Central City Concern

Providing comprehensive solutions to ending homelessness and achieving self-sufficiency. Based in Portland, Ore. since 1979.

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: September 2018 Edition

Sep 29, 2018

This month’s volunteer spotlight focuses on a volunteer with the Living Room program at the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC). The Living Room is a shared, safe place for OTRC members, many of whom are actively living with and managing behavioral and mental health challenges. The Living Room functions as an empowering healing center, a place for members to come and hang out, eat, volunteer, build a community, and participate in regular group activities.

Lisa has been a dedicated volunteer at the Living Room and shares her story as part of National Recovery Month. Read on to hear how Lisa’s recovery informs her service at the Living Room and why peer representation is such an important piece of recovery.

• • •

What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Lisa and I am a volunteer in the Living Room.

How long have you been volunteering with the Living Room? 
I think it was April, so about five months ago.

How did you find out about the opportunity? 
I just was online looking for volunteer opportunities and I read a description and I really loved the idea of this community environment for people with mental health and/or addiction issues, and the vibe of everyone being equal.

"A lot of people will ask me, 'Oh, do you work here?' or 'Are you going to school?' and I’ll say, 'No, I just like being here. I really want to be around you.'"

And have you seen the community environment and structure of equality in practice during your volunteering? 
Absolutely, yes. Everybody is here to support each other. I feel like the staff treats everyone that walks through the front door like family. It’s really lovely actually and helpful to me.

I have a history of my own mental illness diagnoses and as well as alcoholism and I was very involved in recovery for a long time, and then I had a relapse for about a year and I think that there is a definite connection between my current sobriety and volunteering.

Do see you role as a peer as important to your work in the Living Room? 
Yes, I feel like no matter what our outside life circumstances are, people with mental health struggles and addiction struggles speak the same language. Nothing really compares to that when it comes to feeling a part of a community and even the people who may or may not have the exact same situation for themselves, they understand in one way or another, either through family or other experiences that they’ve had. I feel at home here and I think that’s just because mental health is such a focus here. I come here and I get a lot out of it.

What do you think the importance of a peer is in recovery? 
It’s almost everything. If you don’t have anyone to relate to, you feel alone. I think it’s really important for the Living Room to have volunteers too. A lot of people will ask me, “Oh, do you work here?” or “Are you going to school?” and I’ll say, “No, I just like being here. I really want to be around you.” People that come in will say thank you and I’ll say, “Thank you for being here. I’m getting just as much from this as you are.”

"Everything happens here... all of it."

Have there been any stand out moments at the Living Room during your time as a volunteer? 
There’s so many, every time I’m here. Just washing dishes with someone and chatting about life is great. I find I have so much in common with people that I didn’t realize I would. And it’s not always about addiction or mental health, it’s just as people. And I’ve really enjoyed doing little craft projects here and there and seeing a smile on someone’s face from having a flower in their hair. It goes all the way from serious to something fun. Everything happens here... all of it.

And, our customary last question: What would you say to someone who was interested in volunteering but was on the fence?
I would say that you must be thinking about it for a reason, so it’s in your heart to do it and you can give it a shot. There’s a lot of opportunities here, so I think there’s something for everyone.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: August 2018 Edition

Aug 29, 2018

For this week's volunteer spotlight, we're turning to a volunteer who has already appeared twice before in our spotlights, but never as the sole featured volunteer. Given her dedicated service (Judy was one of thirteen volunteers to give more than 100 hours of service in 2017) we thought it was high time she got her own entry.

Judy is one of several volunteers who serve at the Old Town Clinic as a clinic concierge. The role was designed to help promote the clinic as a welcoming, inclusive place, where the first person you would encounter would be someone who is smiling and asking how you day is going. Judy exemplifies this role to a 'T.' In addition to the warmth she bringing to her conversations with people, where almost every sentence is punctuated with a smile and a laugh, Judy also brings experience into her interactions with patients at the clinic. Read on to see how volunteering helps her connect with her community and about the moments that have made the role particularly special for her.

• • •

While Judy's career has spanned from community development to paleontology (really!), a deep personal connection brought her to volunteer with CCC.What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Judy Sanders and I volunteer as a concierge at the Old Town Clinic.

How long have you been volunteering with CCC?
I’ve been here probably not quite a year-and-a-half yet. It was a year in the spring.

