Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2017 Edition

Mar 29, 2017

Just last month, Central City Concern launched the Flip the Script program with the goal of providing housing, cultural peer support, and employment specialists to support African Americans’ reentry into the community when leaving a criminal justice program. Without employment or housing, African Americans have a 36 percent chance of re-entering the system; addressing those pitfalls was crucial to their success.

But before the conversations around solutions could begin, CCC needed to identify the presenting issues, snags, and concerns facing this population.

Enter CCC volunteer, MJ.

Although much of his work was behind closed doors and in front of computer screens, the critical role MJ played in laying the foundation for the Flip the Script program was imperative to the successful launch of Flip the Script. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with MJ and ask him about the groundwork it took to assist in getting this program rolled out.

• • •

Name and Volunteer Position: Michael Jones but I go by MJ.

And my volunteer proposition to you all was “Hey, if you’ve got some data, I would love to volunteer to analyze it.”

Because I thought you can do two things with that. I thought, one, we could help improve the program wherever that data came from so we can find some areas for improvement. And two, I thought this data could help you all tell your story about how you’re driving the impact in the community.

I do believe if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. But I also really know that data can close deals.

It sounds like our Employment Access Center was able to take you up on your offer, specifically for their Flip the Script Program.
Coming from a business background it’s all about ROI—the return on investment—and when I thought about it you guys have probably the largest ROI in the history of the world. Seriously. If you look at what does it cost to incarcerate a person versus what does it cost when a person is a productive member of society? That’s sort of the ROI that I see.

So with that I started to dig in, and with Freda [Ceaser, CCC’s director of Employment Services), was given a project to go run with. Once I got in, like with every large organization, it turned out to be kind of complicated. We were sort at the classic starting point of not having all of the data. CCC had some data based on where individuals were housed with intake and exit interviews, but the data actually started back with the Department of Corrections.

And then as we started to dig further, it goes into the Department of Justice. I thought it was pretty amazing in the early stages of this project that Freda was able to wrangle those folks to come and get everyone in the same room. We had people driving up from Salem, from DOJ and DCJ, and we spent some time on a whiteboard and it did turn out to be very complicated. I sketched it all out and said well they have this piece and they have this piece but how do we marry those together.

It was pretty great and they sort of rallied around that this was a good idea. We did really need to keep people’s privacy and security in mind so we did talk about the cleaning of the data so it’s non-identifiable. But gosh, after a couple of months, everybody provided all of the bits and we were able to paste it together and basically what we had was 1,000 records and those represented 1,000 people.

That sounds like quite a bit of collaboration and work! Do you feel like the results were well-received?
I feel like what I presented to your team, people were really excited. They were like, “We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never seen the data presented in this way. We’ve never seen this much data. We’ve never heard the story told on top of it and we’ve always been looking at a small piece.” It really opened their eyes to some really healthy discussion and debate around the causation of recidivism and then a lot of thinking on how to improve it.

Recidivism is such a common thread for so many. What were some of the causes you discovered?
For instance one of the top reasons for recidivism is an individual, or a sex offender, not registering their location. But when you think about it, well, if you don’t have a home it’s kind of hard to register your location.

We uncovered some things that seem a little counterintuitive. Like how to some degree people would be less likely to recidivate if they stayed in a shelter, or if they even lived on the street, than if they went to live with friends. And that group that said they lived with friends had an incredibly high recidivism rate. But when you think about it, it makes total sense because that’s getting back to your bad habits. And so I think that helped really enlighten things.

And MJ, what made you want to get involved with Central City Concern in the first place?
I was motivated because of the homelessness situation that we’ve seen unfold in the past three years and I’m not one to just sit on the sidelines. I like to take action so I decided I wanted to volunteer locally and that seemed to be the biggest problem I could see locally.

And I was impressed [with Central City Concern]. There’s a huge number of organizations that are helping homeless populations in a variety of ways, but I really liked CCC because you guys focused on the health angle, the employment angle, and the housing angle and so I saw that as more sustainable. I guess I saw that as teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish.

And I love the social enterprise angle because I think that gives people real world work experience and it gives people the skills they need but it’s actually a real company and it’s about generating revenue. So I’m wild about that. We’re not just throwing cash at people but we’re teaching them life skills. It’s a bigger organization than I thought and I’d say it’s more innovative.

