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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.



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.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: December 2017 Edition

Dec 28, 2017

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we set out to survey our volunteer community in regard to a concept that is often very important to folks around this time of year—the idea of "home." The thought of being “home for the holidays” is central to many people’s experience at this time of year, but what that word “home” means can be very different from person to person. With that in mind, we touched based with some of our volunteer across programs to see what home meant to them.


Lara M., Clinic Concierge Volunteer: Home is a place to feel comforted and unconditionally cared for. At home we can feel regarded as individuals with our own strengths, fears and dreams. Home can be a place to feel supported, regardless of the mistakes and messes we make. Home can feel like a warm, all-encompassing hug. Physical homes go away, but what usually remains are the feelings experienced there, both the good, and the rough. In my heart, home means that I hold close not only the unconditional love I received growing up, but also the encouragement and motivation I continue to gather from friendships I’ve made along the way. When I visit that “home” of unconditional love in my heart, it bolsters my resiliency, provides courage and inspires me to share my idea of home out to the world.


Judy S., Clinic Concierge Volunteer: So, home for the holidays, for me that means being somewhere that I feel safe and comfortable and ideally with friends and family around. I just moved back to Portland a year or so ago, so before that I was living somewhere where I wasn’t close to anyone and I really felt what it was like to be all alone. So now that I’m back here it feels so good to me to just know that there are people that know me and care about me.



Helen H., EAC Administrative Volunteer: Acceptance, respect, all the things that go in to helping us feel like we belong. Feeling a part of something is important to most people, for their self-respect, for their self-esteem. I don’t think of home as a place. I’ve have never really been attached to place. I don’t know whether that’s due to my background of having moved constantly throughout my childhood, because I was raised in poverty and never owned a home, but people and community became more important to me. And, family.


Kyle G., Pharmacy Volunteer: When I think about that I think about Joe Dirt, the movie. So there’s this one person in the movie that said, “Home is where you make it.” And I think that kind of resonates with me because you don’t essentially have to be in a home that your parents own or someone owns, you just have to be surrounded by people that care about you. That’s where home is. Home is actually pretty different for me from year to year because sometimes I’m with my Dad, and sometimes I’m with my aunt, sometimes I’m living with my brother, so as long as I’m surrounded by people who care about me and look out for each other’s wellbeing that’s where home is for me.





Lana C., Clinic Concierge Volunteer: Home to me means to be a part of something that makes me feel welcomed, accepted, comforted, safe, and loved unconditionally. These feelings can only be felt due to people. Whether it’s a single person or a group of people, it doesn’t matter, but never to a physical place alone. Lucky for us that means our sense of home is never stagnant or far. It can be as close to us as our own hearts beating within our chest or in every person we meet throughout our lives, in any corner of the world.


Jen K., On-call Administrative Volunteer: To me, home means a place to return to for comfort and rest. It's where I can let my guard down and just be myself.




Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: November 2017 Edition

Nov 30, 2017

This month’s spotlight features a volunteer who came aptly qualified for our Cooking Matters program, which is a partnership between Central City Concern and the Oregon Food Bank that teaches clients the skills and knowledge required for healthy cooking and eating habits. Having previously volunteered with a different Cooking Matters session and given her experience in the health care industry, she couldn’t have been a better fit to volunteer with the program! Linda Nguyen, who supervised Nickie in the program, said about her work, “The Cooking Matters team at Old Town Clinic was honored to have Nickie share her time and knowledge with our program. Nickie’s kind, calm, and compassionate spirit helped create a friendly environment where our clients felt safe and supported throughout the 6-weeks program.”

Read on to see why Nickie has continued to volunteer with the Cooking Matters program, and what was so special about the classes at CCC.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Nickie: My name is Nickie Dane and I am the Cooking Matters lead assistant.

P: And you had done the Cooking Matters program before coming to CCC, right?

N: Yes, I was a grocery store tour coordinator [with a Cooking Matters program] in North Carolina. People would be referred to this day of tours through the health department or WIC [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children], and we’d put on like six in one day, so people would come in and go through the grocery store and get a “10 dollar challenge” where they got to practice buying things from the different food groups.

P: And how is this class different than the one you had done before?

