Leslie Durst refers to herself as a “career volunteer” – and, if that is the case, this Woman of Achievement is having a stellar career.
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., and raised in Scarsdale, New York, Leslie moved to Vancouver in 1992. While she had the choice to move anywhere, Leslie was drawn by friends who live in Vancouver and proximity to Portland and its arts community.
“I had the great privilege of growing up with the arts as part of my life,” said Leslie. “I’ve realized what a great influence that was – and my parents instilled in me that [access to the arts] was a right, no matter your economic situation.” This deep-seated passion for arts led to Leslie’s involvement with the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics (VSAA) – not only through the establishment of an endowment, but also through her active involvement in the school.
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“Leslie saw a need,” wrote her nominator. “She entered into the discussions. She shared her experiences. She became a part of the solution through creative problem solving…She has followed through with personal involvement, mentoring and ongoing support. Not only did she make a major financial contribution to the school and the Royal Durst Theatre, she continues to advocate, mentor and encourage the students and support their activities by attending performances, graduations and special events.”
Another group of Vancouver-area students – known by many as “dreamers” – have also benefitted from Leslie’s commitment to children. Leslie has sponsored three of the four classes in the “I Have a Dream” program of Southwest Washington, which provides a motivation and support system to encourage at-risk students to stay in school, with the ultimate goal of attending college or vocational school. And the dreamers are following in Leslie’s footsteps by giving back to their community and the program that served them. Leslie describes how one graduate of the program – now in college – sent money to support an annual “dreamers” program event in these tough economic times. “Not only have we given them opportunities,” noted Leslie, “but they have given back as a result. It is so nice that the ‘dreamers’ program has created a culture of giving.”
Leslie’s support of the arts extends to the world of practicing artists as well. Leslie was one of the founders of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and currently serves as a member of PICA’s leadership council. She also serves as president of Vancouver’s Friends of the Arts and is a member of the board of trustees of the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts. “We must also foster the arts in adult life,” she explained, “or young people don’t see the point of being exposed to the arts at an early age.”
In an expression of her appreciation for the arts, Leslie commissioned 10 Pacific Northwest artists to each create 12 original works of art, which Leslie sent as gifts to friends and associates. There was one caveat: all the artwork was to be collected and displayed in an exhibit entitled “The Butterfly Effect” in honor of Leslie’s 60th birthday. “Each of the burgeoning artists were honored and overwhelmed by appreciation for the opportunity such a project gave them,” wrote her nominator. “The exhibit and ensuing celebration was an unprecedented event in the arts community.”
Leslie’s involvement with children and the arts exemplifies both her reason for and approach to volunteer work. “My parents instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community,” she said. “It is easy to write a check – but I am happiest when I can also be involved in the work of the organization…The rewards are just astronomical.”