Central City Cornerstones: A Thanks to Our Volunteers

Apr 20, 2018

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On Thursday, April 19, Central City Concern held its first annual Central City Cornerstone volunteer appreciation event. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

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We’re wrapping up this year’s volunteer week with some photos from Central City Cornerstones, CCC's first annual volunteer appreciation event. While we focused this week’s blog posts on the people who had been served by our volunteers, we would be remiss if we did not also make sure to officially recognize those volunteers as well. Keep reading for a recap on last night's festivities!

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Last night, a group of CCC staff and volunteers gathered together to celebrate a year’s worth of service from our dedicated volunteers. It was great opportunity for the volunteers, who are spread out over 29 different programs and locations at CCC, to get together and learn a little bit more about what’s going on at the organization.

President and CEO Rachel Solotaroff kicked off the evening with a few words about how volunteers have shaped the agency and been drivers of change.

Kari Fiori, a staff member at the Recovery Mentor Program, also read from this week’s blog post about a Recovery Mentor volunteer’s journey from being served to service.

Lindsey Ramsey, Letty Owings Center's (LOC) milieu supervisor, also spoke. She shared about the long history of volunteerism at LOC and how their volunteers have expanded the program's ability to serve the mothers and young children living there.

And to cap the night off, we presented Presidential Service Awards in addition to some special gifts that were generously donated by Next Adventure to 13 very special volunteers who gave 100 hours of service or more in 2017. Collectively, between those 13 volunteers, their service amounted to more than a quarter of all the volunteer hours given in 2017. Those volunteers were:

Anita August
Jeff Beers
John Bishop
Loraine Decker
Helen Hernandez
Helen Hotchkiss
Malinda Moore
Annette Moreau
Jack Ramsey
Judy Sanders
Robert Stewart
Michael Taylor
Danielle Wheeler

Thanks to all our volunteers, staff, their guests, and our generous sponsor Next Adventure for helping making the evening so special! We’re already looking forward to next year!



Living Containers of Joy

Apr 19, 2018

For Thursday’s post, we’re calling back to our January volunteer spotlight, which illuminated the efforts of Rob Stewart, who leads a container gardening class at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room.

I dropped by the Living Room on a fairly cold and wet morning, which perhaps had the Living Room a little quieter than usual. Once Rob’s class began, however, the room turned into a buzz of activity, with people gathering around to work with their plants, chatting with Rob about the plants they had already potted, and just taking in the class.

It’s clear that Rob’s class is a much appreciated and anticipated part of the schedule of classes at the Living Room. One of the members who potted a plant during the session couldn’t contain herself and exclaimed, “Wow, it look so good already” just after getting her plant situated in its new home.

I was able to tear a couple of the participants away for a quick chat about why they enjoy the class and what it has meant to them. Read on to see how a plant can be more than just a plant, but the thing that brings joy to a home, a reminder of people we love, and a companion all in one.

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Peter: Craig proudly holds up the plant he spent Rob's class tending to.How many times have you done Rob’s class?

Craig: Once before, last week.

P: What have you enjoyed about the class?

C: I just like the idea of getting some information about the plants that are out there and learning some horticulture. And just the ability to spruce up my room a little bit.

P: So you’ve taken the one plant back with you already?

C: Yes.

P: Had you done any gardening or planting prior to this?

C: I did have a garden when I owned a home back in New York—just a vegetable garden.

P: So you came in with a green thumb?

C: I wouldn’t say I had a green thumb, but my dad was really the one that taught me as he built his own greenhouse. He taught me some different tips and over time I got the knack of having a good vegetable garden.

P: Has it been nice to bring that connection with gardening back into you space?

C: Yes.

P: Anything special you’d like to say to Rob?

C: Yeah, I think it’s really generous that he donates his time and money to allow us to take advantage of what he has to offer. So, thank you.

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'I’d like to show him one of my plants that I took care of, showing him that I picked up on it and this is what I did.'Peter: Have you done Rob’s class before?

James: Yeah! [I got] my little aloe plant, Spike. A couple weeks ago I was doing a class here with Rob and I just seen it right off the bat and I was like, “I want that one.” And the name just came to me.

P: What have you liked about doing Rob’s class?

J: Well, I think he’s well educated with plants, he’s well informed, and he’s all around a pretty nice person. Easy to talk to and he’s very patient with the Living Room clients. Not all of us are herbologists and some of us don’t even have green thumbs!