Is there anything you would think about doing differently if you volunteered again?
I loved it but in hindsight I was thinking my flaw in that volunteering opportunity was that these people were still numbers. And I think it would be good for me to see them as people and not numbers. And so I think being critical of my own volunteer experience, it was a very clinical and analytic sort of play where I think I could build more empathy if I got closer to the people rather than spreadsheets of numbers. Which is to say I have a couple of other things I want to work on, volunteering things, but that thinking has helped me inform my future strategy around my volunteering opportunities and wanting to be a little bit closer to it.

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.



CCC on NPR: TANF 20th Anniversary

Sep 09, 2016

We want to share a National Public Radio story (August 22, 2016) recognizing the 20th anniversary of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which highlights Central City Concern’s (CCC) opportunities for people experiencing homelessness. Amber’s story of treatment for her addiction disorder and bringing her family back together is inspiring. Oregon is lucky compared to other states who haven’t supported the TANF program as well.

Of course, we were thrilled to get national recognition for CCC and Oregon’s strong programming to help families. The strength of Oregon’s support to needy families is, in part, due to the good work of the Oregon TANF Alliance*, a consortium of agencies. This alliance works with the Oregon legislature and the Oregon Department of Human Services to ensure the TANF program reaches every eligible family for the federally allowable time-limit of 5 years, protecting thousands of children from the most extreme form of family poverty: zero income. Without this cash benefit, as well the childcare expenses and the supportive case management services covered by TANF, thousands of families would be living on Portland’s streets.        

We were greatly relieved—for our own clients as well as for families across the state—that TANF funding was maintained and improved during the 2016 legislative session. It remains crucial to provide families with a firm pathway out of poverty and toward a more stable income—and TANF plays a major role in that support. Every day, CCC supports TANF families through treatment, housing and employment services. And we will continue to fight for TANF families both here in Oregon and at the federal level. Today, an Oregon family has to earn at or below a paltry 37 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for TANF cash assistance; that’s down from 59 percent when the program began in 1996. For a deeper understanding of TANF in Oregon over the past 20 years, we suggest a review of this recent blog post from the Oregon Center for Public Policy .

CCC collaborates with many others to fight poverty and end homelessness; it makes us stronger and more effective. We’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Oregon TANF Alliance to help families in Oregon stay together and safe.



Restaurant Depot: 2016 “Opening Doors" Employer of the Year

Jul 14, 2016

On July 13, Central City Concern held its seventh annual Employment Access Center celebration to honor more than a dozen clients for their exceptional diligence and success in the employment process over the past year. The EAC also recognized two Portland-area employers—Washman Car Washes and Restaurant Depot—for their superlative commitments to helping individuals find stable employment and attain self-sufficiency.

Restaurant Depot was honored as the “Opening Doors” Employer of the Year for their “commitment to giving those with high barriers to employment an opportunity to thrive.” Learn more about Restaurant Depot below!

• • •

Anyone who works in a Portland restaurant knows about Restaurant Depot. This cash-and-carry warehouse offers one-stop shopping to Portland’s ever-expanding food service industry. Shoppers will find fresh meat, poultry, seafood and produce; dairy products; a huge variety of frozen and canned foods; beverages; bakery supplies; catering supplies; cleaning supplies; and food service equipment.

Restaurant Depot has been an extremely supportive partner of CCC’s Employment Access Center (EAC) for more than five years, hiring five to 10 people annually. Most people work out; one CCC referral has been there five years and became the union shop steward.

Dan Williams (pictured here), Restaurant Depot’s branch manager, appreciates working with the EAC because they do such a great job identifying people who will be a good fit with the company, and likely to stay. “We like giving people a chance,” he says. “A lot of people make mistakes but it’s important to get them a job and get them out of that rut so they can improve their lives.”

Dan says people from CCC work hard and are likely to stick around. The EAC also helps him solve hiring struggles and remain fully staffed.

“It’s a great partnership,” he says.

Washman Car Washes: 2016 “Enduring Partner” Employer of the Year

Jul 14, 2016

On July 13, Central City Concern held its seventh annual Employment Access Center celebration to honor more than a dozen clients for their exceptional diligence and success in the employment process over the past year. The EAC also recognized two Portland-area employers—Restaurant Depot and Washman Car Washes—for their superlative commitments to helping individuals find stable employment and attain self-sufficiency.

