Participating in Life in a Way She Never Thought Possible

Jun 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



What's 100,000 Hours Good For? One CCC Program Knows.

Nov 16, 2016

Popular belief says that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. What, then, does 100,000 hours allow you to do?

At Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) program, those hours have been used to change people, provide hope, and make a wide impact on the Portland community through volunteerism. And on Wednesday, November 9, the CCC community gathered to celebrate the 100,000 total hours of volunteer service CVC participants have contributed over the last seven years, during which people affected by homelessness, addictions, or past criminality have gained work experience while giving back.

“What’s taken us so long?”
On what many remember as the rainiest day in April 2009, a 15-seat passenger van pulled into Irving Park in Northeast Portland. Twelve people—each recently housed by Central City Concern, engaged in CCC’s addiction recovery services, and unemployed (or, depending on who you asked, unemployable)—piled out wearing waterproof boots and plastic ponchos. At the direction of Portland Parks & Recreation, they quickly got to work pulling weeds and raking leaves in the downpour.

        

A blown-up photo that hangs in the CVC conference room commemorates this ragtag group, the first of hundreds that would contribute volunteer work all over Portland. Since then, CVC has brought work crews to an astounding range of local nonprofits, including organizations like Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, Free Geek, ReBuilding Center, and Oregon Food Bank. In all, CVC has partnered with 32 total organizations.

The idea for CVC grew out of a conversation Central City Concern Executive Director, Ed Blackburn, had with his father in 2008. Because it was the height of the Great Recession, his father reminisced about his experiences as a young man during the Great Depression. Much to Ed’s surprise, his father told him of the time he was arrested for burglary, and given two options by the judge: spend time in jail, or join the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program created during the Great Depression that put young men back to work.

He opted for the latter. His time there, Ed’s father told him, “changed his life. Saved his life. It taught him to appreciate teamwork and to do something good together with others. It prepared him for work in the long run. He learned skills and work ethic.”

Ed knew that many people arriving in Central City Concern’s addiction recovery and mental health programs, particularly those who had experienced great hardship on the street, had an intense passion to help people and to give back, even when they didn’t necessarily have the tools to do so. He also knew that they had a lot of time on their hands. So after hearing about how the Civilian Conservation Corps helped his father develop a foundation to be productive the rest of his life, Ed wondered if CCC could do something similar.


Several conversations with employees in recovery and meetings with potential funders later, the Community Volunteer Corps was ready to take that first van full of volunteers to Irving Park.

“The one thing I heard from everyone was, ‘What’s taken us so long?’” Ed recalled.

Participation in the Community Volunteer Corps gives CCC clients an opportunity to ease their transition into the workforce and increases their self-confidence. Volunteer projects—pulling ivy, painting over graffiti, recycling computers, building homes for needy families, beautifying parks, and so much more—give participants an outlet to be productive in tangible ways during a time when their recovery demands intensive self-work and self-care.

Furthermore, a common refrain among participants is that CVC allows them to “give back” to the community they feel they hurt or took away from while active in their addiction.

When clients enroll in CVC, they make a commitment to the program. But perhaps more importantly, they make a commitment to their future. During an average of two to four months, participants carve out time between recovery meetings, appointments, and other obligations to volunteer a total of 80 hours with CVC. During that time, they develop soft skills that are foundational to permanent employment: showing up on time, getting along with others, following directions, practicing good work habits, and following through on commitments.


Every other month, the Central City Concern community gathers to celebrate those who recently completed their 80 hours. At the ceremony, each graduate receives photos from their time with CVC, a certificate of completion, and a letter of recommendation they can attach to their future resumes.

Permission to Believe
Since that rainy April day, 1,600 people have participated in the Community Volunteer Corps. Of them, 1,001 have completed their 80-hour commitments to the program.

Hundreds of journeys have started with the growth and encouragement afforded by the CVC experience. After graduating, participants find themselves ready and qualified for permanent employment, a position that may have felt impossible just months prior. Graduates have gone on to become hired as maintenance workers, construction workers, truck drivers, real estate brokers, and even counselors.

Still, the CVC program is more than just a chance to develop marketable skills. Through shared van rides with work crews, conversations with CVC staff members who serve as mentors, and the simple act of doing something to benefit someone else, participants rebuild their self-worth and make amends to their community.

“It was so huge for me to get outside of myself and help someone else,” a graduate shared on Wednesday.

As a milestone, 100,000 hours, like each CVC graduation ceremony, feels final. But as anyone who has gone through the program will tell you, CVC is—more than anything—about building toward something bigger. Participants can dare to define their futures by possibility and potential rather than their past mistakes.

“Completing CVC gave me permission to believe that I could succeed,” another new graduate said.

Every day, Central City Concern engages people who are finding stability and looking to give back and get better. Because of them, the Community Volunteer Corps has no plans to stop at 100,000 hours, or 1,001 graduates, or 32 partners. There’s too much potential out there.