National Leader Visits CCC, Portland

Nov 06, 2019

Compassion in action was one thing Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC), witnessed firsthand while visiting Portland recently. Bobby was in town to deliver the keynote speech at Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Compassion in Action luncheon on Oct. 15, 2019. The mission of the council, which is based in Nashville, Tenn., is to eliminate homelessness by ensuring comprehensive health care and secure housing for everyone. CCC is one of about 300 council members.

Bobby said he didn’t hesitate for a minute when CCC asked him to come. He attended the Compassion in Action luncheon two years ago when Ed Blackburn, then CCC’s president and CEO, was honored just before he retired. “I had heard of Central City Concern through the years, but the first time I got to see it in action was immediately after this luncheon two years ago when [two CCC staff members] took me on a tour of the clinic and some of the housing programs. I was immediately totally blown away.” He saw that CCC was doing some things that no one else was doing, as well as many things better than most others are doing. He decided then and there that NHCHC was going to rely on CCC.

He spoke about compassion as “a sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress, along with a desire to alleviate it…. It’s taking our eyes off of ourselves and putting them on the needs of others.” It’s not just being aware, he says, it’s wanting to do something about it.

“One of the great values of America is we want everyone to reach their full potential, but how can you reach your potential if you don’t have a place to live?” he asked.

“I want to emphasize what a leader Central City Concern is in solving homelessness, not just in Portland, but across the country."

Bobby had toured Blackburn Center that morning and talked about what programs work for solving homelessness: subsidized housing, health care for people experiencing homeless, supportive housing, medical respite, a Housing First approach, trauma-informed care, harm reduction and addressing racism. CCC integrates all these ideas into what Bobby calls compassionate, competent care. “I want to emphasize what a leader Central City Concern is in solving homelessness, not just in Portland, but across the country,” he said.

While Bobby was in Portland, he also met with Vanetta Abdellatif, Integrated Clinical Services Director at Multnomah County Health Department, and went out on rounds one night with Drew Grabham, LCSW, a social worker for Portland Street Medicine.

“I am very, very hopeful that we can solve homelessness,” he said. “We know what we need to do. We know we have great programs with competent compassion that are effective, like Central City Concern. But what makes an organization work is the people. Central City Concern is staffed with people who make that human connection that makes all the difference in the world.”



CCC is in Give!Guide 2019!

Oct 31, 2019

We’re thrilled to share that Central City Concern (CCC) has been selected as a nonprofit featured in Willamette Week’s 2019 Give!Guide! We are one of about 150 local nonprofits chosen by Give!Guide, and we’re honored to be among such incredible company.

This is our seventh year participating in Give!Guide — an opportunity to support our mission with a donation and receive fantastic gifts in return. In addition to helping us end homelessness, your donation also gives you the chance to win fantastic prizes from iconic Portland restaurants, your favorite local businesses and much, much more.

This year we’re partnering with CCC supporters John and Renee Gorham – the couple behind Toro Bravo and Tasty n Alder — to offer exclusive incentives just for you, our CCC family!

If you're ready to make a difference, make a gift to CCC any time between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31!

BIG GIVE DAYS

When you donate $10 or more on Give!Guide’s Big Give Days, you’ll also be entered for a chance to win a number of exciting prizes in addition to CCC’s exclusive incentives. Tomorrow, Nov. 1, is the first Big Give Day — when you donate $10 or more, you could win a $500 shopping spree to Powell’s Books! Explore all of this year's Big Give Days here.

JOIN THE PARTY

Give!Guide is hosting an official kickoff party Celebrate tomorrow at the Jupiter Hotel Next (910 E Burnside) from 5 to 7 p.m. Join the fun for music, food and prizes. The event is free and open to the public. Find details here.

STAY UP TO DATE

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more frequent updates about Give!Guide and CCC through the end of the year. We’ll remind you about upcoming Big Give Days, share more information about our CCC-only incentives and even point you toward other nonprofits doing good, important work in our community.

When you give to CCC, you help bring hope and healing to those who need it most. Thank you for believing in CCC and supporting our work.



Donor Profile: John and Renee Gorham

Oct 29, 2019

Most Portlanders know John and Renee Gorham as the duo behind some of the city’s most exciting restaurants like Toro Bravo and Tasty n Alder. Their cuisine is renowned for the breadth of inspiration they draw from all over the world — from Spain to Israel to the Carolinas.

