Central City Concern

Providing comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness and achieving self-sufficiency.

An Imani Center Graduation: A Victory Lap for Transformation

Jun 22, 2017

Linda Hudson, Director of African American ServicesA beautiful day in Peninsula ParkMalcolm, one of 10 graduates, shared a moving poem to encourage his fellow graduates.Larry Turner, a respected voice in the local African American recovery community.Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser sang a a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”

On Wednesday, June 7, CCC's Imani Center program held its first-ever mahafili—Swahili for "graduation"—for ten clients who had completed the program. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

Isn’t this burden heavy?
Don’t you want to rise?
And join your people?
Don’t you want to rise?
It is all there for you. Yours to claim.
 
-Excerpt from "A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love." by Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, Imani Center graduate

Wednesday, June 7 was a notably bright and sunny day in North Portland, a welcome break from the early-summer gray often seen in the Pacific Northwest. But for attendees of the Central City Concern Imani Center’s first-ever mahafali—Swahili for “graduation”—the brightest lights at Peninsula Park radiated from the clients present to be honored for their accomplishment.

The Imani Center provides culturally specific and responsive Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addictions treatment to the community. It is a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes a treatment model tailored to their clients’ experiences, created by staff members with lived knowledge of Black culture and the African American experience. According to Director of African American Services Linda Hudson, both the clients and the staff deserved a similarly distinct graduation.

“Graduating from such a unique program symbolizes accomplishment, change, commitment, and resilience. We thought it was the perfect time to have a family get together,” she said.

Some graduates completed their outpatient treatment in as little as four months; other graduates spent nearly a year in the program. All earned their graduated status as changed people who had developed the tools and found a support network vital to staying on the path of recovery.

The event started with Linda welcoming the crowd of about 40 people, which included Central City Concern staff members, graduates, and their friends and family. Also in attendance were several alumni of CCC’s Puentes program—a culturally specific addiction treatment and mental health program that serves the local Latinx population—that had forged a mutually supportive camaraderie with Imani Center participants over the past year.

Dr. Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer, followed Linda and shared remarks on what she sees as making the Imani Center so special: that it empowers clients to build a home for the community of African Americans working toward recovery in a way that the community itself wanted to shape it.

Director of Employment Services Freda Ceaser wowed the gathered audience with a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Larry Turner, a pillar of the local African American recovery community, addressed the graduates directly, encouraging them to continue the hard work of recovery and to uphold their responsibilities to themselves as well as their community.

Finally, the graduates were each recognized for completing the Imani Center treatment program, and all had the opportunity to share their thoughts. While each of their journeys through the program was unique, a theme became quickly apparent: though these graduates had participated in recovery groups and programs before, it wasn’t until Imani that they were able to feel and benefit from genuine one-on-one peer connections based in shared cultural experiences.

Graduate Malcolm shared a piece he had written called “A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love,” originally written for his cousin and son, but perfect for this group of graduates and their shared journey forward.

A number of graduates also shared what helped them persevere: the Imani Center staff refused to give up on them, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t give up on themselves.

And like the smell of roses in bloom at Peninsula Park, the feeling of gratitude—for the Imani Center, for people who finally understood, for the mutual care and trust between staff and clients, for recovery and hope for a better, healthier future—filled the air throughout the entire mahafali.

Though this first-ever Imani Center graduation required hours upon hours of planning, Linda believes it was entirely worth the effort and foresees many more graduations in the future.

“Our clients worked hard to achieve this moment,” Linda said. “It’s like taking a victory lap for transformation.”



Participating in Life in a Way She Never Thought Possible

Jun 21, 2017

Yesterday's blog post focusing on the Central City Concern employees who earned diplomas in the past year shared a few lines from the written remarks of one of the graduates, Kari Fiori. However, we found her whole statement to be so encouraging, inspirational, and indicative of the strength and compassion of our employees that we decided to share it in full.

• • •

Lynda Williams [of the Recovery Mentor Program] plucked me from De Paul Treatment Center over six years ago, giving me the chance to continue my "adult time out" at the Recovery Mentor Program. I desperately needed it. I wasn't ready to go back into the workforce, and knowing my history with relapse, I simply wanted to continue focusing on my recovery. I needed to get the foundation firmly in place, and I wanted to make sure I put nothing in front of the importance of not picking up, one day at a time.

Going out with the Community Volunteer Corps into the community allowed me to to get a feel for having a schedule and showing up when I was supposed to. I was able to get health care at the Old Town Clinic... the first time I'd had access to health care in many years. I went to a lot of 12 step meetings and did a lot of soul searching while I was in the Mentor Program. One thing I knew is that I wanted to get a bachelor's degree. I'd always been a good student, but my addiction didn't allow me to finish school. Every time I relapsed, I dropped my classes. Eventually, I gave up my dream of college, convinced I'd never stay clean or get a degree.

I decided to go back to school when I had two years clean and sober. I chose two years simply because I didn't want to focus on anything except not picking up for that amount of time (an amount of time I'd never been able to put together before). I was glad I waited because it was overwhelming and scary and, had I not had the recovery tools I'd gained during my first two years clean, I don't know if I'd have remembered that my recovery was my number one priority. Luckily, I did remember.

I picked Public Health as a major because it was a large umbrella that touched on so many things I care about deeply: the environment, personal health, city planning, community, etc. I never realized how political Public Health as a topic was until I started really learning about what goes into keeping us safe and healthy. I don't have to tell you how so many public programs live and die by the local, state and federal budgets passed.