N: It’s different in that it’s over a six-week period, while those other ones it was just an afternoon, so they come in and get an hour or two hour tour and that was it. With this there would be follow up and participants would come in and talk about the recipes and what they’d done at home that was a little healthier. It was exciting seeing people make the commitment and keep coming. There were a good eleven people who did the whole class. I just enjoyed people being excited about cooking and health.

"It was exciting seeing people make the commitment and keep coming.... I just enjoyed people being excited about cooking and health."
-Nickie, CCC Volunteer

P: What is it about Cooking Matters that is meaningful for you and kept you coming back to it?

N: I work in the health care industry and seeing the lack of information given to people by traditional primary care providers about what people can do to improve their health as far lifestyle and food choice goes has been a big driver. I think that prevention needs a little more attention and if they haven't gotten it from their doctor then they can get it from other sources, like Cooking Matters.

P: What were the common questions or misconceptions that folks had?

N: So, some of the things that come up are like, “Why do we have to look at saturated fat?” So, we’ll have a conversation about heart disease and they’ll go, “Oh well, I have some heart problems,” or high blood pressure and that will lead us down the conversation of sodium intake and reading food labels. And they never knew they should look at that part of the food label and they didn’t know that sodium affected their blood pressure significantly. Because their doctor might have said, “Oh, try to cut back on salt,” but they didn’t really understand why or get into a conversation any deeper than that.

P: I think we do hear that a lot, just sort of, “You should eat better.”

N: Yeah, just really generic instructions and there’s not a how you should do that, or why you should do that.

P: Is that something that is part of the Cooking Matters program, more than just “you should,” but this is how this affects your body?

N: Yes! And not just that, but understanding how a recipe works and if you don’t have a recipe, how to take the foods you’re getting at the food pantry or what you’re able to purchase at a low price and how to make that into something healthy and also looking at things like leaving the peels on fruits and vegetables, because that gives you more fiber. And fiber is better for you because it helps prevent cancer and lowers you cholesterol, so these are things we all talk about in the class over the six weeks. Lots of questions, lots of “Oh, I didn’t know that!”

P: Were there any common reasons that folks weren’t always able to access healthy food?

N: I think one of the barriers living in this area is access to healthy food, so purposefully going out of your way to go to the bigger grocery stores to buy fresh produce. That is a big barrier, because it’s easy to just go down to that little convenience store that’s right there.

P: I think that’s something we can all relate to, if it’s hard to fit that time in to your week or you don’t have a car or reliable transit, just valuing food enough to make that time to make that trip and that effort.

N: Yes. And seeing that it’s not a huge hurdle. It can be a hurdle, but we took the bus to Fred Meyer so they got to see that it just took a few minutes.

Another thing that would come up is the kitchens that they have available to them. They would say, “Oh, I don’t have this, I don’t have an oven, I only have a microwave or a hotplate.” So we’d talk about different ways to get around that so you could still have the healthy food and the good options and kind of overcoming not having measuring cups, little things that we take for granted.

P: Were there any stand out moments from the class?

N: I loved the last day when everyone got to come together and talk about what they learned and the recipes that they liked and just got to hang out. I think a bunch of people stayed later and we all took pictures and everyone got a little award and an apron and they just talked about how much they loved it and how they want to take more classes.

The last day we also played food jeopardy. Alison [the lead chef for Cooking Matters] set up this Jeopardy board and prizes, like mixing spoons and things like that they could use, and everyone did so well remembering things like what temperature you need to cook chicken to and what’s the biggest way you can prevent disease or foodborne illness, which was “wash your hands,” which everyone knew.

I got to know some people and the hard things they’ve gone through and what they’ve overcome. And now that they’re getting back in to a stable lifestyle this is something where they can meet people and learn a new skill and take their health into their own hands. I think having something to stick with and to get out and meet people and interact with them was really good for several participants. There was a couple in there too and they used it as their date night. And one of them didn’t like vegetables at all, or only certain vegetables, so it kind of pushed him outside of his comfort zone. And that was cool to see.

P: And what was important about this experience for you?