I remember when I was staying at the 8x8 (CCC’s Richard Harris Building), I was lonely sometimes in my room there, so I went up to Fred Meyer one day with the intention of buying a plant. When I did Narcotics Anonymous, there’s an old cliché where they say, if you’re in recovery and you’re trying to get companions, you gotta start at the bottom and work your way up. So, you start with a plant, and then you move up to a pet, and then you go to a person. A plant is the lowest maintenance thing you have to take care of, so that’s why I went and got one.

P: Does taking plants home from Rob’s class give you that same feeling?

J: Yeah! Plants give the home some joy. It’s subtle, but it’s important. I used to sit with my spider plant a lot. It was a big one and I would watch TV and sit with it in my lap.

P: What was that plant’s name?

J: Catalina. I named her after a girl I once knew.

P: Anything special you’d like to say to Rob?

J: I’d like to show him one of my plants that I took care of, showing him that I picked up on it and this is what I did. The idea was sparked from being here and then I took it home and I developed my own thing from it. [The plants] are a companion, you know? I used to take [my spider] plant to the house meetings, cause everybody else was [bringing] their dog. And my spider plant got so many compliments, because people saw she was healthy.

P: People saw that it was cared for?

J: Yeah, plants are alive too. Everything needs love, y’know?



Healing Ourselves in Order to Heal Others

Apr 18, 2018

For today’s blog post, we’re throwing it all the way back to last year’s Volunteer Appreciation Week, where we featured our partnership with Living Yoga and their volunteers.

One of our volunteer instructors, Diane, shared last year that, “this was [her] first real experience of volunteering,” but that her “weekly yoga volunteer hour is the best hour of [the] whole week.” Then-Director of Detoxification Services Steve Mattsson also shared that Living Yoga had not only been a fulfilling opportunity for our clients, but also that it had reduced the number of clients leaving care against professional advice.

There’s no doubt that engaging in a yoga practice can be transformative, even if the transformation is just into a hot, sweaty mess. For Chelsey, a former client of Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program, having access to yoga was not only an important part of her recovery journey, but also in taking the strength she gained in that process and offering it to others in her own volunteership. Read on to see how volunteers, volunteering, and, of course, yoga have been a part of her transformation.

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I was getting ready to leave rehab with nowhere to go. I couldn’t go back to where I had been and didn’t have options or resources for a home of any kind in front of me. All I had was a few months clean time and some newly found hope.

Early in her recovery, Chelsey found the gift of yoga through CCC volunteers. Now she's volunteering to pass it on to others new to their recovery.Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program came into my life and set up housing for me to move from inpatient treatment into sober transitional living with a mentor to guide me through the basics of recovery, alongside intensive outpatient treatment with CCC. My dark path got lighter.

I took my first yoga class at the Old Town Clinic in the free wellness classes offered throughout the week. I don’t remember much except for looking to the teacher again and again to see if I was doing it right. Later, in the basement of the Estate Building, I took a yoga class with a volunteer teacher named Megan. Once she moved on, yoga was no longer an available option for the Mentor Program participants, so I sought out other places to practice.

While the practice itself was difficult I undeniably felt better afterwards—less anxious, less depressed, more motivated, and over time more aware of my thinking and cravings. I was able to step away from the constant mental chatter and start to have a new relationship with myself, my body, and even question my identity as I started to become a “healthy” person. Yoga has helped me work through chronic pain, build confidence through seeing myself grow and doing something difficult, and feel more in control and comfortable being present in my body. I started changing my self-destructive behavior and making amends to myself in this simple way.

It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program.... Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering.

Now, every Tuesday at 4:30, I volunteer as a yoga instructor to share with others what was freely given to me. It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program. They helped me so much when I needed it; it feels good to be able to offer resources to those working to change their lives. Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering. Some people come in still detoxing, newly out of Hooper. Some people have been coming back week after week and it is amazing to see the growth happening so quickly. Coming in from the chaotic busy streets to holding space for reflection and inner awareness feels like the change that could heal ourselves and downtown.

Being aware and taking advantage of resources was the difference between remaining addicted and creating a change in my life. When I moved into housing I asked who to thank and how to I could repay them. I was told that this “isn’t a hand out but a hand up.” Sometimes we just need help and to be shown the way and given an opportunity until we are fully able to heal, help ourselves, and in time, help others.

Through yoga I have learned I am capable of being stronger mentally and physically. I am able to do so much more than I have ever given myself credit for in the past. I am so grateful I get to share such an empowering and mindful practice. Through recovery we can heal ourselves and in turn heal those around us. Much like recovery, in yoga and through volunteering I am able to accept the benefits in order to offer them away.



