Rooted in Community: Puentes

Aug 08, 2019

Since Ricardo shared with us last year in our CCC TurningPoints series that receiving treatment services from Central City Concern’s (CCC) Puentes program in his native Spanish language “was like music,” we’ve heard from many others who shared the same sentiment. Roberto, who also went through our culturally specific behavioral health program for Spanish speakers, says that his time receiving Puentes services helped him “feel like I belonged to a group of people that want to help the Latino community.”

But offering services in Spanish is only part of Puentes’ story. Over the years, thousands of clients have heard the music of treatment because Puentes worked hard to invite Portland’s Spanish-speaking community into a place they could trust. Puentes was never intended to simply drop into the Latinx community from above; Puentes staff members are the Latinx community, responding to the needs of their own. Puentes has worked hard to demonstrate that their services respect and respond to who the community is. They understand the Hispanic culture — in all its beauty, as well as its barriers — and the community has responded in kind.

Over the years, thousands of clients have heard the music of treatment because Puentes worked hard to invite Portland’s Spanish-speaking community into a place they could trust.

“Most Puentes staff are active community members inside and outside of Central City Concern,” shares Daniel Garcia, CCC’s director of Latinx services. “At Puentes, our clients finally feel at home, not only because we speak their language, we also understand their culture and their unique stories and histories.”

Historically in Multnomah County, the Latinx community has been disproportionately affected by poverty and by a lack of access to preventive services, including the knowledge of where to seek help, location of treatment facilities and childcare. Lack of insurance coverage has also been a significant barrier; even after Medicaid expansion in Oregon, documentation status still kept many from applying. The lack of Spanish-speaking providers who are trained to understand and meet the needs of Latinx individuals and families had also been a barrier to receiving care.

To start bridging the gap in treatment access, CCC received a federal grant in 2004 to serve Latinx families at risk of homelessness due to substance use disorders. Originally called Family Latino Outreach and Addictions Treatment (FLOAT), the program approached potential clients with care and humility, leaning on a partnership with Catholic Charities’ El Programa Hispano to establish trust with the Latinx community.

... from the start, Puentes integrated a deep and firsthand understanding of Latinx cultural values into how they approach and provide treatment...

Simply interpreting Western-style behavioral health treatment into Spanish would be setting up the program and its clients to experience many of the same cultural barriers to care and underwhelming results. Rather, from the start, Puentes integrated a deep and firsthand understanding of Latinx cultural values into how they approach and provide treatment, including:

  • Personalismo: upending the mainstream approach of providing care that is detached, overtly clinical and relatively impersonal, Puentes staff are intentional about being warm, willing to make a personal connection and self-revealing.
  • Respeto: Puentes staff understand that clients may avoid expressing doubt, disagreement or confusion in conversations with them, as Latinx culture lends significant importance and influence to authority figures like parents, elders and health care providers. In response, staff are trained to ask smart questions, listen to individual’s stories and validate their experiences.
  • Familismo and colectivismo: Puentes often embraces the potential that the family unit holds in the therapeutic process and its role in helping clients remain in treatment. The extended family serves as a support system for all members and puts the collective needs of the family above those of the individual.
  • Spirituality: The Latino culture tends to view health from a holistic position, implying a continuum of body, mind and spirit. Many cultural values and attitudes are heavily influenced by their spiritual beliefs that, in some cases, may become a barrier to care. On the other hand, la espiritualidad can provide a positive foundation for well-being and recovery.
  • Gender roles: The concepts of machismo and marianismo that reinforce gender roles can often be barriers for clients to talk about their addiction, mental health and traumas. Puentes staff provide treatment with an understanding of how these values affect how forthcoming and willing clients are about their addiction or mental health.

Some research suggests that Latinx clients, especially newcomers and Spanish-speaking clients who see Latinx therapists (who are both bilingual and bicultural), are more likely to remain in care and to have better outcomes. For people like Roberto, working with staff members who not only understood the values he was raised in but also created a treatment environment that acknowledged and worked within them “helped me have a special connection with the staff and even other clients of Puentes. I trust Puentes.”

Puentes has done well to earn that trust from its community of clients. People receiving care from the program have seen the program grow thoughtfully to continually respond to their needs: in addition to substance use disorder and mental health treatment, Puentes offers treatment for co-occurring disorders, early and specific interventions for Latinx youth who are using substances and are gang-affected, family support and connections to CCC’s primary care services. The program has even moved locations several times to relocate closer to the centers of Portland’s Latinx community, increasing accessibility.