But when it comes to making a difference, the Gorhams focus on their own community. This holiday season, John and Renee are leveraging their star power to support Central City Concern’s (CCC) Give!Guide campaign, as well as those of several other nonprofits, particularly those addressing the homelessness epidemic in Portland.

We caught up with John and Renee for a quick Q&A to learn more about how they approach giving and doing their part to elevate the community.

Why did you decide to partner with CCC for the 2019 Give!Guide?
CCC’s wide range of services and versatility offers the most wraparound and overarching support to transform the lives of families and individuals in our community. Partnering with CCC in Give!Guide opens up the opportunity for us to reach a broader audience to support the critically important and necessary work with the most vulnerable populations of our community.

What inspires you to give?
In the restaurant industry we provide a service to those who can afford to dine out, but we also offer jobs and build a community within our group. There have been several points in our careers where we found family within the industry, so trying to create that sense of community beyond the walls of our restaurants is what inspires us to give.

How is your giving different than in past years?
Each year we shift our focus to an area of larger need. Right now it’s abundantly clear that homelessness is the most immediate problem facing our community. We’ve learned that collaborating with organizations who are on the ground providing services that make real differences in people’s lives allows us to leverage what we can do to make a meaningful impact. We want to be a part of the solution.

“Every person deserves an opportunity to better their lives and have a chance to champion the best life that they can live.”

What message would you like to share with the community?
Homelessness in Portland is something that needs all of our attention and our focus. Changing the lens of the way we all see homelessness is the first step all of Portland can take. Whatever got a person or a family into the situation they are in is irrelevant. Every person deserves an opportunity to better their lives and champion the best life that they can live.

Beyond what we see on the streets there is a huge population of people living on the cusp of homelessness. There is so much opportunity for us all to put our money where our mouths are if we want to make meaningful change in this community. We just can’t rely on someone else to fix a problem that is bigger than us all.

It’s just the damn right thing to do.

• • •

Give!Guide goes live on Friday, Nov. 1! Check out the details of our exclusive incentives for donors who give to CCC through Give!Guide this holiday season.



CCC Walks for Recovery

Oct 01, 2019

Central City Concern (CCC) wrapped up National Recovery Month on a powerful note this past Saturday, Sept. 28, at the second annual Walk for Recovery, where members of the Portland recovery community and their families united to improve Oregon’s fractured and incomplete addiction recovery system.

CCC staff and clients, along with their friends, family and hundreds of other community members and organizations, took part in the two-mile walk from southwest to northwest Portland, which felt more like a political march than a fundraising event. Key legislators and decision makers helped kick off the walk at an opening rally, sharing words of encouragement to participants about why mobilizing to address addiction is so important. Representatives from Oregon Recovers, which organized the Walk for Recovery, emphasized the goal of building a movement of people in recovery in order to drive widespread support for addiction prevention and treatment across Oregon.

During the walk, as participants passed by multiple addiction treatment and help centers — including CCC’s own CCC Recovery Center, Imani Center and Old Town Recovery Center programs — they proudly help up hand-made signs with messages of encouragement to those in recovery and calls to action for elected officials to increase access to treatment.

One of the largest contingents at the Walk for Recovery was made up of staff, clients and alumni of Puentes, CCC’s culturally specific recovery program for Spanish speakers. Ricardo Verdeguez, a recovery mentor and drug and alcohol counselor at Puentes, highlighted a significant barrier in recovery services: the lack of Spanish-language treatment programs.

"Today I have a life and I have a family because I am in recovery."

“After 30 years of battling addiction, there was no treatment for me as a third-generation Latino,” Ricardo shared during his speech at the Walk for Recovery rally. “I found treatment with Central City Concern and I’m grateful, because they have culturally specific treatment. Today I have a life and I have a family because I am in recovery.”

Puentes’ large presence at the Walk for Recovery was fitting, where increasing access to recovery services was a reoccurring theme. Oregon ranks 50th in the country — last place — in access to treatment. Puentes has worked hard to welcome Portland’s Spanish-speakers into a culturally responsive community where things like language, country of origin and documentation status are not barriers to beginning and maintaining a life in recovery. While much work remains in breaking barriers to preventing and treating addiction, we are proud to serve the Latino recovery community through our Puentes program.