More than Just Coffee and Conversation

Apr 17, 2018

For our first National Volunteer Week post, we’re calling back to this past February’s Volunteer Spotlight, where we singled out the work of some of the volunteers who give their time to the Letty Owings Center (LOC). June Hensala, one of the volunteers featured, spoke about how much it has meant to her to be able to take some of the LOC mothers out for coffee and conversation when they first arrive at LOC. While she said that she felt like, “the gain is really more on [her] part,” it’s clear that the benefit is not so one-sided.

A couple weeks ago, we had the chance to sit down with a current LOC client, Carly*, to talk with her about what it has meant to her to interact with volunteers like June and why it matters so much that they keep coming back.

*name changed to protect privacy

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Carly, a Letty Owings Center client, shares what it means to her to have volunteers spend Saturday mornings with her over coffee and conversation.Peter: So you’ve gotten to go out for coffee with some volunteers before?

Carly: Probably like three or four times now.

P: Are you a coffee drinker? Or do you prefer lattes or cappuccinos?

C: Yeah, I’m a coffee drinker for sure, and they usually give us a pastry also. And a lot of good conversation. It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us. They take us out and get us whatever we want and they just talk to us. They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental. They’re very, very sweet ladies.

P: How is it different or more special to have volunteer do that, rather than a staff member?

C: Just knowing that somebody cares. To see that from a stranger is really cool. Like, they want to know about your background, they want to give you advice. I remember one time I went, they asked me if I know who the “M and M presidents” were and I didn’t at the time, but it’s Madison and Monroe and it’s stuck with me ever since.

P: Were they back-to-back, is that why they’re the M and M presidents?

C: Yeah, fourth and fifth, I believe. And they came again so many months later and I told them I remembered and that just warmed their hearts that we pay attention.

P: You mentioned talking about your background with the volunteers. I wonder if you would mind sharing what that is?

C: I come from a life of basically prostitution and drugs; most of my family used drugs. I had a son about a year ago and I moved to Arizona to have him and under some pretty horrible circumstances I came back [to Portland] and he was taken from me. So, I really only had one option, which was to come to treatment [at Letty Owings Center].

When I first started here it was mainly for him, but then the longer I stayed the longer I realized that there’s more to life and it’s worth it.

"It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us.... They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental."

P: Has having things like people taking you out for coffee been a part of that experience? Having something extra?

C: Yeah, it makes me want to lend a hand where help is needed, because that’s typically what it is here. It’s not about the coffee, it’s not about the treats. A lot of it is supposed to be for the newer girls since you don’t get to do very much at all when you first come in to treatment [editor’s note: LOC clients spend the first few weeks at LOC focusing on recovery activities]. They take you out for a nice treat and they take you out for a decent amount of time and they make you feel good.

P: And when I spoke to those volunteers, what they really liked was that they get to talk with younger people. Has it been nice on your side to sit down with someone who is different from you in that way?

C: Absolutely! They offer so much knowledge! Their stories about when they were our age, it’s just great.

P: Do you have a favorite story that you remember one of them telling you?

C: There’s a lady, her name is Phyllis, and she’s just the funniest woman ever. She said when she was younger, she had this job filling Easter baskets and she ended up stuffing every third candy bar up her skirt. When she got on the bus to go home they all melted and they ended up firing her from the job on her second day because she was eating all the candy bars.

P: And would there be anything that you want to say to the volunteers about what it has meant to have them come?

C: Yeah. Thank you dearly, and keep coming back. Keep coming back because it gives the new girls something to look forward to and it means a lot to us that people have experienced our presence and keep coming back.

P: That they weren’t scared away?

C: Yeah, exactly.



We Can Count on Our Volunteers: 2017 Service Report

Apr 16, 2018

While this week’s volunteer stories will center on the qualitative impact our volunteers have, when we total up the numbers, they too tell a clear story. Our volunteers are dedicated, diverse of skill, and donate more than just time to Central City Concern.

As they say, many hands make light work (or to be more specific, 922 hands). So with these kind of numbers, it’s no wonder that CCC’s volunteers are able to do so many amazing things.

If you’re interested in becoming CCC’s 268th volunteer, visit our volunteer page!

(Click on the image to download a PDF version of the infographic.)




Central City Concern Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2018!

Apr 16, 2018

It’s that time again (arguably the best time of the year), National Volunteer Week! This is always an exciting time for us at Central City Concern, as we have so many people who give their time in so many different, but equally wonderful ways. Even a week doesn’t feel long enough to begin to illuminate all the amazing things our volunteer base helps us do, but we’re excited to share this year’s stories.