For individuals and families, many of whom left behind extended families and friends to move to Oregon, Puentes has become a place where familiarity can promote healing, where shared values lead to communal victories.

“Geographically, we are so far removed from our home Latin American countries, and yet there is a place named Puentes, where Spanish-speaking people can come and receive treatment,” says Daniel. “We treat each person with the utmost friendliness, dignity, kindness and respect, leaving our clients without fears of being discriminated against, misinformed or misdiagnosed.”

For individuals and families, many of whom left behind extended families and friends to move to Oregon, Puentes has become a place where familiarity can promote healing, where shared values lead to communal victories.

The special connection that Puentes creates has also led to the development of a community within a community. Many people who complete treatment stay close to Puentes through El Senado, an advisory committee of former clients who find ways to give back and provide peer support and encouragement to newer clients. Empowering a community to recognize the collective strength of its experiences and to play an active role in its own healing is perhaps one of the truest hallmarks of how deep Puentes’ roots in the Latinx community have grown to reach.

“I am so proud that we can all — clients, former clients and staff —be leaders in and for our own community,” Daniel says.

"It’s overwhelming at times, in a good way"

Jan 16, 2018

Working at Central City Coffee after nearly two-and-a-half years of recovery, Christina S. learned new skills, trained others, supported her family and built a new life. “I know myself and I love myself for the first time ever in my life, really, that I can ever remember. And it seems that things get better and better and better.”

On Mondays, she and a crew of four others prepared bags of coffee in Old Town Portland. Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays, too, were for production, with delivery throughout the Portland metro area the rest of the week. “It’s been amazing to learn all kinds of different things completely out of my comfort zone,” she says. “But also really nerve-wracking and overwhelming at first.” Training other people felt especially great: “My self-confidence, everything has been boosted, I feel just better about myself.”

Christina built up that self-confidence in Central City Concern’s (CCC) Community Volunteer Corps and outpatient treatment, which she says taught her “you need to complete things, that if you sign up for something to see it out and finish it.” The same quiet confidence comes through when she speaks about parenting her five children and one grandchild now that she’s in recovery. When asked if she feels she’s a resource and support for other people, she laughs: “Yeah, which is weird.”

Although she grew up with addiction in her family, she says “nobody talked about it,” even after her father died of an overdose. As her own addiction progressed, it took away her career, her housing, and her children. “That’s when I knew I had a problem,” she says, “when I walked away from my kids.” Talking about those years is not easy for her, but she insists it’s vital to not hide addiction or keep it a secret. “We need to talk about it to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different.”

"We need to talk about [addiction] to prevent it. If I would have had knowledge about it, maybe things would have been different."

Breaking these family patterns has been the common thread to the challenges she’s faced in recovery, which she names without hesitation: “Talking to other people. Opening up. Adjusting to my kids. Adjusting to myself.” She feels she learned the tools she needed in CCC’s outpatient treatment, while CCC’s supportive housing gave her the necessary time and space. Remembering her early recovery, she smiles and says people told her “that once I started talking, I’d get really red-faced, and I probably looked like I was having a heart attack. But then slowly but surely my voice was there. I finally had a voice.” Coming off the streets, she first found shelter in CCC’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center. From there, she moved into transitional recovery housing and then into drug-and-alcohol-free housing for families with children. That housing was crucial, she says, for her to slowly rebuild trust with her children and bring her family back together. “I feel safe there and I know that I have people I can always count on and always go to.”

Christina’s cheerful, matter-of-fact style gives way to powerful feelings when she talks about her life in recovery. “It’s emotional,” she says, “because I feel so strongly about what’s happened, and I’m so grateful and blessed that all these things have happened. And for who I am now. I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me. And it’s overwhelming at times, in a good way.”

"I get to experience the fact that my kids are right there with me. I get to experience having great people around me."

Toward the end of her Central City Coffee training period, Christina joined the HealthCareers Northwest WorkSource program through CCC’s Employment Access Center. HealthCareers Northwest is a funding program that enabled Christina to return to school and earned her Certified Nursing Assistant 2 certificate. In January 2018, she quickly got a job at a local long-term acute care hospital, and is now thrilled to be working in an exciting field with plenty of career potential. “I really think I’d like to be a nurse someday,” Christina said. “I think I can do it.”

"A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love."

Jun 23, 2017

By all accounts, the Imani Center mahafali graduation was a celebratory, joyous affair, but there were pockets of immense beauty and reflection to be found, as well. One of the day's more poignant moments came when Malcolm, an Imani Center graduate, shared a poem he had originally written for his cousin and his son that he felt was appropriate for the day. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by the poem, which served to remind his fellow graduates of their worth, their path, and their promise,  We're grateful to Malcolm that he gave us permission to share his poem here.