With hundreds of Portlanders in attendance and over $100,000 raised to improve Oregon’s addiction recovery system, the Walk for Recovery was a success that CCC was thrilled to be a part of. While National Recovery Month might be over, our work to bring hope and healing to those struggling with addiction continues with the same determination and fire we witnessed during the weekend’s events.



"Transformation" Mural Brings the CCC Story to Life

Jul 30, 2019

The mural is located in the second floor lobby of Blackburn Center.Baba Wagué Diakité fills in a pattern. Portland artist Kendra Larson assisted Wagué throughout the project.Ronna Neuenschwander, a professional artist represented by Froelick Gallery and Wagué's wife, worked by his side and was a constant presence throughout the entire mural project.

"Transformation" is a wall-length mural in CCC's Blackburn Center, designed and painted by Baba Wagué Diakité, and partially funded by Regional Arts and Culture Council. The mural is based on the stories of CCC clients and staff. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow.


The walk up the steps from the main lobby of Central City Concern’s (CCC) Blackburn Center to the second floor is an exercise in slow revelation. “Transformation,” a new mural created for Blackburn Center by renowned Portland artist Baba Wagué Diakité, is positioned at the top of the stairs to meet all visitors — less a gatekeeper and more a welcoming party.

Upon the very first stretch of the upper floor wall that comes into view, it takes a second to register the figure of a vibrantly colored tree, evaporating any expectation of a sterile, sparse waiting room. Your eyes can’t help but trace left to follow the procession of animals large and small, winged, scaled and legged. Bright music notes pop out from what you quickly realize is a mostly black and white, wall-length mural of a fantastical scene framed in earthy gold.

As you reach the top of the steps and approach the wall, you notice the impossibly intricate patterns that fill in the animal outlines. Only now do you find a mandala of words: “hope,” “caring,” “journey” and “joy,” among others. And as much as you want to press your nose up to it, you feel similarly pulled to take several steps back to take the entire mural in at once.

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

Months before Wagué first laid his brush to the wall, CCC Art Task Force volunteer Alice McCartor came across a Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grant intended to support projects that invite the community to participate, including underserved communities. With the Art Task Force — an all-volunteer group of community members who procure donations of and curate fine art to beautify CCC buildings — already in the thick of procuring art for Blackburn Center, Alice immediately saw a golden opportunity.

“I thought a mural here could be a good match because RACC makes an effort to bring art to the public in multiple ways,” Alice shared. “I could envision many people walking into the clinic — people who don’t have easy access to galleries or the museum — and being able to see fine art in a mural.”

There’s no wondering what would be said if this wall could talk. This one proclaims the CCC story.

The rest of the Art Task Force agreed and began discussing local artists whose style and experience would be right for such a project. Wagué, whose work and reputation as a writer, illustrator, ceramicist and muralist is eclipsed only by his truest artistic identity as a storyteller, quickly became the group’s first choice.

Growing up in Mali, Africa, the power and magic of stories settled deep into Wagué’s bones as he listened to stories told by his grandmother and village elders. These stories often depicted animals as the characters to represent our human foibles, our strengths and our resiliency.

As an established artist, he developed a storytelling program called “What’s Standing on Your Soul?” that allows participants to exchange ideas based on their own lives. What better person, what better way, to bring to life a mural based on and in CCC’s community of clients who receive support to find stability and wellness, as well as the staff who offer that help?

“I first learned of CCC’s work when an artwork of mine was donated to the organization’s Healing Through Art collection a few years back,” Wagué shared. “I was absolutely humbled when I was approached about this project.” A few months later, RACC notified CCC that they would award the grant for a mural project.

CCC arranged three sessions for Wagué to facilitate his workshop: the first for a group of Old Town Clinic patients, the second for a group of CCC staff members and the last for staff members specifically from CCC’s Eastside Concern program, which would soon be absorbed into Blackburn Center to provide substance use disorder counseling and peer support services.

Over the course of a few hours, Wagué shared about storytelling’s capacity to connect and challenge, recounted stories he’d heard growing up in Mali and set the stage for participants to share stories based in their own experiences.

“It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of that,” shared Zibby, an Old Town Clinic patient. “To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

Though a skilled facilitator, Wagué knew that participants would have to meet him halfway to fully unlock the power of storytelling. “They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish, but I would have never learned any of that without them trusting me. So I’m grateful,” he says. “It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be. That really stuck out to me.”

"It meant quite a bit for me to be a part of [the storytelling sessions]. To me, it meant that my story has value. It recognized my love for art.”

