Following the Recipe for Health and Community

Dec 20, 2016

''The frittata and the carrot muffins were the favorite thing we made.'' -Stykhead (in red)''I feel more confident that I can leave here with what I learned as we cooked every week.'' -Josh''My favorite thing we made was shepherd's pie. Instead of using a recipe they gave me, I kinda put my own spin on it.'' -Tom (in green)
''The best part was learning, especially how to budget. And you know what? The volunteers… they really, really care. I didn’t think theyd be so personable, but they are. It really touched me.'' -Kristina
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Cooking Matters, a partnership between Central City Concern and the Oregon Food Bank, teaches clients the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.

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On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in November, the kitchen of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Living Room community space filled with sounds most could recognize as busy food preparation. The rhythmic rocking and knocking of a knife, the hollow echo of water falling on aluminum, the unmistakable crinkling of plastic packaging being opened and emptied, and even the overriding din of playful banter—all there.

Behind that noise? Eight people, all participants and soon-to-be graduates of the six-week Cooking Matters program, a partnership between CCC and the Oregon Food Bank. This was their final session as a group, so they were reveling in the chance to put what they’d learned in the weeks prior to good use. And based on that kitchen banter, they were having a blast doing it—together.

Since their first session, participants had gained a soup-to-nuts education on the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits, including following recipes and meal planning, shopping healthily on a budget and maximizing resources, understanding food labels, and even knife skills and food safety. At the end of each class, they received a grocery bag of food with which they could replicate the course they made that day.

According to CCC Health Educator Kerith Hartmann and Population Health Coordinator Linda Nguyen, the Cooking Matters curriculum can help address a number of issues common among Old Town Clinic (OTC) patients: food insecurity, weight gain, hypertension, coronary issues, and diabetes or pre-diabetes.

In fact, OTC primary care providers had been clamoring for a nutritional guidance program for patients for years and Kerith had often recommended Cooking Matters classes hosted by Oregon Food Bank elsewhere in the community. But the idea to bring the class to patients instead of referring patients out became more and more appealing, and soon enough the need was undeniable. “You wouldn’t necessarily think that there would be a cooking class based out of a medical clinic, but it makes so much sense, especially for the people we’re working with,” says Kerith.

With Oregon Food Bank on board to pilot a Cooking Matters class at CCC starting in late spring 2016, it was off to the races to find participants.

Approximately half of the Cooking Matters participants were identified and referred by their OTC primary care providers based on their medical histories and the level of engagement with their care. Because Cooking Matters builds on each week of curriculum, patients who showed an active engagement in their own care would benefit most.

Other participants were recruited through CCC’s Housed+Healthy initiative, which coordinates services between CCC supportive housing services and CCC’s health care programs. The work Housed+Healthy staff members do within the walls of CCC housing allows them to show clients that Cooking Matters is well worth attending, even if that means showing up at their doors prior to a session and walking with them to the Living Room.

“People living in our housing are inherently good candidates to benefit from Cooking Matters,” says Permanent Housing Manager, Dana Schultz. “They’re living in low-income housing, so they have budget restrictions and limited cooking resources. On average, people living in our housing are about 59 years old, which is when you see a prevalence of chronic conditions that can be managed through diet.”

Dana adds, “Plus, people who live in low-income housing have to be proactive about combating social isolation daily.”

Knowing that, the sounds heard in the Living Room kitchen take on a slightly different meaning. Those aren’t just the clatterings of making a meal. It’s the sound of people—all some combination of vulnerable, unwell, or isolated—coming together as the ingredients of community. Over the course of six weeks, they’ve encountered unfamiliar ingredients, learned new skills, grown in confidence, and broken bread—literally—together. They’re not shy about talking of this community aspect, either.

Tom, a Cooking Matters participant, says, “My favorite thing was being around these people and being able to cook something with different people around and eating together.”

Another participant, Stykhead, says, “The camaraderie here is great. Getting together and thinking of how we can cook better for ourselves. It gives a whole new outlook on how to cook.”

For Josh, Cooking Matters helped her extend community to her home. “I was able to share the food I made with my housemates.”

Though Cooking Matters at CCC has only completed two cohorts, stories of the program’s impact can start filling up a small cookbook. One patient lost enough weight to get a surgery she needed. Another participant loved learning how to make burritos so much that he not only stacked his freezer with them, but also gave them out to friends. Yet another made a lasagna for her neighbors. A few participants who lived in the same building developed a friendship during the program and held potlucks after they graduated.

Kristina, a participant in this latest cohort, says, “I can actually do a prepared meal on a regular basis. Before this preparing meals felt so tedious and hard to do. But now I have a plan in my head and it happens.” She pauses and lifts her chin up proudly. “And my son likes it.”