N: Seeing how resilient people are. It was so neat to get to know people over these six weeks and hearing what they’re going through with their health and illness, rough backgrounds, and the social isolation and they’re just putting themselves out there and working to get better. When I work as a paramedic, I talk to someone for about 15 to 30 minutes, and that’s about it, and I leave them at the hospital, so I don’t really get beyond, “What are you feeling right now?” Working with this population, which I don’t get to do very often, it kind of pushed me beyond my comfort zone in effective communications and how to talk about things that are hard without being biased or offending anyone.

P: And what keeps you coming back to volunteer?

N: It feels so good, people thank you, and hopefully I’ll get to see people on the street now walking around in this area and say hi and catch up and make connections.

P: It’s a great reminder that we’re all in this space together and you can make a connection like that.

"It’s nice to just break it down and just understand that while they have a completely different life from what I have, they are valuable, they are human, and want interactions. We’re all people in this community."

N: Just even walking over here, I try to smile at people on the street when I’m walking by and maybe they don’t get attention or noticed or whatever, so just smiling and saying hi and just watching them be like, “Oh, Hi!” It’s nice to just break it down and just understand that while they have a completely different life from what I have, they are valuable, they are human, and want interactions. We’re all people in this community.

P: And for our traditional last questions, if you met someone who was on the fence about volunteering with CCC, other than that wonderful pitch you just gave to me, what would you tell them?

N: Oh, I mean, even if you just do a little bit I think that seeing other ways of life or confronting things that you have a bias toward or against, it just makes you feel more connected to humanity. It makes you feel more human. And more empathetic. That’s a big, big part of why I’m doing this. It’s so important to interact with people that you don’t normally and do something for another person.

• • •

If reading about Nickie and Cooking Matters inspires you to make a donation of items, we are in need of kitchen supplies to help keep the class going at Central City Concern. Our Cooking Matter Amazon Wish List makes it easy for you donate, or you can contact our Donor Relations Manager, Catharine Hunter at catharine.hunter@ccconcern.org if you have quality used materials from the list that you would like to donate.

And if you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: October 2017 Edition

Oct 30, 2017

We’re very excited to turn this month’s spotlight to a volunteer from Puentes, Central City Concern’s culturally-specific program that supports Latinxs in recovery. Developed in 2005, Puentes uses a multidisciplinary approach to provide alcohol and drug treatment and mental health care to individuals and to the entire family in a way that mitigates stigma and fear.

Claudia, this month’s spotlighted volunteer, lends a hand to Puentes’ program that works with Latinx youth ages 14-21 who have drug or alcohol issues or are susceptible to gang involvement, Esperanza Juvenil. Marysol Jimenez, who oversees Esperanza Juvenil, says about Claudia, “It's been a satisfying experience to train a young adult that wants to learn about addiction counseling field, and is interested in working with our Latinx youth.”

Read on to hear how Claudia came to Puentes and how her own experience informs her work.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Claudia: Claudia Aparicio, and I’m volunteering at Puentes with Esperanza Juvenil, which in English is Youthful Hope.

P: And what does the Esperanza Juvenil program do?

C: The program is specifically for youth that are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s a reduction method. Marysol, who is the Esperanza Juvenil staff member, her goal is to get the youth to reduce their addiction. So, sometimes they ask her, “Do we have to quit?” and she’s like, “No, but it would be good if you could quit!” So she works with them in reducing the harm until they stop.

P: How did you find out about CCC?

C: When I was studying for the Certified Recovery Mentor position, [CCC staff member] Ricardo, who helped us get certified, would always call on me and say it would be really cool if I could volunteer with Puentes. He never really told me about the program, but was always trying to get me to volunteer, so finally I ended up coming here to volunteer.

P: I should probably know this, but what is a Certified Recovery Mentor?

C: A Certified Recovery Mentor is a first level of what a certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor would do. So we’re mentors for people that are working to recover from their addiction. I did my certification with the Instituto Latino, so it was a group of Hispanic people [getting certified].

P: How did you get involved with that organization?

C: I knew someone from Volunteers of America who was the one who started the group for Hispanics to get certified as CRMs. I went with a church, called Ministry of Jesus Christ of Men and Women Seeking Lost Souls. We work more with the homeless population, which not a lot of pastors do in the Hispanic area. We go to the streets and try to reach the homeless and give them resources.