At each session, Wagué was accompanied by his wife, Ronna Neuenschwander, an accomplished and well-known artist in her own right. She listened alongside Wagué, documenting phrases and narratives the participants shared. After the workshops, Wagué and Ronna reviewed her notes, identifying themes that emerged across the conversations. Then he got to work translating the collective story of CCC staff and clients into imagery steeped in Malian traditions.

“I focused on the positive direction people want to shape their lives toward, such as ‘being well and doing well in life,’ ‘being able to trust again,’ and ‘helping others so they will not experience what I went through.’

“Some things we heard are represented by words, others are represented with images of favorite animals and scenes of nature that have helped them through hard times.”

The resulting design was a sprawling, 30-feet by 10-feet mural, as bold in its entirety as it is delicate in its individual elements. Creatures of all kinds march, fly or catch a ride on others toward a lizard playing music.

“I wanted to include animals that are metaphors for the stories that they shared: in my culture, Elephant represents strength, Turtle represents courage and endurance, Hippo is the symbol of large vision, Birds are symbols of knowledge, Lizard represents welcoming and happiness,” Wagué explains. “All of them are carrying others on their backs, symbolizing diversity and acceptance. The bird’s nest shows nurturing and caring. The baobab tree carried on the back of the tortoise is the sturdy and long-living tree of life.”

Transferring the design on paper to the wall was a month-long endeavor that, like the best of stories, took a few unforeseen turns. Wagué and Ronna worked side by side nearly every day in June. They initially invited one other Portland artist, Kendra Larson, who wanted to learn about mural painting techniques.

“They have beautiful ambitions of many good things they want to accomplish.... It was also evident how much pride they have in their daily progress. They are determined and grateful for the opportunity to become the best they can be.”

As the weeks passed, many others came along to help, delightfully mirroring the caravan of creatures in the mural itself. Ronna recounts, “One of Kendra’s students was interested in helping, so he joined. Construction workers and electricians and CCC’s own tech people would comment on the job daily, explaining our mural to us as it progressed. Then they began asking if they could paint a little spot in the mural. We felt honored that they had taken on ownership of the mural and wanted to leave a visual mark of their hand in the building.”

Blackburn Center staff — in the building to prepare for the start of services— popped by between meetings and tasks, eager to fill in a pattern here, widen a line there. CCC’s Art Task Force volunteers joined in, too. Wagué hadn’t set out for the painting to be a totally communal task, but he and Ronna readily embraced it. “Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

No Blackburn Center staff member would take credit for more than the tiniest contribution, but the opportunity to make a mark colored how they view their own experience at the new program.

“Many helping hands involved in the mural to me is a symbol of love and harmony and the mural itself is now a monument of our accomplishment together.”

“I painted one tiny orange circle and one tiny blue circle,” says Lydia Bartholow, Blackburn Center’s Associate Director of Behavioral Health. “But painting these circles felt very much to me like my involvement in the overall Blackburn project: there was a larger vision that centered the stories of our clients, and I was lucky enough to get to contribute to something much larger and more beautiful than myself.”

Dalando Vance, a peer case manager for Blackburn Center Apartments, shares, “I felt a great deal of gratitude. Even though the part I painted was super small, I got a feeling of empowerment and togetherness.”

Wagué made his final dabs and strokes on June 28. Since then, scores of staff members, clients and community partners have stopped in their tracks in the second floor lobby, pausing to interpret the images for themselves. Often, what they hear is their own story spoken back.

Alice, the Art Task Force volunteer who first set this project in motion, couldn’t be more pleased. “Wagué's story-telling process, his resulting design and his welcoming of all comers to share in painting the mural is just what we hoped for — a joyous reflection of the healing process at CCC for and by clients and staff.”



CCC Partners with The Oregon Clinic to Welcome People Home

Jul 18, 2019

A message from Westbrook Evans, Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Volunteer Manager:

On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, nearly 300 people gathered for the grand opening of CCC’s Blackburn Center, a six-story facility where many residents of East Multnomah County will receive housing, health care and job services. Just the day before, employees from The Oregon Clinic (TOC) stayed late into the evening, volunteering their time to prepare for new residents by making up rooms and writing thoughtful welcome cards placed in each unit. We are so thankful for TOC staff who organized a bedding drive, volunteered their time, and donated extra items to make this project happen.

