home I gave slippers to "Lola" to whom I was assigned every Friday to eat and walk with. She literally purred with the new shoes. Also, from then on she quit spitting at me.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Kidding, right? Husband and kids!
What is your current state of mind? Grateful, hopeful, challenged.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Kids of course. But when I was 32, I drove my dying aunt across the country in a 33- foot RV. It monumentally changed the range of my confidence and perspective.
What is your most treasured possession? My kids. My legacy as an Arizona Girl, my acceptance into the helping the homeless circle.
What is the quality you most like in people? Humor, perseverance, good-will, bravery Favorite books / Writers? "Gone with the Wind."
What is the best advice you have ever received? "If it bothers you, and you can help fix it, do it. If not, move on."