P: What do see as the benefit of having a culturally specific program?

C: It just helps to see that there’s a lot of need in the Hispanic community, especially because they don’t really speak English. Ever since I was 19 I’ve been working with the Hispanic population, which I never thought I would do, because I had to help my mom with translations and filling out papers, and so I never saw myself doing that as a grown up. And now that I find myself serving the Hispanic community, trying to get them resources, and telling them where to go for resources, whether it’s a light bill, whether it’s to find an apartment, for a kid’s food boxes or clothing, I see that as a big challenge, because there is a big need in the Hispanic community.

P: And what is the importance of serving youth specifically?

C: I think it’s because they’re in their teen years, so they’re growing up. It’s better to stop or try to reduce the harm when they are young. It’s like a baby when it’s small. When a baby is small, you don’t start disciplining them when they’re 10 years old, because then it’s a little bit late.

P: What are the challenges of that?

C: The challenge is the youth can be a little bit rebellious, but there’s a saying in Spanish that says, “Es más mejor la palabra de una madre ajena quell tu propia madre”— we’d sometimes rather listen to a person that is not our mom than our own mom. Which is true because I lived it, I didn’t listen to my mom, but when I met my pastor I listened to her more.

“There’s a saying in Spanish that says, ‘Es más mejor la palabra de una madre ajena quell tu propia madre’—we’d sometimes rather listen to a person that is not our mom than our own mom.”
- Claudia, CCC Volunteer

P: For those that are rebellious, how do you reach them?

C: We try to talk to them and see where their rebelling comes from, because from my own experience, a kid is going to be rebellious because something happened. Like me, I was rebellious because something happened in my life and there was a root of bitterness in my heart, which made me really stubborn in my teen years and got me in to a lot of trouble as well.

And sometimes we’re young but have to mature faster than our age. I just had to mature a lot younger than I would because of my experience. Especially since I didn’t get disciplined, and sometimes self-discipline is much harder than getting disciplined by your own parent.

P: And it’s hard when you’re older than your years, because your experience is going to be so different from you friends.

C: I had a hard time fitting in school, I always thought I was superior than my classmates. I would just go in my shell and always find the library, because I always liked reading books. I would look for stories that were not relatable to me so I could learn more about other life experiences.

P: And that kind of ties in to what you’re doing now, hearing other people’s stories and being a mentor to people whose experiences may be different from your own. Have there been any particular stories that have stood out?

C: I heard a story of a girl who was getting her treatment here and she was going through the same experiences that I had gone through as a teen. Her mother didn’t try to connect with her and see to her needs, or understand why she was going through what she was going through. A lot of that happens because of culture shock. We’re born here and our parents are from Mexico or Guatemala, or some other Hispanic county, so we learn different things. Whether or not we want it, our culture is American culture, even though our parents are from Spanish-speaking counties. And sometimes we want to adapt to their culture as well, but since we don’t really know about it, we have to research it on the internet. We’re also more free. They didn’t go to school, they had to work, they had to feed the horses and the chickens. We don’t do that. So sometimes our parents don’t realize it’s a bit of culture shock between us and they don’t understand us or they don’t try to understand us. So when I heard that girl’s story, my heart went out to her.

"I learn more every day. I learn from the people here, and I see people I learn a lot from."

P: What keeps you coming back to volunteer?

C: I learn more every day. I learn from the people here, and I see people I learn a lot from.

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

C: I would definitely recommend CCC, because it’s a good agency and I’ve learned a lot. And at Puentes, it’s family based. Ever since I came they were like, “We’re a family here. We don’t see any of you guys aslower than us, and when we eat, we eat together.” We don’t eat in our own offices, we’re always eating together in the kitchen, and sometimes we don’t always have room so we’re all squished together, all talking and laughing.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: September 2017 Edition

Sep 26, 2017

For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we are shining our light on a volunteer who doesn’t often get much of it in her volunteer location. Rebecca Macy has been volunteering for the last five years in the basement of the Employment Access Center (EAC), where she helps maintain a clothing closet for EAC clients who need interview clothing or work wear. Read on to see how Rebecca’s past career as a librarian has informed her work in the clothing closet, how she got in to reuse and recycling, and how an Elvis costume ended up being just what a client needed.

