Graduations 2018: It Doesn't End Here

Jul 04, 2018

In a room filled with 75 people communally punctuating a graduation ceremony with joyful whoops, thunderous ovations, and raucous laughter, it was perhaps the small pockets of silence that spoke the loudest about the magnitude of the event.

The attendees had gathered for a mahafali—Swahili for graduation—at which a dozen graduates of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Imani Center program would be recognized. The Imani Center provides culturally responsive Afrocentric approaches to substance use disorder treatment and mental health counseling, connecting clients to the wider Black recovery community in Portland, Ore. The family members, friends and staff members from across CCC who were there had every reason to be in the mood to celebrate those being honored.

Graduates of the Imani Center program expressed great joy and gratitude to their counselors, as well as their friends, family, and peers who attended the graduation ceremony.

Imani Center counselors called up their graduating clients one by one, sharing words about their journey together and offering words of pride, insight and encouragement. Each graduate met and hugged their counselor, awash in the sound of applause. They received their certificate, tucked in a sturdy, handsome red or blue folder. The applause petered out.

Then… quiet.

For some graduates, no more than a second. For some others, maybe it was 10. But the silence wasn’t just an absence of sound; it was the incoming rush of a feeling.

Graduates used that time to glance down at their certificate, tracing their eyes over the words that confirmed that they had indeed taken a major step forward in the recovery: Certificate of Completion... Presented to... Has Successfully Completed.

They had not only started their journeys of recovery; they’d taken monumental steps forward on the path, and they were still on it that day.

One graduate, after she had collected herself, said, “I didn’t really think I’d graduate the mental health program. A year ago I was hearing voices. I’m so proud of myself. This is a step up. It’s been such a long time since I’ve accomplished anything positive.”

“We don’t need drugs. We got people. We got each other, even with our mental struggles.”

Another looked up from her certificate and scanned the packed community room, finding a reminder of the community effort that got her to this day. “We don’t need drugs,” she said. “We got people. We got each other, even with our mental struggles.”

The Imani Center is an exceptionally tailored program that uses a model of substance use disorder and mental health treatment developed to account for the Black community’s unique assets, culture, traumas and experiences. As such, Linda Hudson, CCC’s director of African-American services, closed the mahafali with words that spoke to the community’s ties that helped the graduates reach this moment and dream hopefully in their own futures.

“Imani is building a village to support our community. Find somebody coming up behind you and pull them up with you. It doesn’t end here.”



Graduations 2018: Continuing to Strive

Jul 03, 2018

“Continue to strive. It will help you get the things you want and get you where you want to be.”

These words, spoken by Central City Concern’s (CCC) Chief Human Resources Officer Joe Chapman, set the tone for the fifth annual CCC Employee Commencement. The celebration honored nine graduates (listed below) who received diplomas ranging from master’s degrees to counseling certificates.

Walter Bailey, a peer support specialist at CCC’s Imani Center since 2015, received his certification as an alcohol and drug counselor (CADC I). He shared his story with the group: “I thought being an athlete would be my entire life,” he said. “But the special privilege of working for CCC is amazing. I love watching people change their lives.”

Walter Bailey earned his CADC I certificate. He shared his story of having to recalibrate his future plans after his time as an athlete came to a close.     Mayra Hernandez of CCC's Employment Access Center receives her recognition certificate for earning her Master of Social Work from Portland State University.

CCC also acknowledged 16 recipients of higher education scholarships for CCC employees who are engaging in job-related studies to further or broaden their professional development. Jennifer McBratney, foundation scholarship program officer at Portland Community College, was the keynote speaker. She congratulated all the employees who attend classes in addition to working. “You believe in the mission so much but you’re also taking time to improve yourselves,” she said. McBratney also congratulated the agency for their commitment to employees who want to learn. “CCC is a beacon for the community.”

The new grads received a special CCC certificate and a commemorative cord. After the ceremony, the grads, scholarship recipients and their guests shared cake and congratulations—and basked in the words of Joe Chapman: “You’re amazing.”

2018 Graduates

Congratulations to all of our graduates!