For the first blog post of the Volunteer Week series, Volunteer Manager Peter Russell shares some thoughts about how we can give back to our communities and how we are highlighting our volunteers’ work this year by focusing on the people they serve.

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CCC Volunteer Manager Peter Russell shares that every volunteer role plays a part in improving our community.“I’d like to help, but I don’t know how!”

This is something I hear often when sitting down with prospective volunteers or talking with people about volunteership in general. For some people, that comes from not knowing what the available roles are, or not having had the time to volunteer previously, but I think part of it comes from the feeling that the need is so large that one person couldn’t possibly make a difference.

It’s so easy to imagine service to be something grand or dramatic. A group of fifty people banding together to go out and help finish a large project in a day or working to create a new program that will address an unmet need in our community. To be certain, this kind of work can be hugely important and necessary, but I want to challenge the idea that this is the ultimate way to give back.

In honor of this year’s National Volunteer Week, we’re calling back to some of the volunteer spotlights from the past year and showing the other side of the story. The people who have been touched by the work of those dedicated volunteers. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day—whether you’re volunteering to advocate for policy change or to hold space for others—the end result is lifting people, and thereby our community, up.

Our volunteers bring in anything from a special skill that they want to pass along to others or just a warm presence. And from a quantifiable standpoint, the fact that the average volunteer at CCC stays for almost twice as long our minimum service requirement shows that the work is just as meaningful for them as it is for us.

...at the end of the day—whether you’re volunteering to advocate for policy change or to hold space for others—the end result is lifting people, and thereby our community, up.

Most of the volunteers that we have featured in our Monthly Volunteer Spotlights give, on average, a couple shifts a month of volunteer service, but what is clear is that they have all had a tremendous impact on the people we serve. They have inspired in those they serve a sense of hope, a path toward recovery and strength, and a way for people to feel like they have a home of their own. And they have done it all one day at a time, one person at a time.

So, if in reading this week’s blogs you find yourself thinking, “I’d like to give back, but I don’t know how,” consider whether you have four hours a month or a week that you could give to a cause that matters to you. Your presence will make a difference. As one of our interview subjects said, what matters most to her is that people keep coming back.



Bringing out the BEST for CCC Clients

Mar 29, 2018

A detailed application. Multiple questionnaires. Medical exams and psychiatric assessments. Probing, personal questions about your past. Unforgiving deadlines.

Just reading those words might be enough to make you feel overwhelmed. Welcome to the process for pursuing Social Security benefits.

The application process is notorious for being as complicated as it is comprehensive: it ensures that only those who are truly unable to earn wages receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both. Unfortunately, the high degree of difficulty also means that those who are most in need of the stabilizing lifeline of Social Security income are often unable to successfully apply by their own efforts.

BEST program staffers build the strongest Social Security benefits case possible for each client by reviewing medical records, performing interviews, and coordinating assessments.Many of the people Central City Concern (CCC) serves fit in this category. So since March 2008, CCC’s Benefits and Entitlements Specialist Team (BEST) program has helped particularly vulnerable individuals—most experiencing homelessness or deep poverty and living with severe disabilities that keep them from gaining their own income through employment—navigate the maze.

“The stress of telling their story and reliving traumas is often overwhelming and triggering,” says Kas Causeya, BEST’s program manager. “Add in complicated terminology and unfamiliarity with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Disability Determination Service (DDS) criteria for awardees, and the applicant’s chance for errors rockets up if they try on their own.”

BEST’s benefits specialists walk side-by-side with each client and use their expertise to maximize the chances of a successful application. They gather information through interviews with the client and those who may know more about their situation. They coordinate psychological and medical exams, which BEST pays for. And while the client’s cognitive impairment can add a level of difficulty, BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

...BEST specialists doggedly track down as much information as they can to build the strongest case possible. Stacks of paperwork over a foot tall for each case are common.

The goal is, of course, to gain approval for Social Security benefits. To awardees, their income is much more than a check. It represents pride in being able to meet basic needs and pay rent. It inspires feelings of dignity by giving them a means to make purchases that allow a measure of self-sufficiency. The financial stability gives them freedom to engage meaningfully with their communities.

Over the course of 10 years, more than 1,600 people have found hope with the help of BEST.

Kellie F. counts herself among the fortunate. She has an exceedingly difficult time remembering things, a lifelong condition that has caused her great difficulties. She experienced multiple traumas growing up, and fresher ones as she moved through adulthood. She became heavily dependent on alcohol to cope.