Washman Car Washes was honored as the “Enduring Partner” Employer of the Year for their "history of partnering with Central City Concern and believing in our customers.” Learn more about Washman below!

• • •

With 11 locations across the Portland metro area, Washman Car Washes are a familiar site to community members. According to Amy Colvin (pictured here), the company’s Human Resources Coordinator, this is all the more reason that the company is intent on giving back to the area.

“We aim to be citizens who are part of this community. We do a lot in terms of giving back, not just in supporting schools and the Special Olympics and more, but also in the way we hire and how we work,” Amy says.

Over the past several years, clients of Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center have certainly felt the good work of Washman Car Washes. As part of their commitment to the community, Washman has been intentional in giving individuals experiencing barriers to employment—extended periods of unemployment or homelessness, less-than-spotless criminal histories, various scheduling needs, among other reasons—something invaluable: an opportunity. As Amy says, “Washman believes in second chances, in getting people back to work.”

While Washman’s compassionate hiring practices have helped more than a dozen EAC customers get back to work, the company has seen benefits, too.

“I think the people who come to us from Central City Concern display a great commitment to turning their life around,” says Amy. “They’re not interested in just finding a way to get by, they’re looking to get better.”

According to Amy, Washman takes pride in being understanding and flexible with its employees to help them succeed not just in the workplace, but in life. They do their best to accommodate employees’ childcare schedules, treatment program commitments, and even AA or NA meetings.

“We encourage them to continue those things because we know how important they are. We want to make sure they get the support that they need.”

Amy says the past several years of investing in CCC Employment Access Center clients looking to get on the right track has been absolutely worthwhile.

Giving people a chance when others don’t, Amy says, “makes for better employees, for a better relationship with us their employer, and for better people.”

One Dad. One Daughter. One Day at a Time.

Jun 13, 2016

“We have a good relationship today,” says Easten B., of his daughter Zoe, an accomplished high school sophomore.

But things weren’t always that way. Easten was absent for six years of Zoe’s life battling drugs, alcohol, and homelessness. Since getting clean and sober almost three years ago, a lot has changed for Easten and Zoe. “It all started at Hooper,” he says, referring to Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox, where life took a dramatic turn for the better. It was there, in 2009 that Easten committed to “living a life free of fear, shame, and regret.” He wanted to be a good dad and he wanted to pursue his dream of owning a farm like his great-great grandfather once did.

Soon after completing treatment at Hooper Detox, Easten was accepted into Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program, which included supportive housing in an alcohol- and drug-free environment at the Estate Hotel. He was surrounded by people who were hungry for a new way of life and positive change. He worked with CCC counselors and fellow residents to get and stay healthy. He joined the Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) and engaged in group projects that involved everything from pulling ivy at the Oregon Zoo to folding newsletters at the Hollywood Senior Center in northeast Portland.

“CVC gave me a sense of purpose—that is so important in early recovery.”

The following year he secured a 6-month trainee position in Central City Concern’s Downtown Clean and Safe program. He was able to get into a daily routine that not only added structure to his life, but also helped build self-esteem.

While in treatment at the Central City Concern Recovery Center, a counselor told Easten to work every day to get better. He told Easten to beware of life’s plateaus and to keep reaching for more.

So Easten has kept reaching. He recently began work with Progress Rail, a contracting company for Union Pacific Railroad, doing maintenance, safety tests, and inspections on train cars in the field. The job has enabled him to get his own apartment in northwest Portland. It’s a long way from the tent he used to live in under the St. Johns Bridge.

He’s also kept reaching in another important way: to be a good Dad to Zoe. To Easten, that means being “available, patient, understanding, and willing to love unconditionally.” Easten doesn’t want the disease of addiction to take away anymore birthdays, holidays, or opportunities to participate in his daughter’s life.

“I wasn’t good at being a dad the first time around, and I’m so grateful to get another chance. I taught Zoe to fish and to skateboard. And now I’m teaching her to drive.”

Zoe is a standout student who makes her father proud. He sees unlimited potential in the effort she puts forth every day in and out of the classroom.

