Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: January 2018 Edition

Jan 25, 2018

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we turn our attention to a volunteer who came in without a clear sense of what he wanted to do in his volunteership, but has since taken root (pun intended) in the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room and created an activity that has become a fixture of the Living Room community. Hayden Buell, Living Room Team Lead, had this to say about Rob’s contributions to the Living Room:

Robert has been one of our most outstanding volunteers here in the Living Room. When he came in to volunteer he took the initiative to create a program of container gardening for our members which has grown to be one of the most asked about activities. He has gone beyond in his support of our program, often coming in to support us on days we need an extra hand or helping us get out into the community with our outings. He connects with members on a personal level and is an important part of creating our team here.

Read on to see how Rob turns Living Room thumbs green, how the activity has impacted members of the Living Room, and how it has become deeply meaningful for him.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer role?

Rob: My name is Robert Stewart and I run an indoor gardening group activity every Friday at the Living Room.

P: How did you find out about CCC and what drew you to volunteer here?

R: I’ve lived in Portland for 15 or 16 years and I had a vague idea of what Central City Concern did and I think I just cold called or cold emailed the previous volunteer coordinator, Eric. I just decided one winter that I needed to devote more of my time to serving others in the community. I hadn’t intended to do the planting stuff at all, I just wanted to be plugged in to anywhere that I could be helpful and Eric suggested checking out the Living Room. I kind of just got the lay of the land there for a couple months and developed a strong hunch that the planting activity would be something that would resonate with people.

P: So you didn’t come in with the planting idea?

R: No, no, for the first couple months I just got to know some people, did a lot of dishes, and cleaned a lot of tables, just kind of served lunch and whatnot. I wasn’t even aware at the outset that we could tailor activities, but the more time I spent there, I realized that this is something that could fit within the framework.

"I didn’t really know what to expect when I went in to it, but whatever expectations I had were exceeded many times over. It’s really been one of the best experiences of the past 10 years for me."
-Rob Stewart, CCC Volunteer

P: I understand it’s been a very popular thing since it started.

R: It’s exceeded my expectations. I began it thinking I would be lucky to get one or two people who would do it with me so I didn’t feel silly planting by myself, and that’s how it was for the first month or so: just one or two interested folks, but then I think other folks saw people were enjoying it and could see some of the fruits of their labors, because a lot of the plants we keep at the Living Room, and decided they wanted in on it. The only thing really limiting the size has been my budget, because I provide the materials, so I can use usually three to five people in a given session. And there are days when I have more that are interested, so you have to do a first-come, first-served kind of thing where people take turns.

P: I must admit, being the opposite of a green-thumb, I don’t know what indoor or container gardening is and by extension of that is how you shape your classes around that.

R: Container gardening is, I guess, a fancy word for house plants. And I want the activity to be accessible to people of all different skill levels, so I recognize that some people might think they might not have a green thumb. What I try to do is, with a decent chunk of my plants, offer the most hard to kill, fastest growing things that I can find. Some plants that can tolerate low light conditions or have a little bit more of an envelope as far as what’s going to make them thrive.

And I get the whole range of folks from people who are pretty comfortable with plants—maybe they’ve already had house plants at home or at least have taken care of them—to people who profess that they kill every plant that they try to take care of. Some of them I think I’ve converted into semi-green thumbs. I think it’s intimidating at first because they had an experience where they killed a couple plants once upon a time, but if I can give them something that’s easier to take care of, that builds confidence. I’m also there and they can ask me questions and coach them through if they’re not sure about a particular aspect of care, fertilizing or watering as a plant needs.

P: That must be really rewarding to see that growth within people through the class.

R: Yeah, I think one of the coolest things to me about it is that the main mission [of the Living Room] is to give the people an activity and a sense of belonging. I feel like it fulfills that need for an activity, but it is also a long-term project where they can nurture this plant and, provided you do so within certain parameters, you see it grow and sometimes literally blossom, and other times just get large, beautiful and green when it started as a little tiny starter. So, there’s an aspect of progression and growth that I think people enjoy. I definitely enjoy it.

P: There’s stability there, too.

"[F]olks will give the plants away as gifts and I think that can be pretty rewarding, especially when you’re at a place where you’re receiving services. It’s nice to have something that you can give back to somebody."

R: I think most people have this innate need to care for something and an easy-to-take-care-of house plant is, for a living thing, the lowest risk-to-reward option. If you don’t care for it correctly, it will die and you just plant another one, it’s not like having a dog or something like that. You have this entity that you take care of and kind of stays the same and progresses as well.

P: And there’s the aspect to it as well that folks may not have a lot that is stable in their lives, so just having something to come back to I’m sure is very meaningful as well.

R: And that was one of my initial goals was to make sure there would be no real requirements to participate. So, the way we have it is we’ll do the planting in the Living Room and for folks who might still be on the streets or in temporary housing, they can keep their plant at the Living Room and enjoy it, but other folks are more than welcome, if they have a home that they can take them to, to keep their plant at home. So, I think for the former group, it does kind of increase a sense of ownership or belonging to the Living Room. Other folks will give the plants away as gifts and I think that can be pretty rewarding, especially when you’re at a place where you’re receiving services. It’s nice to have something that you can give back to somebody.