“My memory thing is really flustering. There are things I wish I wish I could remember that I can’t. And there are some things from my past I don’t want to remember, but I do.”

Her substance use disorder brought her to CCC’s Hooper Detox, and from there she engaged with CCC’s 8x8 Recovery Housing program, where she started developing the tools and skills for successful long-term recovery. Her case manager recognized Kellie’s difficulty with memory and referred her to the BEST program, if only for an initial assessment to see if her difficulties would qualify her for Social Security. That’s where she met Marshal, a BEST specialist.

“I found Kellie to be very eager and motivated to engage in the BEST process. As I reviewed her case I read the story of someone who faced significant barriers to work but who, despite much suffering and hardship, continued to persevere,” recollects Marshal.

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Together, Marshal and Kellie dived into the process. They explored Kellie’s understanding of her impairments and how they impacted her daily life. Marshal took her to a psychologist for a cognitive evaluation, helped her complete a phone interview with the Social Security office, met with her to review her work history, and again to go over little details to further strengthen her claim. Marshal and his BEST colleagues reviewed all her medical records, wrote a detailed report summarizing their argument for Kellie’s behalf, and kept in regular contact with SSA and DDS. Through it all, he made sure to keep the line of communication with Kellie as open and inviting as possible, earning and nurturing a sense of mutual trust.

Stacks of paperwork that grow to a foot high over the course of building a client's case are a common sight in the BEST office.“I felt nervous at first about [applying]. And there were times when were times I felt overwhelmed by the questions,” Kellie says. “But Marshal was really encouraging and supportive.”

Kellie and Marshal had good reason to feel optimistic about her chances once they sent in her application. Due to their fluency in the system, BEST wins 67 percent of their initial applications, compared to 32 percent of applicants from the general population. To put BEST’s expertise even more starkly, only 15 percent of applicants nationwide who are homeless are awarded benefits. The program’s close relationship and coordination with SSA and DDS mitigate many of the stumbling blocks that lead to unsuccessful applications.

On average, applicants receive an initial decision about 110 days after they submit their application; for BEST clients, they hear back, on average, within 74 days. Kellie received her results. But as is the case in 33 percent of BEST’s initial applications, Kellie received a heartbreaking denial. “I felt like I didn’t know where I was going to go from there,” she says.

Marshal acted quickly to reconfigure and strengthen Kellie’s case and filed for reconsideration. “We don’t like to see denials as ‘no,’” says Marshal. “We take it as a ‘just not yet’ and go from there.”

BEST’s perseverance pays off. An additional 6 percent of BEST’s clients win awards after a reconsideration or appeal, upping their overall success rate to 72 percent. Kellie eventually received a second letter. She had qualified for SSDI. Marshal’s extra efforts made all the difference.

“They saw that I really do have a disability that keeps me from working,” she says. “I was very happy about that. Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

“Having an income now gives me some more hope and I can imagine better things to come.”

So far, the 1,600+ benefits awards BEST has won has brought in nearly $65 million to Portland and Multnomah County. That’s $65 million pumped into the local economy through rent, groceries, and other daily economic activity.

Behind each of the awards—and the reams of paperwork and hours of information gathering that went into them—is a person who has found stability they wouldn’t have had otherwise. A person who doesn’t feel as anxious about how they’ll afford necessities. A person who feels prepared to become a contributing part of the community. A person like Kellie.

“When I found out I qualified for SSDI, I felt like I could be part of society again. I feel better about myself now,” she says. “I actually just put in an application to do some volunteering.”

It often takes many hands to guide people toward self-sufficiency, however that ends up looking like for each person. Since 2008, more than 150 community partners— including BEST’s original partners:, the City of Portland, Providence Health & Services, and the Kaiser Community Fund—have played some role in helping more than 1,600 people achieve independence.

Receiving benefits doesn’t make Kellie’s memory impairments any better, which severely affect how she navigates each day. But she has a perspective that keeps her looking and moving forward.

“I can remember the things I need to remember that keep me on the good path now. Life is a heck of a lot better than it was.”



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2018 Edition

Mar 27, 2018

For the month of March, we wanted to turn our spotlight on an important, if little seen, part of our organization. Central City Concern’s board of directors is comprised of an all-star line-up of community figures and subject matter experts, but when the board needs to hone in on a particular part of CCC’s work, they sometimes turn to the board committees, which are specialty groups that are made up of board members, and other volunteers with a particular expertise.