• • •

A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love.

You my brother,

 are strong beyond your own knowing.

Even when you lay here,




You are strong.

Listen to me.

Your strength lies not in your right

or left hand.

Not in your thighs or back

or feet.

But in a place beyond you,

not to be touched,

or doubted,

only held here

when you need.

You will be unbreakable stone.

You will be the heat that burns the dross and waste.

You will be the solid earth on which they stand.

You will be the vine that pulls down the walls.

But for now, be like water. Be easy, flow over and around these obstacles. Seek your own level.

You, my brother cannot be conquered or defeated.

You will push on and over and past, like water.

You will overcome.

The truth is, you are a King among men.

But you have hidden yourself in the mundane, in the badlands.

You walk the badlands among shadows and bad men.

You do not belong chasing these shadows but you love it here.

And here you gleam.

The shadows are attracted to your shine.

You, are no mundane.

The water in you calls for release

It rushes back and forth in your veins.

The clash of tides is in you.

In your ears and toes and fingers it surges and thunders.

This dance you do-this up and down

This back and forth.

Aren’t you tired?

Isn’t this burden heavy?

Don’t you want to rise?

And join your people?

Don’t you want to rise?

It is all there for you. Yours to claim.

All of it.

You only have to release this weight.

Let go,

Let it go.

Let it go, ascend.

Malcolm Shabazz Hoover
Portland, 2017

“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.    

Recovery News and Recovery Month at CCC

Oct 07, 2015

Central City Concern (CCC) began in 1979 as a recovery organization and we’d like to update you on some recent enhancements and expanded capacity in our recovery programs. As you may already know, we have an array of programs and we believe in tailoring programs to meet the needs of individuals. Increasingly, these three themes are driving our thinking:

Peers are important

In Our Housing and Through the Recovery Mentor Program
The value of peers is well documented when it comes to recovery and when we formed the Recovery Mentor Program in 1999, we quickly saw the enormous difference that peers could make.

Multnomah County has recently echoed our belief in this kind of programming by helping us expand the Recovery Mentor Program, adding three staff positions and 43 additional apartments for participants, nearly doubling the number of clients we can serve. (The full Mentor team is pictured here.)

Central City Concern is also expanding the use of peers for recovery services throughout the agency, often embedding such staff positions in our housing. We have added eight peer support positions in four buildings and have increased training of our front desk staff who are in frequent contact with the people we serve.

Domestic Violence/Recovery Project
Multnomah County is also supporting a domestic violence/recovery mentor project to coordinate care for women who are affected by both domestic violence and substance use disorders.

Estimates are that between 50-90% of women who have substance use disorders have experienced domestic violence. By using peers, we can present strong role models for women to inspire hope that change is possible through this integrated approach to treatment. Peer mentors will provide community outreach and engagement at domestic violence shelters and at alcohol and drug treatment programs. There will also be opportunities for cross-training and consultation between staff from programs.

We recently discussed this new program with leaders from the State of Oregon and Multnomah County at a Get to Know the Real Central City Concern event. You can watch the full panel discussion here. Get to Know the Real Central City Concern is a series of exclusive events offered throughout the year to community members who are making significant investments in Central City Concern’s work. 

Choice can drive success

Opiate epidemic calls for urgent action
Central City Concern offers choices in housing, like our Community Engagement Program, with strong outcomes. We are moving more toward recovery choice, striving to bring the right resources and approaches to every individual.

In recent years, the treatment field has had to step up to respond to the epidemic of opiate dependence and overdose deaths. While CCC continues to strongly support and value abstinence based recovery, we also have medication assisted alternate opioid treatment and overdose prevention initiatives in place throughout the agency. This has been a bold step for Central City Concern and our staff members are bringing an extraordinary level of openness and compassion to these new practices.

Culture Counts

The Latino Community
In 2005, Central City Concern began offering recovery services for Latino adults and teens, filling a dire need in the community. Spanish-speaking staff members work with clients from an appropriate culturally-specific vantage point. Puentes staff members also serve mental health needs and reach approximately 170 people annually. With Multnomah County support, the program will soon add two staff positions and will expand by nearly 30%, with intentions of reaching 240 people annually. 

The African American Community
African Americans are over represented in the homeless population and for many years, Central City Concern has provided both mental health and addiction services to African Americans. This year, these programs will operate in an integrated fashion with oversight from a Director of African-American Services. This collective set of services is under the program name of The Imani Center. “Imani,” the seventh principle of Kwanzaa, means "faith" in Swahili.  Central City Concern chose this name as a positive expression of faith and hope. You’ll hear more about this new program in the coming year.