“I learned a lot as far as being able to buy healthy,” Stykhead shares. “It’s nowhere near as hard as I thought it was.”

Based on the popularity of Cooking Matters, Oregon Food Bank has committed to bringing the program to CCC for three more sessions through 2017. Their partnership, which includes providing additional volunteers, the curriculum, and all of the food used during each class, has been extraordinary, says Kerith.

Incorporating Cooking Matters into CCC helps send clients and patients on a trajectory to a better quality of life, Linda says. Participants have secured housing; with Cooking Matters, they are working their way toward securing health and moving toward overall wellness.

“It’s a joy to watch people’s faces light up when they try a new vegetable they love or even hate. At the end of the day, they get to enjoy a meal with people they like. And having that group of people to do this with compels them to believe that they can make all these skills a part of their daily life.”



Inspiration & Perspiration: The 3rd Annual CCC Employee Commencement

Jul 05, 2016

Working is fulfilling and necessary, but it can also be exhausting. Yet some people are so determined to further their education, they spend their precious free time studying, writing papers and attending classes. On June 30, Central City Concern honored 39 employees who had either earned a scholarship to further their education, or graduated with a degree or certificate this year. The festive event was held in the Old Town Recovery Center’s third floor classroom that staff had decorated with streamers and flowers.

CCC Executive Director Ed Blackburn congratulated the group. “It’s inspiring that those of you who give so much to us don’t forget to lift yourselves up too,” he said. “Reaching your highest potential is a gift to all of us.”

The keynote speaker was Joe McFerrin II, president and CEO of Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, an organization that provides education and work training services to youth facing the effects of family instability and homelessness.

“Forgive me for getting a little emotional about success,” he said, “but it’s what I live for.” McFerrin shared ideas for continuous growth, including questioning and pushing yourself throughout your lifetime. “You are all leaders,” he said.

Felecia Padgett, CCC’s Employment Access Center on-call supervisor and recipient of a 2015-16 and 2016-17 CCC Education Assistance program scholarship spoke about her experience. “My fear overpowered everything,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do anything.” But a scholarship helped her gain the confidence she needed to return to college and work toward her Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree. “I learned through CCC that I love to teach,” she says. “I want to get a degree in education.”

Fifteen CCC employees received CCC Education Assistance program scholarships to further their education, and 24 CCC employees were acknowledged for graduating and earning professional certificates or degrees, reaching all the way up to a Doctorate in Nursing Practice for Lydia Bartholow at the Old Town Clinic.

The celebration ended with refreshments, a group photo and hugs all around. As Blackburn told the beaming crowd: “Never stop learning. It keeps you young.”



Black History Month: Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1)

Feb 09, 2016

We continue our Black History Month series introducing the Central City Concern Imani Center with a two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services. Last week’s post introduced the roots of the Imani Center. In part one of our interview, Linda shares more about the unique experiences many African Americans encounter in mainstream treatment programs, how the Imani Center breaks through them to enhance their clients’ chances of recovery success, and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Part of the purpose of the Imani Center was to provide services that address barriers “uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream [treatment] programs.” Can you talk a little bit more about those barriers are?
One of the main things we see is the effect of treatment curriculum taught in many traditional programs, which has been created and maintained from the viewpoint of the dominant culture. So when an African American patient comes in with different experiences and different perspectives, and they try to fit the client into that curriculum, there’s often some tension there. If it doesn’t relate to the individual, or if they have a difficult time understanding it, they get labeled as “resistant” or “not a good fit.”

Or if an African American person enters treatment with a background of trauma—and so many African Americans carry the trauma of discrimination and racism—it’s easy to get triggered. A lot of those curricula and even treatment staff don’t have that cultural lens to understand that the client has had some horrible history that they may continue to carry every single day. So a person with consistent trauma can get triggered very easily.

An African American client might enter a treatment program, perhaps loud and boisterous with a lot of PTSD and trauma, and they’ll probably make people in the group uncomfortable. They’ll get labeled as aggressive, so they don’t do well in treatment. Black people in treatment get kicked out of programs more often and they don’t graduate as often. Many African Americans encounter this in traditional, predominantly white, treatment programs.

How does the Imani Center avoid those barriers?
A lot of our clients have never been able to sit in a treatment program and really be themselves: say the things that they would love to say the way they want to express it. At the Imani Center, clients don’t have to feel like they need to use the perfect vernacular, to choose their words. Here, they can say things the way they want to, and we can understand it and work with them. And of course, we can work on refining some things to get their needs met if they want that.