For this month’s spotlight, we sat down with one of the members of the board’s Audit and Compliance committee, Shirley Cyr, to hear about the work she does. While Shirley herself is quick to divert any praise directed at her to others, a couple of her colleagues at CCC jumped at the opportunity to share their appreciation for her work. EV Armitage, CCC’s executive coordinator, said Shirley “is a dedicated committee member. Her expertise in the very specific and complex area of nonprofit audits has been really helpful for CCC, and she is able to address valuable questions and comments about our audits.”

Sarah Chisholm, CCC’s current chief financial officer, added, “we’re delighted to have Shirley serve on the committee because of her passion for serving the nonprofit sector and her technical accounting knowledge. She provides an important function, which is ensuring our annual financial audit has the appropriate checks and balances.”

Read on to hear about how Shirley’s work helps CCC “be good” and the changes she has seen in her 10 years of service.

• • •

Shirley Cyr has been volunteering on CCC's Audit and Compliance board committee for nearly 10 years.Peter: What is your name and volunteer role?

Shirley: My name is Shirley Cyr and I am part of the Audit and Compliance board committee within Central City Concern.

P: And how long have you been on the Audit Committee?

S: I have no idea! I think it’s been since 2007 or 2008. I was asked to participate by David Altman, who was CCC’s CFO at the time. So I’ve just stayed involved. He moved on long ago, but I’m still there.

David, when he came in, felt that the organization needed to put some procedures in place and formed the audit committee, since there hadn’t been one before. Besides being responsible for the financial statements and the audits, we also review the compliance audits which are done internally. It’s a lot more than I initially thought it was, as far as the oversight, but it’s been interesting.

P: Has it been exciting to be able to shape things through the committee’s work?

S: We’re more of an oversight committee and provide guidance, but it does play a significant role for the organization even though most people don’t know it’s there.

P: It’s having that second set of eyes and the assurance that comes with that.

S: Yeah. David, when he brought me in, it was because I’m a CPA. So, financial expertise is why I was put on the committee. Looking at the organization’s financial statement, interpreting them, and understanding them, that’s pretty easy for me because that’s what I’ve done for a long time. I worked in public accounting for about nine-and-half-years.

P: Outside of questions about our programs, I think the question I get the most often about CCC is, “How are you funded?”

S: A lot of it is governmental funding for the critical services CCC provides, so there’s a lot of compliance involved with that. You don’t get to continue the work if you don’t do a good job, so compliance is critical to the organization. Many agencies come in and audit the organization and look at the record keeping; if it’s not right, you get shut down. So, it’s got to be good.

P: What has your experience been with seeing CCC change over the last ten years?

S: It’s been a lot of growth: added housing, added services, and the ability to serve more. It’s been incredible to watch that growth. Sometimes you get a little bit frightened that growth has been too fast, but it’s been handled well. There’s always a little bit of upheaval with growth and it can take a little while to settle in sometimes, but I think it’s been handled very well. The staff I’ve gotten to work with are incredible.

"There’s always a little bit of upheaval with growth and it can take a little while to settle in sometimes, but I think it’s been handled very well. The staff I’ve gotten to work with are incredible."
-Shirley Cyr, CCC Volunteer

P: Has there been a particular project or part of that that you got to work on that was particularly meaningful for you?

S: The compliance aspect, just so far as overall compliance, I think that’s been fascinating for me.

P: What’s been the most fascinating thing to learn more about?

S: Last week when we had our meeting it was a lot about the staffing, looking at the female-to-male workforce percentages in different departments, so you want to try and get some diversity within genders, but also different ethnicities. CCC has done a very good job in bringing in a good blend of people that reflect the community that they work in, and that’s what’s really critical.

Part of this is because CCC hires so many people that have been clients of the organization. In my company, we look at trying to improve the workforce, and to help people out that are previously disadvantaged into getting jobs and good jobs. You guys do it every day of the week. It’s something that we strive to do more of, and we try and try and try, and we do the best we can, but you guys are actually able to do it. I’m pretty impressed with that. We didn’t get to keep the report after the meeting, but I would love to mirror it, because I love to plagiarize, so to speak, when I can, with ideas and formats and such.

P: That’s sort of the broader benefit of bringing people such as yourself to these oversight committees, is that you can take inspiration from us, but we can also be inspired by your experience and different lenses.

S: I think the lenses are probably the important part. You get different ideas from different people or sometimes you just want to knock an idea around. When you’re in accounting or the CPA world you are in an entity pretty much by yourself, so you’re a sounding board of one, which is hard. So sometimes it helps to have others around to do that.

"Every once in a while I’ll look at my commitments and say, 'Okay continue or don’t continue.' And this one I haven’t given up and I don’t think I will."