• • •

CCC Celebrates National Recovery Month

Thank you to everyone for being a part of Recovery Month at Central City Concern. The month was packed with ways we recognized that the stories of those in recovery are visible, vocal, and valuable. Some Recovery Month highlights include:

CCC Participates in Hands Across the Bridge
On September 7, many people from the CCC community joined thousands of others at Hands Across the Bridge to celebrate the strength and unity of recovery. Central City Concern was proud to be an event sponsor.

Recovery Mentor Program 15th Anniversary
More than 200 alumni of the Recovery Mentor Program gathered at the Ambridge Event Center to celebrate its 15th Anniversary! 

CCC executive director Ed Blackburn gave the audience some historical perspective of the program. Marissa Madrigal, Multnomah County’s Chief Operating Officer, recounted the ways in which the county has partnered and supported the program because it is simply a program that has strong outcomes and save lives. She also spoke about the recent exciting growth of the program, which includes three new recovery mentor staff positions and 43 new units of available housing. She ended her remarks by reminding the alumni that their lives are visible, vocal, and valuable.

Two CCC programs were recognized for the integral support they provide new mentees. The Community Volunteer Corps, represented by Rachel Hatcher and Paul Flynt, and the CCC Recovery Center, represented by Melissa Bishop, were given awards.

The night was capped off with Recovery Mentors Doug Bishop, Torrence Williams, Lynda Williams, and David Fitzgerald each receiving recognition for their immense dedication to the Recovery Mentor Program and the individuals who come through in need of guidance and hope. A program alum introduced each Mentor, speaking to how each Mentor influenced (and continues to influence) their lives.

Recovery Month Photo Project
At the Recovery Mentor Anniversary party, attendees took photos holding up a board that completed the sentence, “Recovery has allowed me to…” and the resulting photos have been such an encouragement and inspiration to share. Resulting photos were organized into panels, which were shared on our social media throughout Recovery Month. You can see all the panels from the series by visiting the "Recovery Has Allowed Me to..." album on Facebook.

We also compiled all the photos into the poster at right. Click on the image for a higher-resolution version.

Panel Discussion on Women, Addiction, and Homelessness
As noted above, CCC hosted a panel discussion between local experts to explore the unique challenges women working to treat and manage their addiction face, especially when their addiction is compounded by domestic violence, poverty, and homelessness.

Telling a Colleague’s Recovery Story
We had the privilege and pleasure of sharing the recovery journey of CCC’s own Leonard Brightmon, whose outlook and perseverance is an inspiration to many in the community. You can earlier, you can read it at: .

Shining the Spotlight on a Volunteer in Recovery
Jennifer Fresh volunteers as an Old Town Clinic Concierge. We also had a chance to feature Jennifer Fresh, an Old Town Clinic Concierge volunteer, on our blog's Monthly Volunteer Spotlight. She spoke about what makes the path of recovery so compatible with volunteerism and how her life has changed since finding sobriety. 

• • •

On behalf of the estimated 23 million+ people in recovery in our country and the thousands who are in Central City Concern’s daily care, thank you for your interest in our work!


“Life is beautiful on this side“: A Recovery Month Story

Sep 18, 2015

National Recovery Month is a time set aside to share stories of how recovery changes lives. Mothers and fathers repair relationships with their children. Individuals find stability and are able to stay employed. People begin to believe in themselves and work toward achieving their potential.

Central City Concern is a place filled with such stories. We are an organization in which two out of five employees self-identify as being in recovery. Many of our counselors, case managers, care providers, and even administrative staff are on that same journey many of our clients and patients are also on. At CCC, the words “I understand” come from people who have been there – whether “there” means active addiction, homelessness, or times of despair and hopelessness.

We sat down with a CCC employee who was gracious enough to share his story to find out how recovery has affected his life and find out why his latest vacation was so much more than a time to get away.

• • •

On June 12, 2015, Leonard Brightmon found himself in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was thousands of miles from home, but light years beyond where his life was headed just ten years ago.

Home for Leonard has always been Portland, Ore. Born in the City of Roses and raised by a single mother, Leonard was an affable kid who, despite severe asthma, loved to play basketball. On the streets, he played alongside Portland basketball legends, some of whom made their way to the NBA.

“I wanted to become a pro, too. Be able to buy my mom a house and all that,” Leonard says. “But as we know, my life took me to other places.”