  • Walter Bailey (Imani Center): Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor I, Addiction Counselor Certification Board of Oregon
  • Jennifer Benjamin (Housing Administration): Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts Studies, Portland State University
  • Tyanna Benson (Old Town Recovery Center): Master of Social Work, Portland State University
  • Kascadare Causeya (Benefits and Enrollment Specialist Team): Master of Business Administration, Aspen University
  • Mayra Hernandez (Employment Access Center): Master of Social Work, Portland State University
  • Dana M. Jones (Old Town Recovery Center): Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Gonzaga University
  • Lisa King (Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center): Bachelor of Arts in Social Science, Portland State University
  • Ryan Meristem (CCC Recovery Center): Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor II, Addiction Counselor Certification Board of Oregon
  • Eric Oswald (CCC Recovery Center): Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor II, Addiction Counselor Certification Board of Oregon


Graduations 2018: A new life in a new direction

Jun 29, 2018

“We’ve started a new life in a new direction,” said Emily, “I wish everyone the very best!”

Her graduation ceremony was like many others: 39 grads clutched their new certificates and thanked the people who had helped them get through. But Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) June 2018 graduation ceremony was different from most because the participants finished 80 hours of volunteer service that helped them get back into the working mode after disruption due to substance use, poverty, health issues or homelessness. And this particular celebration was special because it included two participants from CVC’s newly expanded Gresham program, including Emily.

Central City Concern's most recent group of Community Volunteer Corps graduates pose for a group photo following the ceremony.

CVC started in 2009 as a way for newly recovering people to get out in the community and practice soft job skills such as teamwork and time management. Through working with others and giving back, participants gain self-confidence and make a commitment to a new, healthy life. Since 2009, CVC participants have volunteered 131,317 hours to the community through more than 30 nonprofit partners and government organizations such as Portland Parks & Recreation, Free Geek and Oregon Food Bank.

One June grad, Dina, said “I really had fun. My drinking had killed me inside and CVC gave me back my self-confidence.” Daniel said, “CVC has been my favorite part of my recovery. I felt good about myself at the end of the day.”

CVC also recently began a partnership with Project Clean Slate, a program that helps people regain their driver’s license and expunge minor criminal convictions so they can get on track to meaningful employment. “I got my driver’s license back,” said one participant, proudly pulling his temporary license out of his pocket for all to see.

One CVC graduate actually took time off from his new job to be part of the graduation ceremony—it meant that much to him.

CVC participants range in age and come from a variety of backgrounds; for many, working with others on volunteer projects has changed their lives. “CVC has helped me learn to be friendlier and more personable,” said Donna. Jennifer said, “I’m grateful for the chance to develop close relationships with my peers.”

In addition to their certificate, CVC graduates receive a small cash stipend, photos from their time in CVC to remind them of the camaraderie they developed and a letter of recommendation to send them into the world of future employment. CCC’s Employment Access Center has employment specialists who work with CVC participants on writing resumes, interview skills and getting permanent jobs. One CVC graduate actually took time off from his new job to be part of the graduation ceremony—it meant that much to him.

About 100 people attended the event, including volunteers from Airbnb who had spent the morning at CCC’s Employment Access Center helping clients (including some CVC grads) with computer skills.



CCC's Art Task Force Pursues the Finishing Touches

Jun 28, 2018

One more finishing touch. Then one more. Maybe one more. Okay, just one more… Perfect.

Many artists experience this feeling of chasing closure. Similarly, in the year since Central City Concern (CCC) and our Art Task Force celebrated the “completion” of Phase 2 of our Healing Through Art Collection, the six-member volunteer group has continued to put their own finishing touches on this portion of the collection.

They continued to explore their connections to local Pacific Northwest artists and galleries, inquiring about or listening to offers to donate pieces of art that exude elements of calm and healing. The group also took second and third looks at pieces that had been previously donated but hadn’t yet been placed, each awaiting the right location and timing to be hung. Members even got together for "framing parties."

Working closely with CCC’s housing community and building managers, the Art Task Force recommended, received feedback about, and installed additional pieces in several buildings that they believed would add to the overall healing environment. Feedback from CCC staff and clients has been overwhelmingly positive; just the act of seeing a building’s set of artworks expand garnered positive attention.

Several pieces donated or on loan from Discover African Art and Dave Dahl: (Left, clockwise from top) Baule Tribe elephant mask, Luba Tribe Kifwebe fantasy mask, Suku Tribe Kukungu mask, Bamun Tribe mask, Chokwe Tribe Pwo mask; (Center) Bozo Tribe puppet; (Right) Dogon Tribe granary door

In late summer 2017, the Art Task Force received a jaw-dropping and unexpected offer. Dave Dahl, co-founder of Dave’s Killer Bread, expressed interest in deepening his generous partnership with CCC. Part of his plan to do so included donating pieces of African tribal art that he had been collecting over the last several years, a passion that had grown into one of the largest African art collections on the west coast. Dave converted his deep admiration for tribal art, his growing knowledge and research of African tribes, and his business acumen into Discover African Art, which collects, displays, and sells genuine artworks.