For many people who move into the Blackburn Center, it might be the first time they have a place to call their own in quite some time. Thanks to the donations and hard work of TOC volunteers, new residents will get more than a plain bed and a clean room. Not only did TOC donate bed linens for all 175 single residence occupancy and studio apartments, they also organized a drive to collect towels, handwrote welcome cards, and provided 155 hours of volunteer time to sort linens and make up the rooms. They brought their friends and family to volunteer and donated other items like hygiene and laundry supplies.

     

As we celebrate Blackburn Center’s grand opening in CCC’s 40th year, I want to recognize our partnership with TOC. In 2016, TOC made a commitment to community service by becoming an Oregon Benefit Company and, in 2018, chose CCC as their partner. TOC recognized that the lack of affordable housing and health services strongly impacts their patients, staff and the Portland community, and chose to team up with CCC to make an impact.

TOC staff have supported us in a variety of ways: they attend our fundraising events, organize donation drives, volunteer their time and even bring their families along! While the official partnership began in 2018, the earliest record I found of TOC donating supplies for our clients was in 1991. It is quite exciting to recognize that for more than half of CCC’s time serving Portland, TOC has been a valued supporter.

     

Just in my short time with CCC, I have seen the massive impact various TOC projects have had, including a pots and pans drive, back to school supplies donations, and most recently, preparing Blackburn Center. I recently had the privilege of getting to know several TOC volunteers and was especially moved by those who stayed late or returned for another day of service, brought extra donations, and asked for other ways to get involved. When I saw TOC CEO Scot Gudger breaking down boxes with his staff, I knew that TOC values a culture of service and giving back, all the way up to their top leadership. I was very honored to work on this project and can’t wait to see what amazing idea they come up with next to serve our clients and our community.

     



CCC Celebrates the Grand Opening of Blackburn Center!

Jul 16, 2019

On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 9, Central City Concern (CCC) welcomed nearly 300 community partners, funders and friends of the organization into our Blackburn Center in East Portland for a grand opening event.

The day marked a celebration of the building's completion, the start of services, the incredible breadth of partners and funders who made this possible, the impact Blackburn Center will make on the lives of thousands of people, and the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the project. Blackburn Center is the final and flagship project of the Housing is Health initiative.

As CCC's President and CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff reminded the guests, everything about Blackburn Center points back to the people we serve. "This beautiful space is a testament to the dignity and potential each person we serve holds, with an elegant and elevating environment to prove it," she said.

Blackburn Center is located at the corner of E Burnside and 122nd Ave.      CCC President & CEO Dr. Rachel Solotaroff opened the program.

Julie Smith, an apprentice laborer who worked on the building for Walsh Construction, shared her story, revealing that she had herself received CCC's services to find the path of recovery and stability. Working on the building that would serve thousands of people on similar paths as her own was so meaningful, she said.

Ed Blackburn, CCC's president & CEO emeritus after whom the building is named, reflected on what the services we offer here will mean to those we serve. Pain and hurt would enter through our doors, yes, but healing and hope would be shared back out into the world.

Other speakers included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick, and representatives from funders Portland Housing Bureau, Corporation for Supportive Housing, U.S. Bank, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Health Authority and the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association.

Representatives from each of the six Housing is Health initiative partners, who came together to provide a trailblazing $21.5 million gift to fund Blackburn Center and two other affordable housing projects, spoke as well: Adventist Health Medical Group, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Health & Services - Oregon.

Julie Smith spoke about CCC's recovery and housing services crucial to helping her find stability. She was the event's honorary ribbon cutter.      Ed Blackburn, CCC president & CEO emeritus, was instrumental in bringing the six Housing is Health partners together under a common cause.

The first two floors of Blackburn Center are a community health center that will eventually serve 3,000 people each year with comprehensive and integrated primary care services, mental health and addiction treatment care, employment assistance, housing resources and a pharmacy.

The third floor is the new home of CCC’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP). Since 2005, RCP has offered respite care to 30 people at a time, offering medical care, case management and housing to people discharged from local hospitals with nowhere else to go and heal. With their move to Blackburn Center, RCP can now care for up to 51 people. Mental Health RCP will start in the next month, while 10 beds for people in palliative care will be added in the future.

Blackburn Center also includes 80 units of alcohol- and drug-free transitional housing on the fourth and fifth floors, and 34 permanent homes on the sixth floor. Integrated resident and health support services will help residents stay housed and in recovery.