• • •

Rebecca Macy, Central City Concern volunteerPeter: What's your name, and what do you do as a volunteer at Central City Concern?

Rebecca: Rebecca Macy, and my volunteer position is in the clothing closet at the Employment Access Center and I’ve been there for five or six years. I sort through the donations and I’ve set the clothing center up like a store with things sorted so they are easy for people to find.

P: Did you have any experience with retail or clothing before volunteering at the EAC?

R: I worked at Portland Public Schools’ clothing closet, so I got many, many ideas from them.

P: Was that your career?

R: I spent 35 years as an elementary school librarian, so I’ve worked in elementary schools and some public libraries, but mostly elementary schools. They called us a Library Media Specialist, but the kids knew us as the library lady.

After I retired, I did some work in fashion with buying vintage clothes and remaking them. I would take a prom dress and kind of tear it apart and put it back together, so that was my artistic fashion project. I still do a little bit of that, but I also help people clear out their homes or their parents’ homes if they’re downsizing or moving. I started finding that we need to reuse the things that people have that are still usable. A friend of mine calls me “the distributor,” which sounds like a car part, but I take things and get them to people who need them, so CCC was just a real good fit for that.

“Interviewing is hard for anybody, no matter what your work background is. But if you feel like you’re looking pretty good it helps you put your best foot forward.”
- Rebecca, CCC Volunteer

P: How did you find out about us?

R: I first heard about it when I was volunteering for Potluck in the Park with a teen center that I volunteered at in Beaverton. I noticed there was a clothing table there, and I thought, I get people’s clothes all the time, so if I had a pair of shoes or cosmetics [I would bring them there]. Eventually, a CCC person who was working there told me about the EAC.

P: Are there certain items you find yourself consistently needing at the clothing closet?

R: Larger men’s shoes, larger men’s clothing. The people who donated are almost always smaller than the clients. I’ve been looking for a size 15 pair of work boots most of the time I’ve been there.

P: So, you have a range of clothes there, both work wear and interview clothes?

R: Both, yes. When I first started volunteering there, the men were more wearing suits to interviews, but if you’re interviewing for a construction job, a nice sweater and a pair of jeans or khakis is fine. Even in the work world, I think everything is getting a little more causal. So for the men, the things we need are dress shirts, dress pants, and really good khakis and Levi’s. And for women it varies, but it’s similar—dress pants and skirts.

P: What do see as the benefit for the clothing closet?

R: Well, if you have an interview, and all you have is a t-shirt and jeans with holes in them, all the interview training and resume writing you get trained for won’t do you any good. And I think it has to do with confidence, and if you look good, you feel better. Interviewing is hard for anybody, no matter what your work background is. But if you feel like you’re looking pretty good it helps you put your best foot forward.

It’s fun for people to come because sometimes they are kind of shy about how much to take, and I’ll say, “Take what you need!” Sometimes I have to encourage them to take more and they’re often very cautious. Some men will borrow a suit for an interview and bring it back and say “If somebody else can use it, I don’t need it again.” They’re always thinking about other people. I like reusing and recycling and it’s cool when people do it with other people in mind.

I like to help in the community, I grew up in a family that was very involved in the community, but maybe it’s the librarian in me who likes to organize things. I like how [volunteering at the clothing closet] involves my friends and neighbors, too. They came home the other day with my niece and she said, “There’s bags of clothes on your front porch!” and I said, “Yeah, that happens a lot.” If it’s not raining and I’m not home, people will just drop off things, because they know I’ll distribute them to someone that needs them. It’s kind of fun for me, I never know what I’m going to find.

"I like seeing clients come in [to the clothing closet] and find something they need. I like seeing that it matters."

P: Have there been any particularly interesting pieces that have come though the closet?

R: When I first started volunteering, there was a suit that looked like an Elvis impersonator would wear it. And I thought, “Well, I don’t think anybody would use this in an interview.” Well, one of the counselors came in and said, “Oh yeah, one of my clients is an Elvis impersonator!”