The Art Task Force quickly connected the timing of Dave’s offer to the remodel of the historic Golden West Hotel building, which is home to CCC’s Imani Center program. The building holds a significant place in Portland’s African-American history, while the Imani Center provides Afrocentric approaches to mental health and addiction treatment. Several members of the Art Task Force joined CCC’s Director of African American Services Linda Hudson for a tour of the Discover African Art warehouse, where together they selected two dozen pieces that Dave was delighted to donate, as well as several others given to CCC on loan.

A print of Julie Keefe's photo, taken in 1991, showing State Representative Margaret Carter leading the March Against Racist Violence through the streets of North/Northeast Portland.The Golden West’s new art was unveiled during an open house event to show off the remodel work. Guests also saw for the first time several powerful photo prints donated by local photographer Julie Keefe, who has documented local communities for The Skanner and beyond for more than two decades. Keefe’s photos were also installed at several other buildings.

Despite this incredible progress, the work of the Art Task Force isn’t done. With CCC’s three Housing is Health developments slated to come online in the next year, the volunteers are hard at work to find pieces that will live up to the name of the collection. Not only have they begun to reach out to their contacts, they’ve also started taking steps to expand and diversify the Art Task Force itself, understanding that the group has room to grow alongside the task ahead. And based on what they’ve accomplished so far—more than 250 pieces of original, high-quality, and healing work—we have every reason to believe they’ll deliver, even if they want to continue adding some finishing touches.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: June 2018 Edition

Jun 27, 2018

For the last two years, we’ve posted an update around this time of year as to the on-going work of Central City Concern's all-volunteer Art Task Force. In 2016, we shared about the project’s launch and how it has already had a huge impact on our two clinic spaces. Then, in 2017, the results of Phase 2, which included a large expansion of the collection into several other CCC programs.

This year we’re happy to share another update about the group’s work (coming tomorrow), but this year, we also wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the members of the Art Task Force for our monthly volunteer spotlight!

Paul Park, CCC’s communications and events manager, who helps coordinate the Art Task Force’s work, had this to say about the members: ”The amount of time and effort this group of volunteers has put in to opening up the world of healing, high-quality art has been inspiring. Every decision they make about the art they add to the collection always goes back to thinking about the people we serve. The CCC community is deeply fortunate to benefit from the Art Task Force’s dedication.”

We touched base with the members of the group to ask them a few questions about their work and the collection. Read their answers below to find out about favorite pieces in the collection, the history of the task force, and why it matters to have the art in our spaces.

Alice McCartor

"The idea of art as healing resonates with me, having worked in the mental health field during much of my career."

How long have you been serving with the Art Task Force? How did you find out about the opportunity?
I am the newest member, having participated for only one year. I am in awe of the early work of the task force members and am humbled by the artists, gallery owners and private donors who contributed to the first phase of the project that hangs in the downtown health clinic [Old Town Clinic (OTC) and Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC)].

I joined the effort when a friend on the task force asked me if my husband would contribute his art work, which he did. The idea of art as healing resonates with me, having worked in the mental health field during much of my career. I was hooked by the idea and I asked to join. Although I am not well connected to the art world in Portland, I enjoy doing what I can for this work.

What is your favorite piece in the CCC collection and why?
My favorite work of art in the collection is a piece by Rick Bartow. For me, his work comes from the soul.

Pam Baker

"I hope each client finds something in the art that feels good and makes them smile."

How long have you been serving with the Art Task Force? How did you find out about the opportunity?
I was invited to join the Art Task Force in early 2013, when it was just getting underway. My good friend, Kathleen Stephenson-Kuhn, who was founding co-chair, recruited me. She and I had worked together on arts advocacy over many years, so she knew of my interest in the visual arts and my relationship with many Pacific Northwest artists.