Ankrom Moisan Architects, Inc. did an award-winning job on the design of the building; Walsh Construction Co. brought it into touchable, walkable, livable reality.

Thanks to all who joined in our journey to open Blackburn Center. And now we get to the real work of helping people find home, healing and hope.

Learn more about Blackburn Center’s services here. View the complete set of photos from the event here.

     

     



CCC Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2019

Apr 10, 2019

Dear CCC supporters,

Happy National Volunteer Week! My name is Westbrook Evans and I am the new Volunteer Manager at Central City Concern (CCC). I have been working at CCC for two years now and am thrilled to take on a position where I get to work more closely with the amazing volunteers who support our mission in so many different ways.

National Volunteer Week is an initiative by Points of Light, an international nonprofit dedicated to engaging people in solving social problems through voluntary service. Each year nonprofits across the world come together around a theme to recognize the volunteers that make our organizations run and enrich our community. This year the theme is “Celebrate Acts of Service.”

Service, to me, has always been transformative, not only in the community where the work is done, but for the volunteer. Acts of service by our volunteers don’t begin and end with a single shift because our volunteers become advocates for the people we serve and our work 24/7. We highly value our volunteers not only for their work, but also for the message they bring back to our community about the importance of engagement. This week I would like to celebrate the acts of service our volunteers do every day for the people we serve!

Throughout the year we will continue to highlight individual volunteers and the work they do here at CCC. But for this Volunteer Week, we will celebrate our volunteer community as a whole. Please check out this article from Points of Light about service and if you know anyone who volunteers, help us celebrate them for their acts of service.

I look forward to getting to know all our volunteers!



Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: January 2019 Edition

Jan 31, 2019

For the first spotlight of 2019, we’re featuring one of Central City Concern's On-Call Administrative volunteers, Christopher Schiel. The on-call volunteer position is one that allows folks who don’t have consistent time available throughout the week the chance to volunteer on an as-needed basis and support various departments throughout CCC.

Christopher has been one of CCC’s most motivated on-call volunteers and has taken on a broad range of tasks throughout the agency. His consistency, reliability, and unflappably positive attitude have been appreciated by many CCC staff. Read on to hear what Christopher has appreciated and learned and how administrative work has enriched his broader understanding of CCC.

• • •

Christopher helped serve a Thanksgiving meal to residents of CCC's Estate Hotel community in November 2018.Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Christopher: My name is Christopher Schiel and I am an on-call administrative volunteer.

P: How long have you been with CCC?

C: I believe it’s been about a year.

P: How did you become familiar with CCC?

C: I knew about the agency from seeing the vehicles around town, but also being aware that there were residential buildings downtown. And I had a superficial awareness of the organization, but not an understanding of what they did besides housing.

P: How did you find out about the volunteer position here?

C: I was actively seeking some volunteer position within the city and I was feeling like housing was at the front of minds, so CCC was at the top of the list. And I found [a position that] I thought was perfect for my skill set, which was project management and organizational stuff.

P: What about admin work was more attractive to you than a role that involved more direct contact with clients?

C: At the time, I was feeling a motivation to do something without really knowing where to start. The housing crisis is something that is very visible on the streets, but there isn’t much of a conversation about why that is beyond reactions on the news, Nextdoor, or from NIMBY folks who are corralling people around the city from one place to another.

My motivation for volunteering was the kind of acknowledgement that I knew that I didn’t know what was going on, really, so I wanted to get involved in some way, not only to volunteer my skills, but to greater understand or explore what is actually happening and admin seemed like the perfect way to do that.

"I’m understanding that the success of the whole mission revolves around a coordination of these services that isn’t obvious on the ground and certainly wasn’t obvious to me before I started"

P: And do you feel that you have learned more about housing and services within housing during your volunteering?

C: Oh, absolutely, yes. My very first task was to interview one of the heads of OHSU and the CEO of a job transition placement group to get their thoughts on the functioning of CCC, as well as their input on [CCC’s] strategic plan. That particular conversation turned out to be very enlightening about the way that this organization collaborates with other ancillary nonprofits throughout Portland. It started to get me thinking about how each of these missions can be compartmentalized and taken by collaborators to a certain degree of good.

Right after that I was doing survey entry for [satisfaction] surveys that were given to clients in various parts of CCC and just doing data entry, but to observe that feedback loop, to see how clients are coming thought the system, going from Old Town Recovery Center to different residential buildings, hearing what is going right what is going wrong, how all these things are cooperating to make not only this organization better but what the greater mission of tackling houselessness and the housing crisis is has been insightful.