“She’s in a Technical Theater Program and signs fluently. Her choir took first place in a big competition this year and she competed in Battle of the Books. She’s a good student who’s outgoing and cares a lot for others. All of this is a big deal to me,” says Easten. “She’s going to be great ... I know it.”

“My mind and body are healthier than ever now,” Easten shares. “I couldn’t have done any of this without Central City Concern.”

• • •

Honor Easten or any father by making a donation to Central City Concern today.

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: March 2016 Edition

Mar 29, 2016

March’s Monthly Volunteer Spotlight illuminates the outstanding work of Helen Hotchkiss! Having worked and volunteered in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown for more than 15 years, Helen’s familiarity with our neighborhood and administrative prowess make her an important part of our Employment Access Center’s success.

• • •

Name: Helen Hotchkiss

Position: I’m listed as an administrative assistant volunteer, but I’m doing a lot of document management, reviewing program documents to help ensure that they will pass audits.

How long have you been volunteering with Central City Concern?
It’s been a few years; I think it was 2013. There are new programs coming on so there’s always that learning: a new program, new documentation, what I need to be looking for, what I need to be doing to help the Employment Specialists.

Do you have a history in administrative work?
My history is as an administrative assistant. I’ve written technical manuals, I’ve written policy... I became very good at picking up problems in a system and being able to find solutions for those problems so that the system will work. And that’s what I did here.

I worked for 13-and-a-half years with SERA Architects. When I started with SERA, they were on NW 2nd and NW Davis. Then the office moved up to 5th Ave. [SERA Architects Founder and Central City Concern emeritus board member] Bing Sheldon was the president of the CCC board of directors at the time, and so in my position at SERA Architects I had a lot of contact with people at CCC coming in to talk with him.

Why did you choose to volunteer?
When I retired I knew I wasn’t going to be sitting at home in a rocking chair; my work ethic is just over the top! I filled out online applications to three nonprofits and CCC was the first to call back.

What were your impressions of Central City Concern before you began volunteering here?
I’ve always had very good impressions… a very high level of respect for CCC because SERA Architects did the Richard L. Harris building and has done a number of other buildings for Central City Concern.

What do you enjoy about the Employment Access Center?
There’s a lot of teamwork that goes on here. And people, for the most part, really get along. Egos are left at the door and they’re here for their clients.

What would you most like to tell someone about this organization?
I think CCC has one of the best programs that I have heard about nationwide because they address the whole person. Or they try to as much as the person will let them. From health, to housing, helping them get work, helping them with family situations. You know—the whole thing.

What advice would you give someone who was thinking about volunteering here? I would say, go ahead; do it! I really wish that more people would volunteer for these types of nonprofits and agencies. There are so many things that you can do and the help that you can give is immeasurable. I mean we’re dealing in people’s lives and anything, any skills that you have, can be used.

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If you are interested in learning more about volunteering with Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Eric Reynolds, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at or visit our volunteer webpage today!


“Aaaahhhh. I’m home!”

Dec 08, 2015

That’s what I thought when I walked through the doors of Central City Concern’s Estate Building for the first time. After decades of chaos, pain pills, and couch surfing, I had finally found a safe place to lay my head. 

It took me far longer to find that place than I care to admit. 

My story isn’t an easy one to tell. But I tell it with the hope that others may be helped by it. I’ll spare you a lot of the messy details. 

I grew up in New Jersey, surrounded by brothers and dogs—or “dawgs” as they say out there. We moved around a lot. My dad—and guardian angel—died when I was 10. Not long after, Mom sort of went off the rails. Our home became party central. Drugs, sex, and strangers ruled. Bad things happened around me and bad things happened to me. 

At 17, I left home. I hadn’t a clue how to get a job, find an apartment, or pay my bills. I lived on the streets of New York City for about a year before turning to Mr. Not-Quite-Right for help. At 19, I was pregnant with my precious daughter, Jessica. Then the pains in my gut began. The diagnosis: Crohn’s disease, which would most likely lead to multiple surgeries over my lifetime. Mr. Not-Quite-Right didn’t stick around after that. 

Pain pills became the answer to all of my problems—the Crohn’s, the loneliness, the bewilderment, the fear.… The feeling that everyone but me had been handed an instruction book for life … I didn’t know how to take care of myself and I didn’t know how to take care of my little girl. I turned to my mother for help. 