What is your favorite piece in the CCC collection and why?
Wow! So many favorites! I’m particularly fond of pieces by artists I know, who have shared the backstories of their pieces, their processes, and their passions. I’m extremely proud that the collection includes major works by Katherine Ace, Laura Ross-Paul, and George Johanson, each of which tell stories that CCC’s clients, staff and visitors can interpret and relate to their own experiences—or simply enjoy for the sheer beauty of color and form.

How do you hope the art makes CCC clients feel?
Valued. Important. Worthy of beauty and fine art in their lives. Different pieces will evoke different feelings: peace, calm, excitement, energy, familiarity, curiosity, joy, wonder, love. I hope each client finds something in the art that feels good and makes them smile.

Dan Winter

"It reminds me of the courage that so many CCC clients draw on by using a “blank slate” to improve their lives."

How long have you been serving with the Art Task Force? How did you find out about the opportunity?
I was fortunate to be the founding co-chair of the Art Task Force, serving for three or four years alongside Kathleen Stephenson-Kuhn as my co-chair.

In 2011, not long after re-locating to Portland from Kansas City, I heard of the great work being done by CCC. Several months later, I attended CCC’s fall luncheon, where I introduced myself to Kristie Perry, who is now CCC’s Director of Donor Relations. It was she who first talked with me about starting the Task Force.

What is your favorite piece in the CCC collection and why?
A favorite work of mine is in Phase 1 of the collection and is hanging in the OTRC: “Untitled (Notebook Paper)” which is by the Icelandic textile artist Hildur Bjarnadottir, who lived and worked in Portland in the early 2000s. It was donated by a very generous, anonymous donor.

It’s unexpected, visually delightful and slightly mysterious. It represents the possibility of “turning over a new leaf” and “starting from scratch.” It reminds me of the courage that so many CCC clients draw on by using a “blank slate” to improve their lives.

How do you hope the art makes CCC clients feel?
Numerous pieces of research indicate that art, when displayed in a healing environment, can inspire people to see the possibilities that occur when healing happens. Imaginations are sparked, attitudes can be adjusted and hope can be found.

Marcy Schwartz

"This was a perfect fit for me—an art lover and collector with an opportunity to share my love of art with folks who don’t often get to experience original work."

How long have you been serving with the Art Task Force? How did you find out about the opportunity?
I’ve been part of the “second wave” of task force members. A longtime friend, Linda Girard, has served on the CCC Board of Directors since its inception. From talking with her, I was extremely impressed with the organization’s work and actively looked for a volunteer opportunity. Linda introduced me to Dan who suggested I get involved with the task force. This was a perfect fit for me—an art lover and collector with an opportunity to share my love of art with folks who don’t often get to experience original work.

What is your favorite piece in the CCC collection and why?
One of my favorite pieces in the collection is William Park’s portrait of a friend of his who was homeless—can’t remember the painting’s title. I love Park’s style of painting—using almost abstract marks that come together to create extremely expressive faces. This fellow looks grounded, accepting, but resolute.

How do you hope the art makes CCC clients feel?
I hope the works in the collection provide an opportunity for CCC clients and staff to get out of themselves and experience other places, spaces, emotions, realities presented by the various artists. And to marvel, as I do, at the amazing creativity and talent of the artists to evoke those experiences in so many different forms.

Carole Romm

"I hope that the clients feel that they are worth having this art around them, and that they are inspired by it."

How long have you been serving with the Art Task Force? How did you find out about the opportunity?
I was the public affairs director at CCC when the Old Town Recovery Center was built. As the walls were going up, I could see that there would be many empty walls and thought it would be wonderful to have art for them. I retired from CCC before a solution could be found, but my successor brought together folks to form the Art Task Force and she invited me to join.

What is your favorite piece in the CCC collection and why?
It’s hard to pick one piece as my favorite. There are so many wonderful pieces. There is a Rick Bartow piece in OTC in the second floor waiting room. I love this piece and Rick’s work because of the luminous quality of the work and the way he included animal and spirit images from his Native American roots.

The William Park painting in the waiting room of the clinic [is another favorite]. I believe it’s called “I’m Ready to Talk Now.” I think Bill is a painter’s painter; you can see his love of the paint and the process of painting in his work. He has been painting Fred, the subject of the painting, every Friday for many years. I know many of the clients relate to this painting and think that Fred is homeless, but he’s not. According to Bill, he’s quite a character though.

How do you hope the art makes CCC clients feel?
I hope that the clients feel that they are worth having this art around them, and that they are inspired by it.