P: Something I underestimate in my living space is the things that are extra, and how those contribute to happiness. It could be that a lot of folks that are taking plants home from your course have never been able to afford, whether through time or money, to do those extra things in their living spaces.

R: Yeah, that’s what I hear and some folks who, for example, have just gotten housing, they can take this plant home and that sort of symbolizes that they are making it their place. Something that brings a little life to a new house or apartment.

P: Have there been any stand out moments in your volunteership?

R: Just every once in a while, someone will take me aside and they’ll just volunteer how meaningful it was to them or how much they enjoy having their plant at their new apartment that they recently got. You can read from people that it’s something that they enjoy doing, but for someone to pull you aside and give a quick heart-to-heart, it’s extremely rewarding. I’ve honestly never really had that kind of experience before.

It’s a really wonderful team at the Living Room—each person brings their own unique approach to the whole community. Even in the two years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the Living Room progress into an even-more community-focused environment. It’s a really special place; there’s a lot of teamwork and trust. I think it’s a beautiful program and there need to be more like it.

P: What keeps you coming back, or what keeps you volunteering in your role?

R: The staff and the other members. I feel really fortunate. I love spending time with them. As my group activity has evolved, I do see more potential for it, so there’s a little bit of personal curiosity to what other directions I can take that approach, but predominantly it’s the people.

P: And our traditional last question: what would you say to someone who is curious about volunteering with Central City Concern but was on the fence?

R: I would say, “Don’t hesitate.” Go talk to Peter. I didn’t really know what to expect when I went in to it, but whatever expectations I had were exceeded many times over. It’s really been one of the best experiences of the past ten years for me.



Olympia Provisions: Making First-rate Meats, Providing Second-chance Careers

Jan 23, 2018

Central City Concern (CCC) takes great care in building relationships with great employers. Our Employment Access Center assisted 1,126 job seekers in 2017, and several of them have gone to work for a fantastic partner: Olympia Provisions.

“Olympia Provisions is committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and our environment,” says Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader. “So we work with CCC to help people find new chances and new opportunities to do good work that they can be proud of. We have had great success with multiple employees who were hired with limited knowledge of meat processing, USDA factory sanitation and/or restaurant operations.”

Olympia Provisions and CCC have been working together on-and-off for about five years, placing people who may have had barriers to employment in the past such as substance use disorders, criminal justice issues or homelessness. Cheryl M. found her position at Olympia Provisions through CCC’s Employment Access Center. She describes her past work experience as “poor,” so she was especially happy to get a job as restaurant dishwasher there in August 2017.

"We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals."
-Taylor Janes, Olympia Provisions Human Resources leader

Getting a job at Olympia Provisions is a great move for anyone. Taylor says their work environment is relaxed, positive and focused on producing the best product possible, every time. “We have fun and we get it done,” he says. “We're committed to training new skills and developing our employees as people and professionals. There is ample room for vertical growth for those who are motivated and diligent. We offer competitive wages, generous paid time off, health benefits, an Employee Assistance Program, discounts around Portland, free shares of delicious meats and free cooked lunch every day!”

Cheryl says, “My favorite things about working there are the people and the atmosphere. I really enjoy working there a lot.”

Olympia Provisions, founded in 2009, is a team of dedicated employees who craft the finest award-winning charcuterie (prepared meats such as salami and pate) in the world and provide unrivaled customer service at five restaurant locations around Portland. “We are known in households, restaurants and grocery stores as the premier makers of authentic, old-world charcuterie. Our vision is to make the world better through food and to make people happy. We are doing this by being obsessed with quality, relentlessly pursuing mastery in our professional positions, and being committed to enriching the lives of each other, our community and the environment.”

Anyone who has sampled Olympia Provision’s delicious products can taste the care and devotion the company has to their work. CCC is grateful to have them for a partner, and the feeling is mutual.

“Over the years employees who come to us from CCC have demonstrated reliability, initiative and positive can-do attitudes,” Taylor says. “As such, they have been promoted through the ranks to supervisor and management positions. We'd like to find more excellent employees like them!”

To learn more about Olympia Provisions, visit their website.



Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start

Jan 22, 2018

The following article appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Hey Neighbor!, a free publication from Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN). Many thanks to NECN for recognizing and sharing the work of Central City Concern's expanding Clean Start PDX program!

• • •

Clean Start PDX is off to a Great Start
By Mischa Webley, NECN Staff Writer

On a Monday morning, J.P. King starts up the engine to his pick-up truck and heads across the river from Old Town to the Inner Eastside. As the lead crew member of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods’ (NECN) pilot program, Clean Start PDX, he will spend the day making the rounds to various outdoor encampments in the inner northeast area, and working with the residents there. He cleans up abandoned camps, provides garbage bags and other cleaning supplies to active sites, and removes debris as needed. But to J.P., it’s the one-on-one contact with residents that makes the real difference, whether it’s directing people to shelters or connecting them with other resources in the city. “I know everyone in these camps by name,“ he says. “They know I’m here to help.”

