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.



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.

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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!



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: February 2018 Edition

Feb 27, 2018

This month, we’re turning the spotlight on a part of Central City Concern that hosts almost a quarter of all the volunteers at CCC! With so many great folks to share, we couldn’t pick just one, so this month’s spotlight features two of our dedicated volunteers from the Letty Owings Center (LOC). 

Since LOC’s first days, volunteers have played a large role in bringing activities and extra comforts to the mothers and children who live there. Nerissa Heller, who oversees LOC, had this to say about the value of having volunteers in the program: “Volunteers have supported LOC since its inception in 1989. It truly makes the women in our care feel valued and special to have volunteers take time out of their day to give them positive, caring attention.” 

Our two volunteers this month get to engage with mothers and children in two very different, but equally appreciated, ways. One thing that both of them share is the feeling that volunteership gives them as much if not more than they feel they give. Read on to hear about their work at LOC!

• • •

Megan Hornby

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Two years. We were supporting CCC financially while we were still working, but then when I was full-time retired I wanted to give some time.

What is it that you do as a volunteer? I come in and I help the staff at the nursery by holding babies, playing with the babies, and basically giving them a little help at the end of the week. When they are full with about seven or eight babies, it’s a lot to keep everybody peaceful and happy.

Did you have experience working with kids before volunteering? Yeah, I have a lot of grandchildren, none of whom live in the area, so that’s another reason I like playing with the babies. I also have a background in nursing and working with emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children.

What’s kept you coming back to volunteer? Volunteering, I decided, is something that I should really look forward to, otherwise I wasn’t going to be very good at it. So this is just one of my favorite days of the week because I enjoy being with the babies a lot and I enjoy the staff here. The staff are very professional and warm and appreciative. So it’s kind of a win-win. I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer.

Have there been any stand-out moments? I’ve enjoyed getting glimpses of the mothers. They’re pretty impressive. That they’re trying to deal with something that’s as difficult as addictions and at the same time balancing being a young parent. It’s pretty impressive to watch them go through the program and get their lives back on track. They do a lot of hard work to get there.

"I always feel like I’m getting more than I give. I think that’s the secret of it. If you’re enjoying it every week, then you’re going to be a good, effective volunteer."
-Megan H., CCC Volunteer

With your experience in mental health, do you see anything that’s different at CCC than other, similar services? I think the best thing about CCC that’s really unique is that it’s not fragmented so when somebody graduates from the Letty Owings Center, they still have the supports they need to go on to the next phase. They have housing, outpatient treatment, and they don’t get dumped in the system without those critical supports. That’s very unusual in the social services system and I think it’s one of the best things about CCC.

There’s almost a huge loop in that people that are super successful sometimes come back and work [with CCC], which also makes the whole culture of the program very hopeful. [Recovery] is a lifetime of work and here they see some of the staff people who are still working on it, but they’re working and they’re employed and they have homes and a life with real relationships. It’s a very hopeful place.

• • •

June Hensala

How long have you been volunteering at the Letty Owings Center? Let’s say two-and-a-half years, to be safe.

What is your volunteer position? I get to go out for coffee! Isn’t that the best job ever? Another friend from church and I come over and pick up a couple gals, and once in a while they have children with them, and we go out and have coffee and visit. I’m not giving any advice, I’m just having coffee with these gals and having a nice time.

Was this something that you and this person started? No, this has been going on for a long time. There was this gal named Carol, who had been with LOC practically since it began, and she volunteered everywhere, but one of the things she did was take a couple mothers out for coffee with another friend. Carol died about three years ago and I had read this book about remembering people, and part of that was remembering them by action. So I’m remembering Carol when I take them out to coffee.

"I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, 'We like to have you for coffee.'"
-June H., CCC Volunteer

Had you worked with kids or families prior to your volunteership? Well, indirectly. I was a nurse and so I was trained in caring for others and noticing others. When I raised my kids, I did Cub Scouts and the like, but I’m 80 years old now, so that’s one of the things I like about going to LOC is seeing gals that are in their 20s and getting to talk to somebody that is a different age. Our society separates people so much, so I really like that contact with the younger generation.

What do you feel the benefit is for the clients who are going out to coffee? Well, often we get the gals that are just new to LOC, so they don’t have a routine yet and they’re also dealing with the early stages of recovery. So we give some encouragement, but I think the gain is really more on my part. I gain a lot out of it, really. I was telling one of these gals that out in the world young people don’t want to really hang around with old people, and she reached over and patted me on the shoulder and says, “We like to have you for coffee.” It was such a caring, wonderful thing.

Have there been any stand out moments? I’m always very impressed with how caring the girls are to each other. It’s not just the staff, the girls seem to help each other. They share, they encourage one another, and they say, “Oh, we’re buddies.” So, I think that’s helpful if you know somebody’s going through the same thing you are.

Their feeling of hope I’ve been impressed with, as well. [They’ll say], “This is a wonderful place, this is a good place. The staff is good here,” not, “Oh, this is really hard.”

What keeps you coming back to volunteer? Well, I get rewarded for it. I’ve always felt a very strong trust in God all my life and I feel like God puts me places where I get the most out of it. And every day I fill up with God’s love, and I have to do that, so I can then go out and love others. And I’ve liked all the girls. At first, I thought, “Oh maybe there will be somebody there that’s a bit too wild,” but they’re not. They’ve just been wonderful girls that have experienced addiction.

I’m also in the quilting group at my church and we make quilts for all the Letty Owing Center clients. When they graduate [the program] they each get a quilt. So that keeps me involved, and it keeps the church involved as well.

And it really broadens your life scope. I’m retired and you just get isolated by that. Volunteering takes you out of your world and pushes you somewhere else. It’s nice to see a lot of good, and it’s what I’ve seen. It’s been a really positive experience.



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.