Kathleen Stephenson-Kuhn

"I love the vibrant colors, its slightly graphic sensibility, and the reminder that the world is larger than Portland, Oregon."

How long have you been serving with the Art Task Force? How did you find out about the opportunity?
I was introduced to CCC’s former public affairs director. She and Carole shared their ideas about this project. I joined the committee, which at the time included my good friend [and CCC emeritus board member], Bing Sheldon.

What is your favorite piece in the CCC collection and why?
My favorite work is the large and bold work of Betty La Duke titled “Bali: Sunset.” I love the vibrant colors, its slightly graphic sensibility, and the reminder that the world is larger than Portland, Oregon and that people and animals all share our earth of sun, sky and water.

How do you hope the art makes CCC clients feel?
I hope that the clients and staff get great joy from the art at CCC. I hope the art makes them rethink their assumptions about the world and how they fit. I hope it makes them want to dance and sing!



Tough Love

May 30, 2018

Last month, we proudly shared the story of Kassy, whose newborn son's medical emergency while she was living at Central City Concern's Letty Owings Center became the turning point for her to take her recovery and her future with her son seriously. We debuted our video about her at our We Are Family fundraiser in early May, and she continues make progress in her schooling to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

But as many will attest, the pain and destruction from addictive behaviors nearly always extend beyond the individual. Family and loved ones get hurt, too. They're often put in impossible situations. Kristi, Kassy's sister, graciously shares what Kassy's journey—from her rocky childhood to her present-day successes—looked like from the other side.

• • •

The phone call came while I was in Disneyland:

“Yes, this is Kristi,” I answered.

“I don’t know what’s going on in your apartment but you better get home now!” said the voice on the other end, frantic and angry.

I listened in horror.

“They’re trashing the place and dropping bottles from your balcony, trying to hit people!”

I flew back the next day. My home was ransacked, almost everything either broken or stolen. I begged not to be evicted.

She did it again—my sister Kassy.

Kassy and I are four-and-a-half years apart. She had a lot of needs early in life; she couldn’t hear at birth, but eventually that was corrected with surgery. She learned to talk late, seemed to always be sick, and was often in and out of the hospital. As Kassy entered school she had trouble making friends and developed anger issues. By high school, drugs became a major part of my sister’s life and impacted the entire family. I watched my parents go through one heartbreaking episode after another with my sister. 

Kassy (left) and Kristi.I didn’t speak to Kassy for almost eight months after she destroyed my apartment. When she finally called, I was surprised by what she said, but not totally. “I’m pregnant,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry for everything… Will you help me?”

My sister needed me. I had to be there for her.

Kassy committed to being clean and sober through the entire pregnancy. At only 18, she chose to let friends of our family adopt the child. Giving up the baby put her in a dark and lonely place. Kassy couldn’t see the good in what she’d done for the adopting parents, and for the baby. She suffered. Deep down I knew as soon as the papers were signed, my sister was going back to where she would feel no pain. The closer we got to the birth, the more dread I felt about her future.

Not long after Kassy gave up the baby, I made a critical mistake. Newly divorced, I needed a fresh start. I accepted a job in Virginia but was nervous about the move, having never been away from my family in Oregon. So I took my sister with me. She was still dealing with the guilt of giving up a child, and was using drugs regularly and drinking again. But in lucid moments Kassy claimed she wanted to give it all up. We agreed that a change of scenery would improve life for both of us. It all came to an end two months after the move, on what I thought was just another Tuesday night.

She charged at me with a fury that caused me to fear for my life. She wanted money for alcohol, and my car keys. She threw things and spewed hatred. I wasn’t going to call the police on my sister—even though I didn’t recognize her. I fled.

Our parents moved Kassy back home almost immediately. I returned six years later. During the time I was gone I was constantly on the phone with Mom or Dad having gut-wrenching conversations about the state of panic they were living in. Kassy was spiraling. She was stealing from them to buy drugs. Dad would go out and find her in the most disgusting places, sometimes beaten severely by a drug-fueled “friend.”

Living so far away, all I could do was worry.