Most of the time things are usable by somebody, but we’re very picky. We don’t do anything that has stains or missing buttons, because we want it all to be useable and presentable and something that somebody would buy in the store. I even have a friend who sells makeup and she’ll give samples, so sometimes if somebody has good timing they’ll get lipstick or hand cream. And jewelry! I just ask my friends to go through their jewelry, because if somebody has a nice outfit and a nice pair of earrings or necklace, it makes them feel good.

P: Have there been any stand-out experiences?

R: The thing that impressed me the most was the award program for people who’ve gone through the EAC program. There was a guy who had been in prison his entire adult life and this was the first job he had ever interviewed for. He thanked his counselors and said, “I think I was pretty hard to work with when I first came, and I couldn’t figure out why these people were so nice. What’s in it for them?” He said they believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.

I really like the fact that CCC helps people make their lives better and they do it with so much class and respect for the people they work with.

P: And our traditional last question, what would you say to someone who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?

R: It’s such a big organization and there’s so many different things that volunteers do, it’s anything from dealing with clothes to dealing with people one-on-one. And the people that I do deal with are so appreciative. I like seeing clients come in [to the clothing closet] and find something they need. I like seeing that it matters.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.

And if reading about Rebecca inspires you to make a donation of items that can be used by the people we serve, check out our in-kind donation wish list!



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: August 2017 Edition

Aug 30, 2017

For this month's volunteer spotlight, we are turning to another volunteer who has multiple roles at Central City Concern. While Michael initially got started with Central City Concern as a volunteer at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room program, much like last month’s spotlighted volunteer, his interest in the behind the scenes work for nonprofit organizations led to him expanding his role to include a variety of work in the Public Affairs department. Both roles are well-served by Michael’s ample ability to be an open ear to others. Hayden Buell, who supervises Michael at the Living Room, summed it up, saying, “Michael stands out as a volunteer in his ability to listen to our members and get to know them and their stories in a way that really honors their individuality. He’ll just sit down and give them space to share themselves.”

Michael was so generous in turn as to share himself with us for this month’s spotlight!

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Michael: My name is Michael Thomas Taylor, and I volunteer with CCC in two places. I’ve been at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room since February and I’ve been helping in the Public Affairs department as well. I actually came in to talk to Susan [CCC’s Marketing and Communications Director] just because I wanted to do an informational interview, as I’m interested in moving into nonprofit work. Then Matt [CCC’s Grants Manager] said, “Hey, if you’re looking for an opportunity to help out and get some experience, you can help me with grants.” I’ve written a lot of grants as a professor, so that seemed like something that made sense. Then Susan had some projects, doing interviews with CCC clients, and blog posts.

P: So, you got most of your grant writing experience from your time as a professor?

M: Yeah, that’s one of the things you do as a professor – research, and if you want to do research you have to pay for it, and if you want to pay for it you have to write grants.

P: How did you get in to that line of work?

M: Short answer? I ran away to Europe. I grew up in the States, but I wanted to see more of the world pretty quickly. I spent a year abroad in Hungary as a foreign exchange student in high school. I wanted to stay connected with that, so in college, I started out as a music major and ended up as a German major, which worked because it got me back to Europe. I spent a year in Austria and a year and a half Germany, and then one thing led to another and I ended up doing a PhD in German. [A PhD in German] is an in-depth study of language and literature, but for me it also became a study of cultural history. A lot of my published research is in queer history or the history of sexuality, with a focus on Germany, and I branched out to do some work in curating exhibitions and communicating queer history to the public. That gave me some pretty awesome experiences and a fairly international background. I had some post-docs in Germany, and I was in France for a summer. Then my first job was in Canada, so I’ve kind of lived in lots of different places.

“Recovery can’t happen if you’re alone, that’s the first step is getting help. That’s why the connection is so crucial.”

P: What was that job in Canada?

M: I was an assistant professor of German. I was there for five years before I came to Reed College. We loved Canada – and even took Canadian citizenship! – but frankly it was too cold. I kind of thought [Reed] would be the next step in my career, but things have turned out differently and I’ve decided to make a career change.

P: And I guess part of that change and interest in nonprofit work is your time here! What initially drew you to CCC?