How did you find out about this opportunity and/or CCC?
Well, I knew about CCC because one of my sons was a client of CCC’s for a number of years. When I moved back to Portland after I retired for real—I retired once and went off and worked for ten more years—I wanted to do volunteer work. As you get older, you kind of start to question if you’re earning your place to still be around, so I needed something to do to make me feel like I had some function left in the world. So, I just called up and asked if you had volunteers.

Had you worked in a clinic before?
No, I had never done anything in health care before, but I had worked with people a lot. I did community development work for 20 years for the City of Portland, so I was used to working with all kinds of people. I was actually in charge of regulatory compliance, so I have come out and monitored CCC a couple of times over the years!

And your “other job” was in…?
Dinosaur paleontology. I did that for ten years while I still had a day job, then when I retired from the City my mentor said, “Come and work for me,” so then I worked in paleo full time for ten years.

“People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like 'thank you' for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week."

Do you find that those jobs inform your work as a concierge?
Well, I’ve worked with all kinds of people, and I did oversee some projects in the city serving people experiencing homelessness. But probably more than anything it was my son, because he was homeless for some time and he had alcohol and drug addiction. One of the things that I remember he used to say—that I utilize here—is that he would talk about how he just wanted to feel like a regular person. He hated that everywhere he went he was a patient or a client and he just sometimes wanted to feel like everybody else. So, when I talk to people at the clinic we talk about all sorts of things.

And some people do want to talk about [their medical stuff] and that’s fine, but I do try to find something to talk to people about other than the fact that they’re sick or injured.

Since you’ve been here for a while, do you find that patients are recognizing you when they come in?
Yeah, a lot of them that come in regularly know who I am and I know more or less who they are. I was talking to [an acupuncture client] today and he was saying that it made him feel good to have someone there to talk to and I said, “Yeah, it makes me feel good to see you guys.” I think it’s nice for people to see someone who is familiar; I think it makes them more comfortable. But I think for a lot of people it’s just having someone smile and say hi, notice them. And for me it’s great. People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like thank you for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week.

Have there been any stand out moments in your time so far?
One was just a younger fellow who reminds me some of my son, and this fellow is in and out of sobriety, and when he was in sobriety last he was staying with his mother and she would come with him [to appointments]. While he was in his appointment, I just sat with his mother and talked to her and she told me what she was going through and I shared a little of what I went through with my son and kind of said, “It’s okay to feel this way. I did too.”

And so I think it helped her to have someone to talk about it with, because I know when I was going through that with my son, you just don’t feel comfortable talking to people who haven’t experienced it because you feel like they can’t understand and they tend to judge and tend to think you did something bad and weren’t a good mother. So, it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him.

“...it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him."

There are also a couple people who are deaf that come and there’s one lady who’s really good at reading lips, but I decided, “I’m going to learn a little bit of sign language.” I just learned to say a few things and I was so proud of myself when she came in the first time and I signed to her and she perked up. And then there were two other ladies that came in later and they saw me talking to her and they came running over, because they were deaf as well, and said, “You sign?” And then they gave me some flashcards with the alphabet, because I always have trouble with some of the letters, so now those two ladies come in and we chat a little.

And what keeps you coming back to volunteer, now that you’ve done a year-and-a-half?
For me personally, one thing is just that I do need to be out and doing things, I need to feel like I’m still productive in life. But particularly now that I’ve been here a while and know some staff and a lot of the clients, I miss them if I don’t come. I wonder if they were there and if they were okay.

Usually my last question is what would you tell folks who were interested in volunteering, but since you host so many prospective volunteers who are shadowing the concierge role, I wonder if there’s something that you tell them about the role to win them over?
For one thing, I just tell people how much I enjoy it and just what a good time I have! I just find it really rewarding and if I have the chance to spend time with someone that you know really needed somebody to talk to, it just makes you feel good. I would always, with my son, hope that when he wasn’t around, there would be somebody that would be there to be nice to him. So, hopefully I’m doing that for other mothers who can’t do that for their kids.

Was there anything else you were hoping to tell us?
I think one of the things I like about having people come and shadow, particularly ones who haven’t really had much experience with [this population], is that I think it’s really important that as many people as possible get to be involved with all different parts of the community. The people that come to the clinic, they’re not any different than anybody else. They have the same issues and problems and I find, in life, that over the years people just live in their little box and you only meet people like you and it makes all the other people around in the world seem different. It’s not until you get to know people, and whether its people from other counties or life experiences, you just don’t understand that there is actually so little difference. So, I really like the fact that people are willing to come and try it out.