At the Imani Center, clients are allowed to be who they are in a safe place. They get to talk about racism and discrimination, and they’re talking with staff who understand what they’re talking about. We’ve been there ourselves. We know how it goes and we know how it feels. And we the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are; we can share with clients how they might be able to navigate it and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.

And I want to be clear that traditional programs are in no way bad. They are absolutely necessary. But some of our people just haven’t been set up for success in those environments, and we’re hoping to change some of that and help them heal in ways that they can start getting their needs met in an appropriate manner and understand how to navigate through the system.

Who are the faces behind the Imani Center?
I’m the director of African American services. Joanna Smith is our lead mental health counselor. JoAnna and I are the only Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP) at this time. We have recently hired another QMHP who will be on board soon. Yvette Davis is an Addiction and Mental Health Counselor, and Jammie Trimble is a Mental Health Counselor. Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson are our three peer support specialists. Karen Fahie, the Imani Center Office Manager, keeps everything organized and running smoothly.

We heard from Sonja Ervin in last week’s post that during the planning process, the African American community voiced that they greatly valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Aside from the lived experiences, there is a high level of education under the Imani Center roof. What message does that send? How does that aid in what the Imani Center hopes to be?
Yeah, people sure do want those credentials behind your name! [laughs]

Joanna, Yvette, and I all have Master of Social Work degrees. Joanna and I are Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP), which means we can do mental health assessments and diagnose. Yvette is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor which means she is credentialed to perform alcohol and drug assessments. I’m dually credentialed, which means I can do both mental health and addiction assessments. Jammie and Yvette both are Qualified Mental Health Associates, which means they can work with mental health clients, but not diagnose. Jammie will be taking the Oregon Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) test shortly.

The three peers support specialists have gone through the extensive Certified Recovery Mentor training. Walter and Bonnie are former counselors. Walter is also a Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and Bonnie, a CADC l. Richie is currently enrolled in an A&D counseling program. And they all have firsthand experience to varying extents with addictions and mental health struggles.

My goal is to get everyone dually credentialed. Nowadays you don’t find many people struggling with just one disorder. They’re so often co-occurring: mental health and addictions. Most mental health clients use drugs to self-medicate; most people who use drugs develop mental health disorders. We have to be able to work with both at the same time. You can’t work with one and then the other. It’s called integrated treatment. And along with our CCC primary care clinic, most of our clients are getting the best of the best care.

As treatment program staff, we need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving. I encourage our staff to take care of themselves. Stay home if you’re sick. Take time off when you need it. Working with our clients is challenging. The disease of addiction and mental health disorders are so complex and we need to be at our best.

That’s why I’m so grateful that we were able to create the Imani Center. It’s not a traditional program. We do individualized treatment. We do it according to what the client needs. What does he need? Oh, he needs to be in the MH group and the criminality group. What does she need? She needs to be in the women’s group and the relapse prevention group. All based on their needs and history.

Aside from not having had success in traditional treatment programs, is there a “typical” profile of a person coming to Imani? What makes someone a good fit for Imani?
I don’t know how to answer that… there are so many types of people who come here!

The big thing is if they are willing and able to show up and do the work. We don’t sugarcoat anything here. We’re going to do work here. This is an alcohol and drug addiction and mental health clinic. Someone who is tired of doing things the way they’ve normally done because it’s not working for them. Let us show you a different way of getting your needs met. You also need to be able to get along with others. We have a complex group of people. We empower and encourage people to monitor themselves.

Many years ago when I started in this field, the word “manipulation” would be thrown around so much about clients. “They’re manipulative. They’re manipulating.” But if I needed to get my needs met, I need to get my needs met! Addiction is a very selfish disease and in many ways, mental health issues are not far from that. And if you constantly label people manipulative, you can’t empower them to be better.

So we do not use that word as it pertains to clients here. Instead, I encourage my staff to think of people trying to get their needs met the best way they know how until they learn how to do it differently! That means they have to unlearn all the things that they have learned on the streets and through criminality, and then learn a different way. And that takes a long time to do.

But if you’re willing and able and you and show up and get along with others, then we can work with you.

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Part two of the Q&A with Linda Hudson will be posted on Thursday.



Celebrating our Employee Graduates

Mar 18, 2015

“In a lot of work that we do as learners, we grow in helping others learn. That means you’re often maybe a teacher and a mentor and a leader to other people. And that knowledge that you have is a great asset to you.”

With those words, keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Percy, Dean of Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs, simultaneously commended the Central City Concern employee graduates for their extraordinary efforts and tapped them with further responsibility to raise up people around them.