When I moved back and saw my sister for the first time in years, she was extremely frail and unhealthy. I feared she’d have heart failure right then and there. As a family we tried to stay positive, but the strain of Kassy’s addiction was unbearable at times. Mom would do something Dad didn’t agree with, I would do something Mom saw as unhelpful, we would all stop talking to each other, and it went round and round like that day after day. We worried that by loving her, we were enabling her. But we couldn’t let her go without basic needs like food and shelter. All of us were confused… exhausted… terrified. Holidays were the worst. Our hearts were beating, but we weren’t breathing—always on eggshells, waiting for a call from the police, saying Kassy was arrested again, or had overdosed.

At 29, pregnant and homeless, Kassy got arrested for the last time after a series of arrests. It was a relief. I saw jail as a chance for her to be protected. A chance to get a meal, and be away from drugs and alcohol.

While Kassy was in jail and facing prison time, our mom’s cousin discovered Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center (an inpatient treatment program for pregnant women and mothers with young children). She presented the possibility to Kassy, who only interviewed at Letty Owings Center (LOC) as a way to stay out of prison. She was admitted within days. There were challenges immediately. Kassy didn’t like the rules, expectations, or emphasis on accountability. But the staff was patient, and eventually won her trust.

She began to heal. My parents and I could take a breath.

Over the next eight months Kassy completed treatment at Letty Owings Center, and had her son Ace. The experience at LOC taught her how to be a mother. She learned how to care for a baby, and for herself. After leaving LOC Kassy and Ace (Mom calls him our miracle), moved into Laura’s Place (three to six months of housing, support services and case management for women who have completed treatment at LOC). Next, the two of them moved into permanent alcohol- and drug-free family housing provided by Central City Concern. The fact that it’s a clean and sober living environment is so huge.

"I know if I need something Kassy will be there for me. And she knows I’m here for her, and for Ace. Always."Moms, dads, and kids get together to celebrate milestones, support one another emotionally, and look out for each other. Families are able to laugh, relax, and enjoy their lives. Knowing my sister and nephew have a safe place to call home helps me sleep at night.

We stopped trying to do everything for Kassy, and she claimed more control over her life. She gained a profound understanding of what it takes to get better. And she’s committed to seeing it through. I was afraid for so many years. For my sister. For my parents. There were days when nothing I said or did seemed to make a difference. Days when I felt useless and weak. But now I know what the right help and strength of family can overcome. I know the power of not giving up on someone. I no longer blame or second guess myself. I’m not running to my parents and trying to figure out why, why, why, or how, how, how. I talk to my sister almost every day. We are together three to four times a week. I know if I need something Kassy will be there for me. And she knows I’m here for her, and for Ace. Always.

Central City Concern’s help has been invaluable. Without the resources, I believe Kassy would maybe still be using drugs and likely be homeless, or worse. CCC gave Kassy an extended family of staff and residents who share similar backgrounds and speak from experience. They put her in touch with a lot of good things like peer support, the Employment Access Center, family mentoring, health care, and mental health counseling. The possibilities of a promising future were revealed to my sister through healthy living, education, and friends to lean on. Today Kassy is going to school at Portland Community College, studying to be an addictions counselor. Soon she’ll be able to share her experience with others, like the staff at Letty Owings Center did with her. She’s well on her way, having recently earned certification as a peer mentor. I am so proud of her!



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: May 2018 Edition

May 29, 2018

For this month’s volunteer spotlight we sat down with Danielle Wheeler, a volunteer with the Recuperative Care Program (RCP), to talk about her work.

RCP provides immediate housing, intensive case management and access to primary care at our Old Town Clinic. Once clients are stable, they can focus on rebuilding their lives. Central City Concern specialists can help them get supportive housing, training, employment and the resources they need to recover and to become self-sufficient.

Jordan Wilhelms, RCP's program manager, had this to say about the role Danielle, our spotlighted volunteer, plays:

“Danielle has been an amazing volunteer for RCP. She has embodied the RCP spirit of service, has tirelessly and consistently worked to improve our systems, relieve our staff from burden where possible, and brought her organizational and housing expertise to RCP’s capacity to provide skilled interventions for our participants!”

Annie Demotta, RCP's housing specialist added, “Danielle is someone with an incredible skill set, with high standards, who also leads with her heart. On behalf of myself, the RCP team and the people we serve, we are so lucky to have her here!”

Read on to hear how Danielle got connected with CCC, why the team keeps her coming back to volunteer, and why housing is such a crucial part of recuperative care.

• • •

PeterAs CCC's Recuperative Care Program housing specialist volunteer, Danielle has become a key member of the team and a compassionate ear for clients.: What is your name and volunteer position?