P: That’s a lesson I’m still learning in my own career, which is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.

S: Well, it’s like, “Have you got this kind of policy?” And they’ll say, “Oh yeah, sure, here you go!” And that’s how policies are developed, so a lot of them will look the same because they come from the same source. That’s how I’ve done things forever, I’ll go online to find things. Thankfully we have the internet!

P: If someone was interested in volunteering with a committee, but they were on the fence, what would you tell them?

S: It’s a great organization that accomplishes good works. It feels good to be a part of the organization in some small way, because it does impact change.

Every once in a while I’ll look at my commitments and say, “Okay continue or don’t continue.” And this one I haven’t given up and I don’t think I will.



Meet We Are Family Headliner, Julia Ramos!

Mar 23, 2018

Central City Concern’s annual We Are Family fundraising dinner is coming up on May 2. The event raises funds in support of Letty Owings Center (inpatient treatment for pregnant women and mothers with young children), and our Family Housing programs. This year, guests will be treated to the unique and entertaining perspective of Portland stand-up comic, Julia Ramos.

Local comedian Julia Ramos will headline Central City Concern's We Are Family event on May 2, 2018. She tackles tough subjects, like her personal experience with addiction, through her comedy.Julia has made her mark by leaving no issue in her life off limits. She’s been invited to perform at the Northwest Women’s Comedy Festival and the All Jane Comedy Festival, and is a co-host for Minority Retort, a showcase in Portland highlighting the talents of local and non-local comedians of color. Julia’s main goal is to keep the conversation open on topics that aren’t always easy to discuss. She feels a solid punchline is the best way to fuel that conversation.

We recently squeezed into Julia’s busy schedule to get a few more details.

CCC: How long have you been doing comedy?

Julia Ramos: I've been doing comedy for a little over six years, however I've been doing comedy sober for almost six years. Stand-up comedy has been a dream of mine since I was five. Television and comedy for me was my first escape. I was fascinated with words and making a group of people laugh. Especially darker subject matter—the ability to turn dark subjects upside down and create laughter from them is powerful.

CCC: Why did you get into comedy?

JR: I really wanted to do comedy writing. I wanted to create sitcoms and be in writers’ rooms with other creative and funny types. Stand-up to me was something I wanted so much, but I felt more comfortable behind the scenes. I read books on comedy writing and all of them stated the only way to see if jokes would work in a taped show, was to try them out in front of a live audience. The books recommended stand-up, so I knew I needed to at least try it out.

CCC: What is your favorite part about entertaining?

JR: It's selfish. Entertaining people and getting a laugh feels good. It feels great. The feeling of relating situations I used to feel shame about is adrenaline inducing. Entertaining others gives them an escape from their lives for a few minutes. That's my job when I'm on stage, I bring them into my world and give them a mini vacation.

CCC: Why are you interested in helping to raise money for Letty Owings Center and Central City Concern’s Family Housing programs?

JR: I like helping, in any way I can. I'm grateful to be an addict; my life is better because of what I've been through. My wish is to give the same opportunity to others, helping women and children especially. I can't think of a more important cause than women, children, and addiction. If there's anything I can ever do to take the stigma from addiction away, and give other humans a foundation into the life they were meant to live, sign me up.

To sponsor a table at the event or two purchase individual tickets to We Are Family, visit our ticket purchase page!

Still curious about Julia and her comedy? Check out one of her hilarious sets!



Celebrating Black History Month: Flip the Script

Feb 28, 2018

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern! As the month comes to a close, we’re grateful for the opportunity for our community to learn about, learn from, and celebrate the countless Black heroes and heroines who paved the way for African Americans to live a life of freedom, opportunity and fully realized potential.

As an organization, CCC strives to embody this work that came before us, notably through our programs ensuring our African Americans clients have access to services that recognize and address historic inequities and systemic barriers, while also meeting individualized needs.

Programs like Flip the Script (FTS), a reentry program started in February 2017 that provides individuals exiting incarceration with dedicated housing, employment services, peer support, and opportunities for reentry system advocacy. The program helps people avoid reoffending and eases their path to reintegrating into society as productive community members.

Patrick spent 15 years in prison. After he had served his time, he knew that he'd need support to reintegrate back into society.FTS found its origins in a data collaboration between Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services and the Department of Community Justice, CCC, and a tireless CCC volunteer. The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

Patrick A. was on the cusp of becoming a free man after having spent more than a third of his life—15 years—in prison. When he was released, Patrick immediately came up against barriers to reintegration. Background check issues and employment gaps made it difficult for him to find a job; his lack of rental history made it nearly impossible to find housing. With his criminal history, few people outside his family wanted to reconnect; the ones who did were those still in the game, ready to draw him back in. Without ready paths to housing, employment and new positive relationships, Patrick could have easily been on the wrong side of these recidivism statistics.