My not-so-great mother was a really terrific grandmother to Jessica. She created the safe home for Jessica that she hadn’t been able to for me. 

And thank goodness she did! At this point in my life, I had become so racked with pain from Crohn’s and ashamed of my own failures as a mother, that I added cocaine and methamphetamines to the mix. I would do anything not to feel. I was again couch surfing and living on the streets. 

This nonsense went on for a while. I turned to my mother for help again. By this time, she and Jessica were living in Bend. I joined them, sobered up, did some dog- and house-sitting here and there to earn money, enrolled at Central Oregon Community College, and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Things were pretty good for about five years. I really enjoyed my counseling work and the opportunity it gave me to help others like me. Then my Crohn’s flared up bad. There was more surgery, there was more pain, and there were more pain pills. I was taking too many and I was turning to the streets to get more. Alone on a rural highway in an opioid daze one night, I crashed my car. 

That near-fatal wreck led to a life-saving trip to Central City Concern’s Hooper Detox. Over and over, the Hooper counselors told me I was going to be okay. I thought, “If I can get out of this, I’m coming back here to help others.”   

Once the drugs were out of my system, I went to Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program. I was given a little apartment in the Estate Building. The minute I walked in, I felt safe. And that’s when my life began to change. 

I had a roof over my head. I had food to eat. I was surrounded by people who wanted me to succeed. I received intensive addiction treatment counseling at Central City Concern’s Recovery Center. At Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic, I learned ways to manage my Crohn’s that didn’t involve pills.  

I joined Central City Concern’s Community Volunteer Corps. I hired on with the Clean and Safe crew so I could start to rebuild my resume. It was a little humbling, but there’s something really gratifying about starting at the bottom. 

Eventually, I moved into Central City Concern’s Sally McCracken Building, where I was again surrounded by a community of people who wanted the same things I did: sobriety, stability, and safety. I felt so welcome there. My room in the Sally McCracken became a little sanctuary. I was able to live on my own and be self-sufficient for the first time in my life. 

Over the next several months, I met frequently with staff at Central City Concern’s Employment Access Center. They helped me find meaningful work while I waited to earn recertification as a drug- and alcohol counselor. Once I did, I kept my promise: I went back to Hooper Detox to work as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Every day, I get to give back in the place that saved my life. 

During this time, my daughter, Jessica, started her own family. The self-examination and character-building work I have done with the help of Central City Concern has allowed me to become a good mother to her and a grandmother to her children. 

Central City Concern gave me a little place to call home when I needed it most. Then they gave me everything I needed to build a new life. It was like I finally got that book with the instructions for life that everyone else was born with. Now I’m employed full time and looking for a place of my own, so that someone else can have the little place at the Sally McCracken that was so important early on to my sobriety and my sanity. 

Central City Concern told me to trust them each step of the way, and I did.  

They never let me down.    

EAC Celebrates Clients, Honors Employer of the Year

Jul 23, 2015

Central City Concern has always had great fondness for Floyd's Coffee in the Old Town neighborhood. For many staff members, it’s an ad hoc office and place for quick meetings. For our Employment Specialists at our Employment Access Center, it’s the go-to spot to hold mock interviews with the people we serve to better prepare them for employment.

And when we asked Floyd’s co-owner Cris Chapman (right) if she might be interested in hiring some of our clients, not only did she say yes but she proceeded to create three unique, part-time jobs for some of our clients who needed an extra level of flexibility.

So for all of us who know Cris and co-owner Jack Inglis, it was no surprise that Floyd’s Coffee was selected as our first-ever Employer of the Year, recognized for their extraordinary contributions in helping individuals attain self-sufficiency. This recognition was made on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at Portland City Hall at our annual Employment Access Center celebration where we honored more than 30 clients for exemplary achievements in attaining and retaining employment with more than 150 well wishers in the audience!

The event was a great night to celebrate people reaching their higher potential! Congratulations to all the clients whose hard work and commitment to obtaining employment was honored, as well as their families and friends. We also thank Mayor Charlie Hales for sharing City Hall, George Hocker for representing Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, and Patrick Gihring from Worksystems, Inc. for joining us and sharing their thoughts from the podium.