Danielle: My name is Danielle Wheeler and my volunteer position is housing specialist.

P: How did you get hooked up with RCP and CCC?

D: This is a really cool story actually. So three years ago I left my career job to stay home with my kids and I wanted to spend a little more time volunteering while my kids were in school. For many years I’d been involved through my church in a monthly serving of meals at Bud Clark Commons through Transition Projects (TPI), so I called them up and they threw me into a role to teach how subsidized housing works.

P: Do you have a background in subsidized housing?

D: I don’t. I have an MBA and my background is in marketing. A case manager who was doing those classes trained me and then he went back into his case management role, so I continued on [teaching the classes]. It was really great and it gave me the hands-on work that I really wanted to do.

So I did that for a couple years, and one day I met a woman who was struggling with her housing plan and understanding the housing market and I finally referred her to her case manager and she said, “Well, I don’t have a case manager here, I’m at RCP” and I said, “What’s RCP?”

I was introduced to [RCP staffer] Annie Demotta and through that, because this woman was just not understanding who was who and where everybody came together, learned about the RCP program and I was hooked. Annie invited me in to take a look around and see if I wanted to get involved, so I slowly started balancing that into my workload.

"So often I will hear clients articulate that because of transient living circumstances... that their medical condition is more complicated than it would be if they had their own home, their own space, their own quiet."
-Danielle, CCC Volunteer

P: What did you find so interesting about RCP?

D: I have a real passion for working with the most vulnerable, and RCP has a very high percentage of those who need a lot more supportive care across the board, not just in housing. So housing is where I spend most of my time, but housing is just one piece of people being able to achieve whatever goals they have for themselves.

I’ve worked at Intel, I’ve worked at Microsoft, I’ve worked at other large well-known organizations, and I have never seen a team that functions so well and with a lot of diversity on the team as well. There’s a lot of respect here and I think the vast majority of clients that come through RCP really feel this is their journey and that we are not dictating to them. We are here to support them, hear their goals, and then provide them pathways to that and then encourage them along the way. I really hear that come out in the clients.

And yet these are some of the most vulnerable people. They have not only had some hard luck along the way, not had family support, whatever it might be that has lead them to the situation; now they have medical conditions on top of that and so for me it just really grabs my heart to be able to be a part of a team that is there to support them in moving along their path.

P: And what specifically are you doing with the program? Has it changed since volunteering at TPI?

D: It’s broadened. At TPI I was more focused on subsidized housing, but housing can often be much more than that. To address somebody’s subsidized housing plan, you really have to understand who they are, what their overall goals are, and it’s usually a multi-step process. It’s rare that somebody can just go out and get a job and get an apartment. It does happen, but sometimes there needs to be some other pieces along the way.

So what I like about my role here is it’s all-encompassing. It’s “sit down, hear where they want to go with housing, and then start to fill in the pieces;” sometimes that’s subsidized housing, sometimes it’s not. Through Annie and through the team, I’ve learned about and continued to learn about so many different housing options that exist out there.

P: And what are the main challenges in that work of trying to help secure housing for people?

D: I think, simply put, it’s that there aren’t enough options for people. I think that there are a lot of great programs out there and I think that there’s a lot of energy trying to coordinate across those programs. However, they are still disparate and understanding what is what, I think of it as a big puzzle. Each person gets to define what pieces they want to put in that puzzle and there is no guidebook for that.

"I’ve worked at Intel, I’ve worked at Microsoft,  I've worked at other large well-known organizations, and I have never seen a team that functions so well..."

P: And the fact that you’re dealing with people who may have been chronically homeless over decades and dealing with complex medical issues, I’d imagine the process can be really overwhelming for folks.

D: Yeah, it really depends. There are some who are ready, whether that’s due to a new illness that has complicated something, a recent arrest that has been the final straw for them, some people come really ready to change things. But for most, it is a challenge to build trust, and not with the staff here, I see that happen more quickly than I’ve seen with any other program, but rather trust in the process and that “the system” won’t let them down. It’s not uncommon that until somebody has the keys in their hand they don’t really believe it’s going to happen. So sometime we get lack of engagement because of that, which is heartbreaking.