As a young adult, Leonard began to use cocaine recreationally. Continued use quickly revealed itself as an active addiction. Fueled by a childhood aversion to needles, Leonard initially swore to himself that he’d never use intravenous drugs. But as his life spiraled out of control, cocaine use escalated into heroin use and dependence.

“I made that promise to myself. But yet, there went I.”

Leonard’s life became unmanageable as quickly as heroin had become his preferred drug. Even after the birth of his daughter, Leonard continued to use.

“We were going through a court process to have my daughter adopted out. I couldn’t even show up in court and advocate for her,” Leonard says.

“When you have a heroin addiction, there’s no choice: either you’re going to be sick or you’re going to get up and get the money or whatever it takes to get the drug,” explains Leonard. “My life was a mess.”

Leonard eventually became tired: of the endless pursuit for his next high, of feeling aimless, of missing out on his daughter’s life.

He moved away from Portland for the first time, hoping a change of scenery would help. It didn’t. Leonard managed to stay away from cocaine and heroin for three years, but filled that time with a dependence on alcohol.

Leonard moved back home and decided to give Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings a try. There he met people who, while living every day managing their addiction, were successful at getting up. At going to work. At raising families. He “heard other people’s truths. I was touched by their honesty.”

“I would hear them say things about their struggles and their successes,” Leonard continues. “And I’d say to myself, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be like that.’”

Through NA meetings, Leonard started forming relationships with men who were living the way he admired. He realized that he didn’t have the skills or knowledge to emulate the habits that kept his new role models clean and sober, so he learned from them. Leonard even took parenting classes, trusting that his newfound recovery would someday lead to a reunion with his daughter.

“Once I made those positive connections, that’s when my life started changing.”

The last time Leonard ever used a controlled substance was June 12, 2009. Since then, he has walked the path of recovery. He found a support network of others in recovery. He’s worked his way up to become a trusted lead community building assistant at Central City Concern, responsible for the upkeep and livability of several housing properties. He became a homeowner. He and his daughter reunited.

When asked what his recovery means to him, Leonard, who is almost always smiling, turns serious. He stares into the distance and takes an extended pause, as if he’s mentally retracing the path that his life has led him down until today.

He takes a deep breath. He exhales.

“Recovery is something that’s given me my life back.” Each word that leaves Leonard's lips is steeped in intention and earnest. “It’s helped me to be open to the fact that I’m an addict and that this fight is for the rest of my life. And I accept that. Recovery has given my daughter a father, my mom a son.”

Leonard stops to carefully choose his next words. His trademark smile returns to his face, somehow more radiant than before.

“Life is beautiful on this side.”

That beautiful path of recovery is what led Leonard to be in Rio de Janeiro on June 12, 2015. He made the trip to attend the 36th World Convention of Narcotics Anonymous.

There, he met people “that looked like me, people that didn’t look like me. People that talked like me, people that didn’t talk like me. But everyone was there for the same reasons.”

At the convention, Leonard heard “powerful stories that brought tears to my eyes. To hear about how people have become successful – not in the sense of money and all that – but more like relationships and family and values, gave me joy. It energized me.”

Now just beyond six years clean, Leonard understands what it takes. He’s built the tools and skills necessary to start and end each day clean and sober, and to start over again the next day. Leonard knows that without the connections he made through NA, his life would likely have turned out very differently. He hopes now to be that vital connection to others.

“I like to share what I’ve gotten out of recovery,” Leonard says. “I want to help other suffering addicts.  I want to reach out to them the way I was helped. I understand what they’re going through.”

Leslie's Story

Aug 26, 2015

As a kid growing up in Oregon City, Leslie P. always loved the start of a new school year. 

Not because it meant shopping for new clothes. Not because it meant she’d get to show off her smarts in class. Not because it meant she’d get to see all of her friends everyday. Leslie P. loved the start of a new school year because it meant she’d have a safe place to go for seven hours a day, five days a week. 

Leslie’s mom died when she was a baby. Not long after, Leslie’s alcoholic, drug-dealing dad sent her to live with her grandparents. The one rule there she and her older brother had to abide by? Be out of the living room by 5 p.m. so Grandpa could drink his drink and watch the TV news. 

And so began a childhood of being shuttled from one drug-addicted relative to another, one foster home to another. In spite of the chaos, “I didn’t get into too much trouble,” Leslie says. “But I went over to the wrong houses so bad things happened to me . . . .” 

No wonder Leslie sometimes looked for hiding places when it came time to board the 3 p.m. school bus back home. 