Remembering the Whirlwind

Oct 06, 2014

Last Friday, October 3rd, in Downtown Portland, the Clean & Safe District, managed by Portland Business Alliance, honored Kenny Cloughley as the 2014 Clean & Safe Cleaner of the Year. Jim Bare was announced as the Clean & Safe Security Officer of the Year. Michael Boyer was awarded the Crime Prevention award, while Howard Weiner was recognized as this year's Downtown Champion.

When Kenny Cloughley, Portland Business Alliance 2014 Clean & Safe’s Cleaner of the Year, starts talking, you can’t help but notice his impeccable memory. He peppers his stories with exact dates effortlessly, but with a sense of urgency, almost as if he has to.

September 10, 2012. May 7, 2013. February 2, 2014.

As it turns out, the act of remembering is essential not just to how he tells his story, but to the story itself. “I try real hard to not forget about my past, but the further I move away from it, the better off I am,” he says.

These days, Kenny, a Central City Concern employee, is known around Old Town Chinatown as an exemplary worker who ensures that trash is picked up and graffiti is erased. He goes out of his way to make sure all customers on the bus mall are receiving the best possible service. He mentors newly hired Clean & Safe trainees. And he does all this with unmatched positivity, pride, and a gentleness that belies his whip-smart sense of humor. This is the Kenny thousands of Portlanders saw when he hosted local news anchor Wayne Garcia for KPTV’s “Hey Do My Job” segment, during which Garcia tried his hand at the daily duties of Clean & Safe workers.

But not too long ago, the past he alludes to – multiple felonies, several stints in prison, substance abuse and addiction, and periods of success punctuated by disappointments – left Kenny doubting that his future held any hope.

“I definitely had thoughts like, ‘I’m just a felon. Maybe I’m better off committing crimes.’”

Kenny went to prison for the first time in 1994 and found himself in and out of incarceration over the next decade. In 2004, he went back to prison, but also entered a treatment program. On parole, but with an eye toward staying clean, he started the process of rebuilding his life, which included finding stable employment at a job he liked and getting married.

But in 2011, after five years and 10 months of sobriety, Kenny relapsed and was sent back to prison.

“I’d never had clean time before and I was feeling good. I forgot about how hard I had worked to build it all back. I forgot to be grateful.”

Kenny moved into Central City Concern transitional housing once he was released in late 2012. He knew he needed a job to get back on his feet. Kenny made a habit of leaving his apartment by 8:00 a.m. every morning to take advantage of numerous employment resources and sent out hundreds of resumes (417 to be exact), but he recounts that his past “kept me from gaining any traction, regardless of my work ethic and the direction I wanted to go in.”

Frustrated and filled with doubt, Kenny relapsed again. But, in an unusual move, he went straight to his parole officer. Remembering his past – what he had lost, what he had to rebuild, and not wanting to lose everything all over again – led him to admitting to his parole officer that he needed help with his addiction.

December 18, 2012 is the day Kenny entered treatment at Volunteers of America. He also counts this as his clean date. “It’s a four-month substance abuse treatment program, but it’s also a ‘life treatment’ program,” Kenny says. “I learned how to make good decisions.”

On May 7, 2013, his good decisions paid off. Kenny was hired at Clean & Safe for a six-month janitor trainee position, due in part to Central City Concern’s understanding that “employment is a key to becoming self-sufficient. They didn’t shun or judge me for my past.” Kenny excelled at his new job – always on-time, always positive, always going willing to go above and beyond. Once his training position ended, Kenny hit the job search again, this time with momentum on his side.

Then came February 4, 2014. He was called in to interview for a permanent street cleaner position and was hired almost immediately. Jay McIntyre, Clean & Safe Program Manager, says, “We were extremely happy to bring Kenny back to the team. Kenny is very personable, professional, and a wonderful representative of Clean & Safe.”

Reflecting on his whirlwind life since September 10, 2012 – the last time he was paroled – today, Kenny says, “I have almost two years of sobriety. I have a house, a job, a car, a family, a checking account.

“My life today is something I’m going to hold onto like a bull rider on horns. CCC’s done so much for me. They took a chance on me and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Based on Kenny’s insistence on remembering his journey – which now includes October 3, 2014, the day he was honored as Clean & Safe Cleaner of the Year – it’s doubtful that he ever will.