P: Do you feel that the role has given you that chance to see how the different parts of the agency feed the greater mission?

C: Yes. My background of project management and data entry led me to believe that a lot of this volunteer role would be sitting at a computer, and some of it has been. But probably some of the more surprising and enlightening parts of this position have been those things that don’t involve a computer aspect.

By being in front of clients, being in the admin office, and working with Quality Management, I’m starting to get a sense of how intricate client-facing services are. I’m understanding that the success of the whole mission revolves around a coordination of these services that isn’t obvious on the ground and certainly wasn’t obvious to me before I started. The intricacy [of coordinating all these services] is kind of infinite.

"To just see the sense of community within that residential building; to see the cooperation, camaraderie and community; and to engage with clients at the level was personally meaningful."

P: Has there been one project in particular that was the most interesting?

C: I’m going to give you two answers. The most insightful experience was the strategic planning interview project, in that I got to hear specialized input about specific collaborations and projects and then I got to engage in conversation on some very high level stuff. So from an admin perspective that was the most insightful. But the most meaningful was serving Thanksgiving dinner. To just see the sense of community within that residential building; to see the cooperation, camaraderie and community; and to engage with clients at the level was personally meaningful. So it’s nice on the one hand to have the 30,000 foot view of admin, and then the ground-level view of daily life.

P: When you talk with others about this experience that you’ve had, what is it that you share with them?

C: I start with the range of services that are provided. I never knew what those trucks were doing, for one. But also that CCC isn’t just housing, it’s not just these buildings in the downtown core, but also the medical and rehabilitative services, counseling, job transition support, culturally specific programs. I emphasize the breadth of those service to people I speak with. It’s not just a bed to sleep in, it’s a range of support systems that allow people to get on their own two feet and eventually build a life.



Graduations 2018: A new life in a new direction

Jun 29, 2018

“We’ve started a new life in a new direction,” said Emily, “I wish everyone the very best!”

Her graduation ceremony was like many others: 39 grads clutched their new certificates and thanked the people who had helped them get through. But Central City Concern’s (CCC’s) Community Volunteer Corps (CVC) June 2018 graduation ceremony was different from most because the participants finished 80 hours of volunteer service that helped them get back into the working mode after disruption due to substance use, poverty, health issues or homelessness. And this particular celebration was special because it included two participants from CVC’s newly expanded Gresham program, including Emily.

Central City Concern's most recent group of Community Volunteer Corps graduates pose for a group photo following the ceremony.

CVC started in 2009 as a way for newly recovering people to get out in the community and practice soft job skills such as teamwork and time management. Through working with others and giving back, participants gain self-confidence and make a commitment to a new, healthy life. Since 2009, CVC participants have volunteered 131,317 hours to the community through more than 30 nonprofit partners and government organizations such as Portland Parks & Recreation, Free Geek and Oregon Food Bank.

One June grad, Dina, said “I really had fun. My drinking had killed me inside and CVC gave me back my self-confidence.” Daniel said, “CVC has been my favorite part of my recovery. I felt good about myself at the end of the day.”

CVC also recently began a partnership with Project Clean Slate, a program that helps people regain their driver’s license and expunge minor criminal convictions so they can get on track to meaningful employment. “I got my driver’s license back,” said one participant, proudly pulling his temporary license out of his pocket for all to see.

One CVC graduate actually took time off from his new job to be part of the graduation ceremony—it meant that much to him.

CVC participants range in age and come from a variety of backgrounds; for many, working with others on volunteer projects has changed their lives. “CVC has helped me learn to be friendlier and more personable,” said Donna. Jennifer said, “I’m grateful for the chance to develop close relationships with my peers.”

In addition to their certificate, CVC graduates receive a small cash stipend, photos from their time in CVC to remind them of the camaraderie they developed and a letter of recommendation to send them into the world of future employment. CCC’s Employment Access Center has employment specialists who work with CVC participants on writing resumes, interview skills and getting permanent jobs. One CVC graduate actually took time off from his new job to be part of the graduation ceremony—it meant that much to him.

About 100 people attended the event, including volunteers from Airbnb who had spent the morning at CCC’s Employment Access Center helping clients (including some CVC grads) with computer skills.