NHCW Health Care Hero: Lydia Bartholow

Aug 17, 2018

Lydia Bartholow still isn’t absolutely certain how she came to become Central City Concern’s (CCC) associate medical director for outpatient substance use disorder services.

“I sort of feel like I’m still a crusty punk kid who magically got into this role,” she says.

But it’s exactly Lydia’s past—her upbringing, an adventurous young adulthood, the paths she chose—that informs her present and makes her an integral, guiding voice for how CCC serves those in need of addiction treatment. In her role, Lydia works primarily with the CCC Recovery Center and Eastside Concern programs, overseeing the outpatient services that engage individuals working to start or maintain their recovery journey. And while being an associate medical director carries a wide range of responsibilities, Lydia is singularly driven.

“My passion really is and shows up in working to make sure that our patients are the drivers of their health—that the patient experience is as good as possible.”

Lydia’s laser focus on CCC’s patients, many of whom are marginalized, living at or near poverty, and often cast aside or uncared for by mainstream health care systems, can be traced back to how she was raised. Growing up in a Unitarian Universalist household set the table for Lydia’s sense of who she wanted to work with—those “who are hardest to love”—as well as her obligation to them: “to love them as much as possible.”

“I sort of feel like I’m still a crusty punk kid who magically got into this role."

In her early 20s, Lydia lived as a self-described “gutter punk kid.” While living amongst the trees or hopping trains, she became familiar with many issues like substance use disorder that bring clients in to receive CCC services. At the same time, she was also exposed to ways of seeing how people relate to each other that greatly influence how she approaches her work.

“A core ethos in the punk world is being non-hierarchical. Believing that one person doesn’t have more power or worth than another,” Lydia shares. “I try to bring that into every encounter with a patient.”

Lydia’s goal is to preserve what she calls “patient autonomy.” Her training may give her a different kind of knowledge than her patients, but she aims to put her patients in position to drive their health care based on what they know best: their own experiences.

“I want to make sure that our system is one that allows our patients to feel safe enough to name what they need from us. I don’t mandate behavior change and I don’t judge them,” she says. “We don’t ask them to fit into our health care world.”

In recent years, Lydia’s effort to create a sense of safety for patients has led her to become one of CCC’s most outspoken proponents of trauma-informed care, a framework that acknowledges how trauma affects people. For those living with addiction, trauma can come from numerous places—even where they turn to for help. Trauma-informed care reorients care systems and practices to honor and center patients’ experiences.

“We can’t just chase positive patient outcomes,” she says. “We really want people to feel seen, heard and supported on the way to reaching those outcomes.”

Her training may give her a different kind of knowledge than her patients, but she aims to put her patients in position to drive their health care based on what they know best: their own experiences.

It’s difficult to imagine CCC having made so many strides toward integrating trauma-informed care without Lydia’s endless enthusiasm for and advocacy on behalf of the patient experience, but it took a number of twists in her own journey to get to where she is today.

She originally trained as a medical herbalist before choosing to follow her heart for working with marginalized populations. She took her time to decide between medical school and nursing school before choosing to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner. Realizing that those who are part of vulnerable populations often struggled with addictions and trauma, she further focused her goal to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). It was as a PMHNP that Lydia joined CCC, and she’s been improving how the organization provides care since.

In her work, Lydia wants little more than for her patients to find healing from addiction. What sets Lydia—and CCC—apart is focusing just as much on how they get there.

“Our job is to walk hand-in-hand with our patients and to make sure they’re at the center of everything we do,” she says. “They’re in such a vulnerable time and I want them know they can count on us.”



Housing

Central City Concern helps people find the stability of home, as well as a new community to support their goals. Our Housing Choice model allows people to choose the kind of housing based on their personal needs. Learn more »

Health and Recovery

Access to integrated primary and behavioral health care is key to successful recovery. CCC offers exceptional, compassionate care to meet patients' primary care, mental health care and substance use disorder treatment needs. Learn more »

Employment

The journey from being homeless to finding a living wage job can be arduous, especially without a guide. CCC's employment programs provide vital supports to those desiring to make progress toward self-sufficiency. Learn more »