M: Being in recovery myself, but I also knew lots of people who’d been helped through CCC programs. I feel really strongly about the mission, and I have friends who work at CCC. [One of those friends and I] were actually snowshoeing on Mt. Hood, and we were just talking about this career change and what goals do I have. I mentioned I was interested in learning more about social service work. He was just like, “If you want to get a sense of what that might look like, you could come volunteer in the Living Room!” We had talked about what that space looks like and the community model they have there. What I love about the Living Room is that it’s not necessarily about clinical services. It’s really about a safe space, it’s about a community in which everybody is a member and everybody participates.

P: So there’s no barriers in between people there.

M: Yeah, the hierarchy is flattened out and everyone participates equally. A lot of the spiritual tools I’ve learned from being a Radical Faerie, about holding space and community, are happening at the Living Room and I just thought that was something I would love to be a part of.

P: Any experiences that have stuck out?

M: Well, getting to know some of the people. Everybody has their own story, and some people are more open about that or not. You need to build trust and sometimes you just need to be there and be present for people, so they see that you’re there, and you’re safe, and you’re interested in them and their success.

Sometimes we color, we just sit down and color and you just kind of talk with people and see what’s going on in their lives. There’s mental illness in my family and I don’t think my family had the tools that it needed to deal with that. You know, pills were often the solution, and that doesn’t always work without some sort of community support and skills model.

It was super powerful for me to come in to a room and see people, some of whom have very severe mental illness, just have a place to be to be understood, to be accepted, to be safe, to fit in, to connect in their own particular way. That has been really powerful and meaningful. It just puts a human face to people that we all live with. We all live in the same space together. That’s important, just to recognize that.

Every morning we sit down for an hour and do a group. There’s an icebreaking question like, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” Or sometimes something more intense, like, “What does recovery mean for you?” Everyone gets to speak, we have a stuffed bunny we pass around to indicate it’s your turn to speak. It’s often a lot of practice in holding community norms and values, letting other people speak, not interrupting, balancing “I have a lot to say” against “everybody needs to speak.” So slowing things down, and just learning how, practicing, being a community together.

“I guess it’s a recovery cliché, but the stories are so different, and they are all the same. To really recognize that sameness as a source of strength and community, I think is really powerful.”

P: With the client stories that you have been writing, have there been any stand out moments from the interviews?

M: You know, I am just consistently amazed at the resilience of people. That’s really powerful. I guess it’s a recovery cliché, but the stories are so different, and they are all the same. To really recognize that sameness as a source of strength and community, I think, is really powerful.

P: Being able to identify with others or see models for success?

M: And normalizing the struggles that people have gone though. So much about mental illness and addiction is about isolation, and I think breaking that sense of isolation is crucial to recovery.

P: Big or small, I think we’ve all felt that sense of relief when someone says, “No, I feel the same way, I’ve been through the same thing.”

M: I think recovery needs that. Recovery can’t happen if you’re alone; that’s why the first step is getting help. That’s why the connection is so crucial.

P: So, what keeps you volunteering at CCC?

M: I feel deeply committed to the work CCC is doing, and I’m getting some great experience. And I love the people. It’s just fun to be here and I’m genuinely excited about the work I am doing.

P: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about volunteering?

M: Try it out! What do you have to lose?

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: July 2017 Edition

Jul 28, 2017

For our latest monthly volunteer spotlight, we’re delighted to feature Jack Ramsey, who volunteers in not just one, but two, roles with Central City Concern! Read our Volunteer Manager’s interview with Jack to find out how his past professional career informs one of his volunteer roles, as well as how his second role has shaped and enriched his life today.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Jack: Jack Ramsey and I have two roles. I volunteer over at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room and my job there is to just kind of generally help out, to chat with clients, and become part of that operation. That includes anything from washing dishes to making sandwiches. Mostly what I do is talk with folks and I’ve been doing it about nine months now I think. I feel like I’ve made friends there. If there’s a week that I can’t be there because I’m out of town, I miss them. I’ve really learned a lot from those guys. About myself, about the kinds of people that you see on the streets. People that are homeless and suffering from mental illness, addiction, they’re kind of superheroes to me, because they’re able to deal with those issues and really improve their lives.

The other is that I’m a member of the Marketing Advisory Council and what I bring to the party there is 40 years of work doing advertising and marketing.

P: I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.