At age eight, Leslie picked up cigarettes. At age 13, she picked up pot. Then came alcohol, methamphetamines, pain pills, and heroin. She dropped out of high school, found work at a fast food restaurant, and intermittently continued to ply a trade she learned from her dad when she was a teenager—drug dealing. 

Over the next several years, Leslie would get it together for a few months, then slide back into addiction, couch-surfing, and chaos—a cycle that continually repeated itself. At age 20, she gave birth to first child, Joshua. Six years later, Emma arrived. Three years later, Leslie was arrested for dealing drugs. Leslie’s children were placed in foster care—just like she had been. 

That quiet little voice in her head that had been telling her to get help finally roared. “I couldn’t function. I couldn’t parent my kids. I couldn’t take care of myself.” 

Leslie discovered she was pregnant with a third child. She begged for help. The judge and attorneys on her case arranged for reduced jail time and a referral to Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center, a residential addiction treatment center for women in poverty who are pregnant or parenting young children. Finally, Leslie’s life began to turn around. 

When she entered the Letty Owings Center in March 2012, Leslie began learning the life skills her own parents never taught her. Emma came to live with her there five months later. 

Leslie was worried. “I had missed her whole year of preschool. She was going to be a kindergartener. I wondered how I was going to get her school supplies and clothing.” 

Central City Concern helped them get everything Emma would need to start kindergarten right. 

A month later, in September 2012, Leslie gave birth to Malakai. In October she, Emma, and Malakai moved into one of Central City Concern’s alcohol- and drug-free family housing communities for women with children. There, Leslie continued to receive support and guidance from addiction treatment specialists, case managers, certified peer mentors, and employment specialists

“When I moved in, all the girls came over and helped me, and cooked dinner for me, and made it feel like home. It was like I found a new family. I had unconditional support.” 

Leslie is now working full-time as an entry-level administrative assistant and pursuing an associate’s degree at Portland Community College. And she is trying to be the best mom she can be so her kids don’t have to have the kind of childhood she did. Right now, that means letting her first-born son, Joshua, stay with his dad.*

And it also means getting Emma ready to start third grade. “I want school to be a place where Emma learns about everything and anything she wants. I don’t want it to be the same way it was for me—a place where I went to hide from things that were hurting me. I want it to be a place where Emma can follow her dreams.” 

Emma tore through her summer reading list. The family’s morning routine includes Emma reading out loud to Malakai at the breakfast table. Leslie hopes this practice will better prepare Malakai for when it’s time for him to start school. 

Leslie is grateful to be in Central City Concern’s safe, supportive, affordable housing as she continues in this new phase of her life. And she’s grateful for the opportunity to be a good neighbor and role model, giving back to the people who are just starting out at Central City Concern. 

“I have a job, an apartment, my kids. Had I continued on the path that I was on, I wouldn’t be alive right now. My kids wouldn’t have a mom. I’m in a really different place right now. It’s an amazing feeling.” 

You can help other moms like Leslie! Click here to donate to Central City Concern.

*We recently had a chance to reconnect with Leslie and she had some wonderful news to share. Soon after this story was published, Joshua moved in with Leslie, Emma, and Malakai. Leslie was so happy to share this amazing update with us. She says her home now feels complete.

One Mom, Two Kids, and a Reclaimed Story

May 26, 2015

Children of addicts are fated to repeat their parents’ destructive patterns. Addiction leaves broken families in its wake. The cycles of poverty and addiction doom the next generation to predictable, bleak fates.

That’s what the studies and stories say.

But Ruthann is more than a statistic, and she’s determined to write her own story. Ruthann is a survivor. A devoted and fiercely loving mother. A testament to transformation and hope for something better.

Ruthann’s family history is marked by addiction and substance abuse. Her mother and grandmother used methamphetamine. When Ruthann was 12, her mother died from drug-related complications. Then Ruthann started using, becoming a part of that painful legacy.

She became a mother in 2001 when her daughter, Kaylee, was born. She had her second child, Kingston, six years later. Being a mother didn’t stop her from using. Even as she used, Ruthann’s smarts kept her employed for a while, but she eventually lost her job.

Soon after, Ruthann experienced a much bigger loss. Because of her chronic drug use, she lost custody of her children to the Department of Human Services. Eleven months passed by the time she could demonstrate she was ready to be a mother again.

But in late-2011, she left her children in the care of an acquaintance she barely knew and disappeared for six days to use. She recalls this choice with regret and shame. When she came back for her children, 10-year-old Kaylee refused to continue living with Ruthann.