It’s hard to get to the core of why they don’t trust. And it might just be that they are not ready for that, it’s not their time yet. And that’s okay too. One of the great things about RCP is that the staff here are very respectful of [that]. It’s not about us imposing on them, for example, that they must be housed. If somebody is not comfortable with that, for whatever reason, we can offer them support in maybe exploring that, but if that’s not what they want that’s okay too. It’s client-led here and I think that’s a big difference.

P: And despite the fact that being housed is a part of the RCP program, it’s technically a health services program. Why do we have a housing department in a health services program?

D: So often I will hear clients articulate that because of transient living circumstances (or whatever has been going on in their housing background that is not stable) that their medical condition is more complicated than it would be if they had their own home, their own space, their own quiet. So, many people recognize that and recognize that housing is a part of their care plan, medically speaking.

P: So it’s giving that baseline to be able to build on the rest of that plan?

D: It’s a piece of the plan. RCP has a very holistic view. People come in here for medical reasons, but then we’re humanizing their experience and we’re saying you know we’re not just here to get you to your doctor’s appointment. We’re here to listen to you and hear what your goals are when you leave and see if we can’t support and connect you during your time here to helping you on your pathway to those goals. And more often than not, housing is a piece of that: “If I only had my own space and quiet I could heal better” or “I could sleep better and then I could go back to work.” So housing becomes a core piece for most people.

P: Have there been any standout experiences during your time here?

D: There have definitely been some clients who came through here that’ve touched my heart and have gotten housed and been so grateful and there have been some beautiful moments that way. But I think the moment that touched me the most was actually an internal one with the team.

There had been an incident in the building that had potentially put some of our staff in harm’s way. What really touched me was that this team’s management intentionally took the time to sit the team down, debrief, and make sure that people felt heard. Emotions were encouraged and shared. I had mentioned this was a high-functioning team, but in that moment I saw why. The management of this team was incredible in the way that they allowed that to unfold and the team to come together, and that translates into better services for our clients. Not just because of the skill set (should there be another potentially dangerous situation), but just for being more present and aware as a team for every client that comes through here.

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

D: I do get asked a lot by people who are interested. Homelessness is such a big topic in Portland and so lots of people ask me how they can get involved. Having seen only a slice of CCC, but hearing about how the medical services, for example, fit in, or the bigger housing pieces fit in, I am so impressed with CCC’s offerings across different ways to serve somebody. CCC’s big enough where anybody who wants to get involved in homelessness, whatever that means to them and wherever their passions are, can figure out [a role] where they are comfortable and still contribute to the organization.



Always Family

Apr 23, 2018

Kassy F. grew up in Gresham in a loving household with her parents and older sister, but her struggles with ADHD made it difficult for her to control her temper and concentrate in school. Her emotional and behavior issues escalated, and by the time she reached her teens, she landed in residential mental health facilities.

Her newborn son's medical emergency was the flashpoint for Kassy to take her recovery seriously. Today, Kassy is well on her way to becoming a drug and alcohol counselor.She started drinking at age 13 and using meth at 16. She dropped out of school at 15. When she was 21, she started working in a strip club and selling methamphetamine.

Her family was devastated. Of course they wanted to support Kassy, but they didn’t want to enable her. They simply didn’t know how to help her. Kassy avoided them until she needed something, and they often didn’t know where she was. “She had to want to change,” her dad John said. “We couldn’t do it for her.”

After eight years working in the club, Kassy was arrested with her boyfriend. He was sent to prison but she was pregnant and the judge allowed her to go to CCC’s Letty Owings Center (LOC).

“We were so thankful to finally know where she was,” her mom Cindy said.

After Kassy’s son Ace was born, she continued to live at LOC, but wasn’t really interested in getting better. “I was just going through the motions to stay out of jail,” Kassy said.

She had a complete change of heart a few months later when Ace became ill and landed in the hospital with a respiratory illness. “I realized his life depended on me,” she said. “If I had been high, I might not have gotten him help in time.”

From that day forward, Kassy has poured everything she has into her recovery and becoming the best mom she can be. She gained her GED diploma and Mental Health Peer Support Mentor certificate. She is now studying to become a drug and alcohol counselor. And the best thing: she and her family are back together. They spend time together every weekend, and Kassy knows they are there to help her and Ace if they ever need it.

Kassy and her family shared their story for this year’s We are Family fundraiser video. See the video and meet Kassy in person by attending our annual fundraiser for the Letty Owings Center and CCC's Family Housing program on May 2. Purchase your tickets today!



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!

• • •

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.

• • •

'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?