J: Well, I got in to marketing because I could write. I worked for a couple of computer companies down in California, ended being an ad manager for one of them, and then I was recruited in 1976 by a small advertising agency in Silicon Valley that just happened to have as its main client a young company by the name of Intel. That was sort of my big break. During that time, a guy named Steve Jobs walked in. He had liked the Intel work we were doing and talked my boss in to helping him. About six month later we had developed all that original Apple brand and I had written the first ad for Apple.

P: What was that first ad, do you remember?

J: I just remember that it wasn’t very good. We didn’t know what a home computer was! I asked my boss, “What are they doing?” He said, “Well, it’s a home computer.” So I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “That’s what we have to figure out!”

Steve brought in a bunch of things, like a naked circuit board and a TV monitor, and he said he was going to change the world, and we were going to help him. We had to figure out what Apple would look like and what the voice should be.

When Intel moved a big part of its operations to Oregon in 1978, I moved here to open an office for my agency. My plan was to come up for a year or two and have an adventure and here I am almost 40 years later.

I almost completely retired about 3 years ago and my wife and I bought an RV and hit the road for a year. I learned for the first time in my life to live day to day and take what comes. I actually did do a couple branding projects from the road, but it was fun. I love being in the game. If I crave anything in my life, it’s solving problems.

P: Do you find that some of the skills you built in your career come in to your work at the Living Room?

J: In a lot of ways, it’s sort of the [photo] negative image of my career. I’m not selling anything, there’s no agenda with it, and I get to purely engage on a human level, with all these amazing people that are fighting the worst things you can imagine. I just get to go hang out with amazing people.

The way I ended up at the Living Room was, as I was retiring and I actually had more time to do what I wanted instead of what other people wanted me to do, I kind of wrestled with it for a while. Should I go back to school or volunteer? I couldn’t find volunteer opportunities that were meaningful to me. I met a guy one day and he says, you should get in touch with CCC. I applied on the website and I wrote a note that said that I’m happy to do anything.

I remember 30 years ago driving down Everett street and there was a guy staggering across the road and I said to my friend, “Do you ever just feel guilty, that there but for the grace of God go I?” So the opportunity to work in the living room with all these folks really appealed to me. It’s been an amazing experience and continues to be. And I’m not giving it up.

P: Any stand out experiences during your time here?

J: Yeah, there was one guy at the living room, and we would get in to these heavy philosophical conversations about human nature and science and philosophy. This is a guy who lived for ten years on a front porch. He is really a brilliant man.

P: That’s not something that we all get to do, is see the depth of people who are experiencing homelessness.

J: And what quality people they are and thoughtful and intelligent and self-aware. Even if they are in recovery from addiction or dealing with a mental illness, they’re learning how to be productive, functional people. It’s heartwarming for me to see someone’s eyes light up when they see me, because they know that I’m happy to see them too. Or when someone comes over and asks me to come talk to them. I actually feel like I’m making a difference in these people’s lives.

I’ve lead an exciting life and I’ve gotten to experience all kinds of successes and failures, but in a lot of ways, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve done. This has gone from “Oh gee, what am I going to do in my spare time?” to really one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

P: Not everyone is able to make that kind of transition.

J: I know, I feel honored that I am allowed to do this.

P: Helps keeps the skills sharp too! We haven’t talked about the Marketing Advisory Council too much, but you had said that you crave problem solving, do you get your fill of that with the MAC?

J: Well, I just came from a MAC meeting! The best thing about it is that I don’t have to do the work, but the worst thing about it is that I don’t get to do the work

At the last MAC meeting we discussed these new ads for CCC, and that we need to makes sure these ads engage people on an emotional level. This isn’t just about telling people what CCC does, it’s about making people care.

P: If you could sum it up, what keeps you coming back to volunteer?

J: The people. They’re just wonderful. The clients are wonderful people that impress me, that touch my heart, that amaze me. The people that work here and the other volunteers are here for all the right reasons. We’re here to help people. It’s a much more rewarding mission than trying to make money or make somebody a star. It’s honest.

P: What would want someone to know who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?

J: Take the plunge! The water is great. You’ll never know yourself as well as you will when you’re doing this, when you’re working completely selflessly.

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If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.