“My daughter was done with me at that point,” says Ruthann. They arranged for Kaylee to live with a responsible contact who had been introduced to the family when DHS first intervened.

With only Kingston in tow, Ruthann went on what she describes as “a long, bad run.” For months, Ruthann lived aimlessly: no job or place to call home, and endless time to use drugs. All the while, a DHS worker was trying to locate her.

She and Kingston eventually made their way to a hotel. Their stay was a revolving door of people dropping in to use.

Ruthann began noticing 3-year-old Kingston behaving differently.  He threw prolonged tantrums. He slept in the bathtub. Otherwise normal sights and sounds overstimulated him. Knowing that their surroundings were unhealthy and dangerous, Ruthann chalked up Kingston’s behavior to their environment.

Tired, homeless, and nearly broke, Ruthann eventually called the DHS worker. She confessed her most recent months of drug use. She said she’d consider getting help, though she didn’t truly mean it.

The case worker drove Ruthann and Kingston to a local residential treatment center. Ruthann’s first full day in treatment – May 10, 2012 – is also that last time she ever used illegal drugs.

As Ruthann began the arduous process of re-training her body and mind to function without drugs, she also entered into therapy with Kingston to better understand his behaviors. Eventually, Kingston was formally diagnosed with autism.

“At first they couldn’t tell if he had a neurological disadvantage or if I had inflicted so much trauma on him that this was his brain’s natural response to it. I either created [the conditions for] his response or I neglected Kingston’s needs. Either way, I felt so bad.”

While she grappled with her newfound insight into her son’s behavioral struggles, Kaylee visited Ruthann. Ruthann offered her a chance to come live at the treatment center.

“She told me, ‘I’m not going to live with you until after you’re done with treatment. Your mom OD’ed when you were my age. I don’t want to live with you while you do that to yourself,’” Ruthann remembers.

Kaylee’s words stung as much as they were true. Ruthann felt challenged by her daughter and burdened by the guilt she felt about Kingston’s development. She was at a crossroad.

Would she live and die as her own mother did? Would she leave her kids to grow up as Ruthann had?

“I made the choice to be a mom, for my kids to have a mom,” Ruthann says.

A day after Kaylee’s birthday, Ruthann and Kingston moved into the Letty Owings Center (LOC), Central City Concern’s residential treatment program for women who are pregnant or parenting very young children. The move “was the best thing I could have given Kaylee,” Ruthann believes.

Typically, the sense of community that mothers create during their time at LOC becomes an integral part of their treatment. But because Kingston couldn’t get along with the other children, Ruthann found it difficult to build relationships. She was constantly pulled away from treatment classes because he would get kicked out of daycare. Ruthann often felt defensive or guilty about her son’s struggles.

With the help of LOC staff, Kingston soon enrolled in a nearby school that worked specifically with children with behavioral and sensory needs. Ruthann knew that this school, combined with the therapy Kingston continued to receive, was exactly what he needed to find stability and success.

“The date Kingston got into his school is as important to me as my clean date.”

Slowly but surely, Ruthann gathered momentum. She was able to attend LOC’s treatment classes consistently. Her counselor helped Ruthann “learn about myself and about my own worth.” Ruthann became an indispensable volunteer teacher’s aide at Kingston’s school, a role that unearthed her exceptional abilities in a classroom setting. LOC’s environment gave her opportunities to use the skills she learned from Kingston’s therapists.

“We would actually get through a meltdown,” she recalls. “It was empowering. I felt like I was making a difference in my kid’s life. He taught me to love from this other place in my heart that I had never used.”

Ruthann gradually grew to trust the other mothers and one today is like a sister.

In December, Ruthann graduated from the Letty Owings Center. She moved into Laura’s Place, CCC’s supportive transitional housing program for women who have completed treatment at LOC, while she waited for longer-term housing to become available.

She continued to strengthen the foundation of her sobriety by completing an outpatient addiction counseling program through the CCC Recovery Center (CCCRC).

Soon after, Ruthann received the keys to her own apartment at Sunrise Place, one of CCC’s alcohol- and drug-free family housing communities. At long last, she and Kingston were reunited with Kaylee.

Ruthann’s kids now have a focused, sober mother. They have a home and stability. She works with CCC’s family mentors, who provide Ruthann’s family with ongoing support and encouragement. They create community with other Sunrise families.

“This is where my kids and I learned to eat at a table together every night,” Ruthann explains. “My son was able to build friendships. My daughter found friends. Our family traditions were built here.

“All these programs – LOC, CCCRC, housing – allowed a woman like me to stand strong and come out of it on her own two feet.”