The program began last year when Adam Lyons, Executive Director of NECN, was hearing from community members about the increase in trash and debris on roadsides, along with an increase in campers. “It’s a livability issue,” he says. “But it’s also a symptom of a much greater problem.” So, in partnership with Central City Concern, the Central Eastside Industrial Council and the Eliot Neighborhood Association, NECN secured funding from the city to address the issue in the inner eastside core.

Based on the same model that the Clean and Safe program uses, the idea isn’t to enforce camping policies for the city, but rather to help make the city cleaner and nicer for everyone who lives here. In fewer than six months of operation, it’s making a big impact: between August and October alone, J.P. and his Clean Start PDX crew have cleaned up 149 camps which included nearly 2000 bags of trash and 779 needles, and all manner of bio-hazardous materials.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Clean and Safe and Clean Start PDX is that it’s tackling multiple issues at once. It’s not just a cleaning service for the city streets, but is in fact a job-training and skills-building program to help individuals with a history of homelessness, addiction, or incarceration build a better future. “The program is a triple win,” says Jay McIntyre, program manager for Clean and Safe and chief liaison for Clean Start. “It’s a win for our employees, it’s a win for the people experiencing homelessness, and it’s a win for these neighborhoods.”

Looking forward, NECN hopes to use this model as a template for helping other neighborhoods do the same. “We’re trying to be proactive in solving a problem that most residents say is top of their list of concerns in Portland,” says Lyons. But he is quick to point out that, in so many words, it takes a village: “This isn’t an isolated problem, or one that’s unique to Portland. It’s complex and difficult, and it’s important that we as neighbors, businesses owners, and especially city officials take charge and try solutions instead of just throwing our hands up in frustration. It’s up to all of us to make this city the one we want to live in.”



"It’s overwhelming at times, in a good way"

Jan 16, 2018

Working at Central City Coffee after nearly two-and-a-half years of recovery, Christina S. learned new skills, trained others, supported her family and built a new life. “I know myself and I love myself for the first time ever in my life, really, that I can ever remember. And it seems that things get better and better and better.”

On Mondays, she and a crew of four others prepared bags of coffee in Old Town Portland. Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays, too, were for production, with delivery throughout the Portland metro area the rest of the week. “It’s been amazing to learn all kinds of different things completely out of my comfort zone,” she says. “But also really nerve-wracking and overwhelming at first.” Training other people felt especially great: “My self-confidence, everything has been boosted, I feel just better about myself.”

Christina built up that self-confidence in Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps and outpatient treatment, which she says taught her “you need to complete things, that if you sign up for something to see it out and finish it.” The same quiet confidence comes through when she speaks about parenting her five children and one grandchild now that she’s in recovery. When asked if she feels she’s a resource and support for other people, she laughs: “Yeah, which is weird.”

Although she grew up with addiction in her family, she says “nobody talked about it,” even after her father died of an overdose. As her own addiction progressed, it took away her career, her housing, and her children. “That’s when I knew I had a problem,” she says, “when I walked away from my kids.” Talking about those years is not easy for her, but she insists it’s vital to not hide addiction or keep it a secret. “We need to talk about it to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different.”

"We need to talk about [addiction] to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different."
-Christina

Breaking these family patterns has been the common thread to the challenges she’s faced in recovery, which she names without hesitation: “Talking to other people. Opening up. Adjusting to my kids. Adjusting to myself.” She feels she learned the tools she needed in CCC’s outpatient treatment, while CCC’s supportive housing gave her the necessary time and space. Remembering her early recovery, she smiles and says people told her “that once I started talking, I’d get really red-faced, and I probably looked like I was having a heart attack. But then slowly but surely my voice was there. I finally had a voice.” Coming off the streets, she first found shelter in CCC’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center. From there, she moved into transitional recovery housing and then into drug-and-alcohol-free housing for families with children. That housing was crucial, she says, for her to slowly rebuild trust with her children and bring her family back together. “I feel safe there and I know that I have people I can always count on and always go to.”

Christina’s cheerful, matter-of-fact style gives way to powerful feelings when she talks about her life in recovery. “It’s emotional,” she says, “because I feel so strongly about what’s happened, and I’m so grateful and blessed that all these things have happened. And for who I am now. I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me. And it’s overwhelming at times, in a good way.”

"I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me."

Toward the end of her Central City Coffee training period, Christina joined the HealthCareers Northwest WorkSource program through CCC’s Employment Access Center. HealthCareers Northwest is a funding program that enabled Christina to return to school and earned her Certified Nursing Assistant 2 certificate. In January 2018, she quickly got a job at a local long-term acute care hospital, and is now thrilled to be working in an exciting field with plenty of career potential. “I really think I’d like to be a nurse someday,” Christina said. “I think I can do it.”