The assessment found not only that African American clients disproportionately experienced recidivism, but also that recidivism rates were cut in half in individuals who exited CCC’s transitional reentry housing to a renter housing situation with full-time employment.

But Patrick was intent on choosing a new path. He was resolute on putting his head down and forging ahead, even if that meant feeling isolated. “To me, going back to jail wasn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life was done. I had a game plan in my head.”

He still needed support to get where he wanted to go.

The Multnomah County's Assessment & Referral Center eventually sent Patrick to CCC’s Parole Transition Program (PTP), which included housing at the Shoreline building. At his lease signing, he met a PTP staff member who told him about FTS, which would make him eligible for the CCC Employment Access Center’s (EAC) intensive one-on-one employment services, peer support and other opportunities. Patrick enrolled.

One of the first things a new enrollee like Patrick does is connect with an FTS Employment Specialist, who helps create a customized plan to help each person work toward their employment goals and develops other opportunities to enhance the client’s vocational skills in order to become a competitive job seeker. More determined than ever and invigorated by having a safe place to call home—“I’ve got my own space, so now I can figure out what to do with myself and my next step,” he recalls thinking—Patrick actually secured a job on his own within two days of moving into CCC housing, before he even met with his employment specialist, Elissa.

Patrick’s next goal was to make his way into the local carpenters' union, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So he connected with Elissa, in whom he found the type of support he hadn’t felt in a long time. Elissa was able to assist Patrick with FTS resources that helped him pay for his driver’s license fees and work clothes while he continued to make connections at the union.

"That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. "

“I felt supported. That was the first time in a long time I felt somebody was actually there to listen to what I had inside me to say instead of just saying ‘okay’ and directing me. I felt more valued, like my opinion does matter. They treated me as a person, not just somebody who got out of jail.”

Three months after moving into CCC’s transitional reentry housing, Patrick applied for and received permanent housing, making him part of the 58 percent of FTS clients who exit into permanent housing. (Another 21 percent of FTS clients find another transitional housing opportunity.)

Patrick catches up with Billy A., the FTS advocacy coordinator (left) and Elissa, his employment specialist (right), at CCC's downtown Employment Access Center.

Soon after, Patrick was accepted into Carpenters Local 1503, opening the door for him to make an honest living with good wages. Since FTS started, 45 percent of FTS clients have used the program as a springboard to permanent housing and a source of income. (An additional 9 percent of clients moved into further transitional housing with an income source.)

Recognizing his need for a new network of positive peers, Patrick also connected with the FTS Advocacy Coordinator, Billy, who introduced him to the FTS Advocacy Work Team. Ask any of the dozen FTS clients who participate in this culturally specific group of African Americans and they’ll all agree: there’s something special happening here. When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

Together, they’ve created a survey to help identify areas for improvement and change in both the FTS program and larger landscape of reentry systems and policy. Though they may face barriers to employment and housing based on racial bias or discrimination in the justice system, they see that they’re not alone and feel empowered by the change they can take together. They are actively part of the work to disrupt the system that sets up a disproportionate number of African Americans to experience recidivism.

When they meet, they create a space to speak candidly about their journeys and their experiences that are unique to being an African American community member trying to make their way back into society.

“[The work group] gives me a chance to help other people and share my understanding as someone coming with firsthand reentry. It’s nice to be around other people going through the same thing you’re going through. And it’s nice that the others have the same understanding. Sometimes you don’t feel like explaining everything and they already understand what you mean,” Patrick says. “It also feels good to be around people who just want to meet you and know you and are just glad you’re doing well."

Initially shy and slow to trust, Patrick is no longer nervous or quiet. Instead, Patrick is confident and outspoken, especially in advocacy matters. He’s an active member of the group, finding a sense of community he’d been missing for so long. He has also reconnected with his family and is working to build relationships again.

“Going back to jail isn’t an option for me anymore. I did my time. That part of my life is done. I feel I’ve got a lot ahead of me. I’ve got a lot left to accomplish. I feel positive and optimistic about my future. I’m eager to see what I’ve got in store.”

• • •

Deep gratitude to Meyer Memorial Trust, A Home for Everyone, Multnomah County, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Deputy Truls Neal and Wells Fargo for their support and belief in this program dedicated to eliminating the disparities that exist within our criminal justice system.