Ruthann’s own two feet stand at the edge of a road paved with potential: features of life that her history said weren’t in the cards.

She works now as an assistant claim manager at a local carwash, a position she was promoted to. Her employers know about her past; their lack of judgment makes her love the job more. But it’s no secret that Ruthann’s sights are set on 2017. That’s the year her criminal record will be expunged, giving her the clearance necessary to work as an employee in a classroom setting.

Through her church, she’s begun leading a support group ministry for single mothers. Under Ruthann, the group has grown to nearly 20 moms, most of whom are also on the path of recovery. The group works to “remind ourselves that it’s not about moms getting their kids back; it’s about kids getting their moms back.”

Ruthann glows when she talks about her son’s progress. Kingston is meeting multiple academic and behavioral benchmarks. She gladly picks up extra shifts to pay his tuition because Kingston “is where he needs to be.”

Kaylee is a responsible, studious 8th grader with an artistic side – “an old soul,” Ruthann says proudly. But she sees something deeper in the daughter who, upon visiting her in treatment, demanded better of her mother.

“When I look at my daughter, I feel forgiven. I feel loved,” Ruthann says. “I feel like Kaylee shows that the cycle can be broken.”

Ruthann’s story is of a daughter who never had the chance to be raised by a sober and present mother. She’s determined to make sure that Kaylee and Kingston know that their mother’s presence is unwavering.

“Being a mom means unconditional everything. I get to show up every day,” says Ruthann. “Kaylee shows me that my story is not her story. Her ending can be different.”

The cycle of poverty and addiction began writing Ruthann’s story for her. But the tenacity and love that pushed Ruthann to take full advantage of CCC’s programs to become the mother her children deserve are the very same qualities that have allowed her to reclaim her story.

Ruthann’s ending will be different, too.

“CCC has helped me change my whole life.”

Ping Pong Brings Cops and Cons to the Same Side

Dec 18, 2014

Cops and criminals, most often, find themselves working against each other, each side working toward its own ends. Peanut butter and jelly, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, or Hall and Oates they are not.

But Joel Hunter, an alum of Central City Concern treatment programs and a current CCC employee, believes that police officers and people with criminal histories can work together on the same team and achieve a common good. On Friday, December 12, he put his idea to the test.

That evening, the Matt Dishman Community Center in northeast Portland was filled with the distinct, rhythmic sounds of a ping pong ball bouncing to and fro, as it was the location of the first ever “Cops vs. Cons Ping Pong Tournament & Toy Drive,” an event that Joel created and organized.

The “cops” were represented by a handful of Portland Police officers, including an officer from the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), as well as a representative from the Service Coordination Team (SCT). The “cons” in attendance were primarily alumni of CCC’s Housing Rapid Response (HRR) program and the Recovery Mentor Program, as well as a few people currently in HRR.

Joel organized the tournament to achieve several goals. First, he wanted to break the ice between police officers and the people they arrest; some alumni had actually been arrested by the very same police officers in the room. All of the “cons” are now on healthier, more constructive paths of recovery and service. Many mentor people who are new to treatment and reliant on peer relationships to stay on track.

Joel knew that despite their new outlooks, there was still apprehension among the alumni toward the police.

Ping pong was a popular activity in the HRR program and at the Volunteers of America (VOA) Day Treatment program as a way to get to know new people and form friendships. Joel figured it would be a natural way to get people to show up.

Second, Joel wanted to show police officers that their work has a positive impact on the lives of people with dark pasts. As Joel put it, “my process [to recovery] always began in handcuffs.” Bringing cops and cons together was a way for the two sides to interact and get to hear each other’s stories: the cops knew about the cons’ pasts, but this was a chance for them to get to know where they are now.

Lastly, Joel wanted to achieve a tangible good from this tournament, so he also made it a toy drive. Participants showed up with new, unwrapped toys, which were donated to CCC’s family housing program. He says that he wanted both cops and cons to “come together as human beings and do good for our community.”

That night, the feelings of opposition between cops and cons were confined to the ping pong table between players. When they weren’t facing off against each other, they talked, laughed, and got to understand each other a little more.

Joel says that this is just the beginning. Both officers and alumni enjoyed this inaugural event so much that there’s already talk about a second tournament in the near future, perhaps doubling as a canned food drive.

“Playing ping pong together humanized each side for the other,” Joel said. “Now, we know we can and want to do more together.”

You can see great photos from the “Cops vs. Cons Ping Pong Tournament & Toy Drive” on Central City Concern’s Facebook photo album.