Alain Bally: Finding the heart of the city

Portland has a big heart — thanks in part to the efforts of Alain Bally.

For the past 10 years, he has devoted thousands of hours as a volunteer, believing it builds “social capital.”

Capital builds wealth for the few, he explains, but volunteering for nonprofits builds community.

“Volunteering provides socialization,” Bally says. “It is energizing to be around people and a great way to stay connected with the community.”

In addition, volunteering means engaging with others. It’s good for your mental health.

Bally, 66, volunteers about 15 to 20 hours a week with Hands On Greater Portland, Elders in Action, Ride Connection and the Multnomah County Library.

“Through volunteering, you are providing something of value to people,” he says.

A new life

Bally was a private consultant and lobbyist for the hospitality industry in southern California. He drove 40,000 miles a year for 20 years, before retiring at age 52.

On his way to visit his brother in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Bally decided to stop in Portland for a visit. Not surprisingly, he fell in love with the city.

Eventually, he found a one-bedroom apartment in a new building and gave up his car.

Like many others in his building, he sat around. But then he stepped out, and his life took an enjoyable turn.

That started when he wandered into Elders in Action, looking for a volunteer opportunity.

Bally helps with community outreach through the Age Friendly Program, which promotes intergenerational communities and universal access.

He also became a volunteer leader with Hands On, a clearinghouse through United Way of volunteer opportunities in the tri-county area.

“Volunteering brings people together enjoying one-to-one fellowship, and it humanizes people to see others as real people rather than cartoons in media,” Bally says.

A big heart

Portland has the best system in the country “for the old and poor,” Bally says. “This town has a big heart.”

However, he admits, it is hard to navigate resources.

“In this country we don’t talk about getting old and we are not trained about getting old,” he says. “I meet people and talk to them so they get a better idea of what’s actually going on in this city. If you have the right information, resources are available.”

At Elders in Action, Bally helps older adults problem-solve, whether that’s housing, health care, medical billing, food security or other needs.

He helps them fill out applications and navigate through the available resources.

It’s what gets him up every morning. It’s a life fulfilled.

Of note

Elders in Action, 1411 SW Morrison St., Suite 290, Portland. calendar

Ride Connection, coordinating and providing transportation services to people with limited options in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. Rideconnectionorg.

Multnomah County Library,


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