During my first couple of years of school, I survived by cleaning houses. I had a decent little business built up, but the work was difficult for my middle-aged body. I still had no idea what career I was headed for, I only knew that I wanted to follow my heart and major in something that mattered to me.

One day, as I was walking across the campus, I got a call from Lynda Williams, the female Mentor at the Recovery Mentor Program. She told me that, because of the Affordable Care Act, the Mentor Program was going to expand, and would I be interested in applying for the new female Mentor position? It was a no-brainer! Of course I wanted to, and I did.

It's been two years now that I've been working as the evening and weekend Mentor at both the Estate and the Madrona Mentor Programs. It's like a dream job: I get to welcome our newest clients and talk to them about recovery and take them to meetings. Working for Central City Concern is such an honor. The work we all do affects the health of so many people, and those effects are felt not only by our clients, but by their family members and loved ones, as well.

Homes, Health, and Jobs is what it says on the CCC logo. Getting people off the streets, providing them with medical care in a place that treats them as valued members of the community, offering people a chance to get clean one more time, providing valuable mental health services, offering training and jobs through Clean and Safe and the on call positions, providing both Housing First and abstinence-based recovery programs in order to help the most people... these things and more are the things Central City Concern does that make the public's health better here in Portland.

I couldn't be prouder to be a member of the CCC workforce. Having benefited from services at a time I so desperately needed help has made me a true believer. I always tell our clients, "You are in a good place. You lucked out!" because I know it's true. I can't believe how much I lucked out, landing a job in the field I chose as my major before I even finished college! I don't know where I'll end up in five or ten years, career-wise. I only know that I plan on staying within the CCC family.

I'm so happy I'm getting my bachelor's degree, 29 years after beginning my college career in California. This coming Sunday I'll be walking in Portland State's commencement ceremony. My recovery is still my top priority, and because of that, I get to participate in my life in a way I never thought possible.



Moving Forward with Persistence & Determination

Jun 20, 2017

Freda Ceaser, Director of Employment Services, told the graduates, Representatives from local colleges and universities with whom CCC partners to provide scholarships were recognized.
Next

On Tuesday, June 13, CCC recognized 16 employees who earned diplomas ranging from a GED to master’s degrees, and awarded scholarships to 12 employees continuing their studies in higher education. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

• • •

“If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” –Maya Angelou

Central City Concern (CCC) has a work culture based on compassion. A huge component of our day-to-day experience is promoting learning, both in ourselves as well as the people we serve. Every June for the last four years, CCC has honored the self-motivated learners who work for our agency and have pursued formal education on their own time.

This year, on Tuesday, June 13, CCC recognized 16 employees who earned diplomas ranging from a GED to master’s degrees, and awarded scholarships to 12 employees who are continuing their studies in higher education. CCC partners with local colleges and universities to provide monetary help for selected students/employees.

The commencement ceremony featured words of congratulation and encouragement from Joe Chapman, CCC’s chief human resources officer, who told the participants, “you exemplify two important factors: persistence and determination.” Amanda McGovern, CCC paralegal and scholarship recipient, quoted inspiring words from Maya Angelou. And Freda Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services, told her story of coming to CCC from prison, working her way up to a director position, raising a family, and gaining her college degree at the same time. “If I can do it,” she assured, “anyone can do it.”

One graduate, Kari Fiori, a CCC recovery peer mentor for the Recovery Mentor Program, received her BS in Public Health from Portland State University. She couldn’t attend the CCC commencement but sent written remarks: “I'm so happy I'm getting my Bachelor's degree, 29 years after beginning my college career in California,” she wrote. “My recovery is still my top priority, and because of that, I get to participate in my life in a way I never thought possible.”

Another graduate, Jay McIntyre, received his BS in Portland State University’s Management and Leadership program. Jay is CCC’s Clean and Safe/Clean Start Program Manager. He first came to CCC as a recovering client in 2007 when he moved into the Estate building and got involved with CCC’s Employment Access Center.

Jay started working at CCC in January 2008 as an on-call janitor. He quickly got a regular position turning over rooms, and was then promoted to a Janitor 2 position with more responsibility. “I was grateful for a job, but I knew my potential was more,” Jay said. “I had my GED and needed to go back to school to get further in life.”

He applied to PSU in 2014 and dove into the program with help from his parents and grants. “A CCC/PSU scholarship covered the gap in tuition and books for two years,” Jay said. “It was a godsend. I am so grateful for the opportunity. It’s fantastic to get to the next level.”

Jay and his wife, who also came through CCC programs, have a blended family of five children and now own their own home. His daughter graduated from high school this month. For the last three years, Jay has spent every weekend on school work; he’s looking forward to having more time with his family. “I was doing it for me and so my family has a better life,” he said. Fittingly, he graduated on Father’s Day. “I started with a little goal plus another little goal; eventually they all add up. Once you get that self-confidence, you can reach for the stars.”



Housing is Health

Six health care organizations will invest $21.5 million in a partnership with CCC as a response to Portland’s affordable housing, homelessness, and health care challenges. Learn more »

Central City Coffee

Through craft roasting coffee in Portland, OR, Central City Coffee supports the clients and mission of Central City Concern. Available at local retailers and as office coffee! Learn more »

Recruiting a New Leader

With the completion of a leadership profile, CCC is proud to announce that recruitment for a new President & CEO to step in for outgoing executive director Ed Blackburn has begun. Learn more »