In all, twenty-three CCC staff members were honored on Friday, March 13, at Central City Concern’s second annual Education Community Graduation Ceremony. Each person honored had completed an education or training program on top of their busy work schedule within the past year.

The 23 graduates represented more than 15 distinct areas of study and training programs, ranging from Bachelors and Masters degrees to computer training courses, certifications and licenses to leadership programs.

Ed Blackburn, CCC Executive Director, addressed the honorees, saying that reading each of the names on the certificates he signed was a moving exercise.

“You’re an inspiration to me. Your efforts are an inspiration for others,” Ed said. “I’m so pleased that the organization has people like you who want to continue advancing their education and learning.”

During the keynote address, Dr. Percy encouraged honorees to use their newly acquired knowledge as a bridge to better serving others.

“I imagine that many of you got more education so you can continue to do even more to help other people as well as advancing your own lives,” said Dr. Percy. “If you can give a little help, a little assistance, some encouragement, we can change things and make things better. There’s a beauty from working with other people.”

Each graduate was called up by name and was given a certificate of accomplishment and ceremonial cord.

We know that encouraging and investing in our employees – whether through direct financial assistance, support from peers, or making resources more accessible – will allow our staff members to realize their full potential as exceptional colleagues and professionals. As Ed said during the ceremony, Central City Concern is proud to be “an organization that supports those who are trying to advance their knowledge and their education.”



Supporting Employees' Pathways to Educational Advancement

Feb 09, 2015

Previously, we highlighted Central City Concern’s 2nd Annual Education Fair, which gathered representatives from more than a dozen colleges and universities to provide our employees with information about their programs of study, financial aid opportunities, and more. But, CCC’s commitment to supporting employees didn’t stop there.

On January 15th, we announced the launch of Central City Concern Education Assistance. CCC is proud to have a diverse workforce that has an equally varied range of educational interests and pursuits. In recognition, CCC has dedicated substantial funding to offer supportive pathways toward educational advancement.

Central City Concern has set up nine scholarship awards, set to be awarded to CCC employees for the 2015-2016 academic year:

An additional scholarship will be awarded by the State of Oregon’s Office of Student Access and Completion for use at any accredited institution ahead of the 2016-2017 academic year.

All staff members who are employed at least half time and have two years of continuous service at the time of application are eligible to apply.

The selection processes for each award will be entirely administered by the awarding foundation. CCC has also discussed with the awarding foundations the need for the Education Assistance scholarships to be accessible to a diverse staff population. We are thankful to have gained their commitment to an equitable review process.



CCC's 2nd Annual Education Fair

Jan 29, 2015

On Tuesday, January 27, Central City Concern held its 2nd Annual Education Fair to bring resources and information about educational opportunities to our employees.

At Central City Concern, we strive to see our clients, patients, and residents believe in and reach their higher potential. As Ed Blackburn, CCC’s Executive Director, has been known to say, everyone is capable of reaching a higher potential with the right support. For those we serve, that support begins in the form of CCC’s housing and healthcare. For those who are able, volunteerism and employment follow. In addition, CCC brings dignity do disabled individuals by helping them attain benefits, enabling them to fully participate in the community.

Our belief in the higher potential of individuals also extends to the amazing people who work at Central City Concern. For many employees, furthering their education is a prominent part of their journey toward reaching a higher potential. 

Representatives from more than a dozen colleges and universities flocked to the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC) and set up booths to provide information and answer questions about available fields of study, financial aid opportunities, student life, and more. Last year’s Education Fair proved to be so successful that CCC’s Human Resources team not only increased the number of participating schools, but it also arranged a seminar on ways to finance higher education. CCC HR staff members were also on hand to talk with employees about how CCC can support their pursuit of educational advancement.

Employees had varying reasons for checking out the fair. One employee believed that the experience she has gained as a health assistant at OTRC would make her a successful candidate for advanced healthcare programs. Another employee had just found out about new scholarship opportunities for which he was eligible and was interested in finding ways to take advantage of the financial resource.

Attendees recognized Central City Concern’s active support to staff toward fulfilling educational goals and potential. One of our housing case managers said that it was “clear that CCC wants to see me progress and follow my passion for getting more educated.” 

An employee from Puentes said that bringing information and opportunities to encourage educational advancement “shows that CCC really cares about me. They want me to be better for myself. And then I’ll also become better for CCC and my clients.”

A post-Fair survey showed that more than half the employees who attended were interested in enrolling in undergraduate or graduate studies. Many others said that they were interested in obtaining further licensure or professional certificates. 

The Education Fair is only one way that Central City Concern supports our employees’ educational aspirations. Next week, we’ll bring you news of yet another development that aims to provide our employees yet another step up toward their higher potential through educational advancement.