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.



Central City Coffee Unveils a Bold New Look!

Oct 31, 2018

Wake up people! Women are finally getting the respect they deserve, especially at Central City Coffee.

Central City Coffee's previous branding was appropriate for a young social enterprise, but as the program has grown, the time was right to make a bold move.In 2013, Central City Concern (CCC) started a coffee roasting and distribution social enterprise to provide training and employment opportunities for people who live in CCC housing. In the beginning, our packaging featured coffee variety descriptions and highlighted CCC’s nonprofit mission. The coffee bags were kraft brown with pastel labels featuring our tag line: Drink well. Do good.

Over the past five years, Central City Coffee expanded our retail presence and is now available in more than 30 Oregon and Washington stores, as well as online.

Our training program has grown as well. Early on, we decided to train some of CCC’s most vulnerable clients: single moms working to rebuild their lives after facing homelessness and substance use disorder. We found that Central City Coffee’s full-time, day shift hours were a great fit for mothers who needed a set schedule and reliable childcare to reenter the workforce. And the skills they learned—marketing, office administration, sales—set them up for success when seeking meaningful employment after training.

Today, we remain committed to working with and training these amazing women. The Central City Coffee rebranded packaging is inspired by the hard work, determination and strength these women bring to our business every day. Our rebrand is a tribute to them.

Our new packaging is all about empowered—and empowering—women! With the help of design firm Murmur Creative, CCC’s Marketing Advisory Council and CCC staff and trainees, we have created bright, beautiful and bold coffee packages that showcase women, share their most inspiring qualities and stand out on store shelves.

The best part is our new tagline, created by one of our brilliant trainees: Nonprofit brew. Female crew.

Our new coffee line is infused with the spirit and resilience of the women who pull it all together every day. Please check us out at a specialty grocer near you. The women at Central City Coffee thank you for your support!

Varieties with new names:

  • Gutsy Goddess: French roast, bold, balanced, dark chocolate
  • Punk Princess: Dark roast, milk chocolate, nutty
  • Warrior Woman: Medium roast, most popular, caramel, pear, cinnamon
  • Magic Mama: Light roast, floral, berries, vanilla
  • Serene Sorceress: Medium/dark decaf, Swiss water processed, rich, nutty, chocolatey
  • Solstice Sister: Seasonal holiday medium roast, currants, spices, sweet

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: September 2018 Edition

Sep 29, 2018

This month’s volunteer spotlight focuses on a volunteer with the Living Room program at the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC). The Living Room is a shared, safe place for OTRC members, many of whom are actively living with and managing behavioral and mental health challenges. The Living Room functions as an empowering healing center, a place for members to come and hang out, eat, volunteer, build a community, and participate in regular group activities.

Lisa has been a dedicated volunteer at the Living Room and shares her story as part of National Recovery Month. Read on to hear how Lisa’s recovery informs her service at the Living Room and why peer representation is such an important piece of recovery.

• • •

What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Lisa and I am a volunteer in the Living Room.

How long have you been volunteering with the Living Room? 
I think it was April, so about five months ago.

How did you find out about the opportunity? 
I just was online looking for volunteer opportunities and I read a description and I really loved the idea of this community environment for people with mental health and/or addiction issues, and the vibe of everyone being equal.

"A lot of people will ask me, 'Oh, do you work here?' or 'Are you going to school?' and I’ll say, 'No, I just like being here. I really want to be around you.'"

And have you seen the community environment and structure of equality in practice during your volunteering? 
Absolutely, yes. Everybody is here to support each other. I feel like the staff treats everyone that walks through the front door like family. It’s really lovely actually and helpful to me.

I have a history of my own mental illness diagnoses and as well as alcoholism and I was very involved in recovery for a long time, and then I had a relapse for about a year and I think that there is a definite connection between my current sobriety and volunteering.

Do see you role as a peer as important to your work in the Living Room? 
Yes, I feel like no matter what our outside life circumstances are, people with mental health struggles and addiction struggles speak the same language. Nothing really compares to that when it comes to feeling a part of a community and even the people who may or may not have the exact same situation for themselves, they understand in one way or another, either through family or other experiences that they’ve had. I feel at home here and I think that’s just because mental health is such a focus here. I come here and I get a lot out of it.

What do you think the importance of a peer is in recovery? 
It’s almost everything. If you don’t have anyone to relate to, you feel alone. I think it’s really important for the Living Room to have volunteers too. A lot of people will ask me, “Oh, do you work here?” or “Are you going to school?” and I’ll say, “No, I just like being here. I really want to be around you.” People that come in will say thank you and I’ll say, “Thank you for being here. I’m getting just as much from this as you are.”

"Everything happens here... all of it."

Have there been any stand out moments at the Living Room during your time as a volunteer? 
There’s so many, every time I’m here. Just washing dishes with someone and chatting about life is great. I find I have so much in common with people that I didn’t realize I would. And it’s not always about addiction or mental health, it’s just as people. And I’ve really enjoyed doing little craft projects here and there and seeing a smile on someone’s face from having a flower in their hair. It goes all the way from serious to something fun. Everything happens here... all of it.

And, our customary last question: What would you say to someone who was interested in volunteering but was on the fence?
I would say that you must be thinking about it for a reason, so it’s in your heart to do it and you can give it a shot. There’s a lot of opportunities here, so I think there’s something for everyone.

Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: August 2018 Edition

Aug 29, 2018

For this week's volunteer spotlight, we're turning to a volunteer who has already appeared twice before in our spotlights, but never as the sole featured volunteer. Given her dedicated service (Judy was one of thirteen volunteers to give more than 100 hours of service in 2017) we thought it was high time she got her own entry.

Judy is one of several volunteers who serve at the Old Town Clinic as a clinic concierge. The role was designed to help promote the clinic as a welcoming, inclusive place, where the first person you would encounter would be someone who is smiling and asking how you day is going. Judy exemplifies this role to a 'T.' In addition to the warmth she bringing to her conversations with people, where almost every sentence is punctuated with a smile and a laugh, Judy also brings experience into her interactions with patients at the clinic. Read on to see how volunteering helps her connect with her community and about the moments that have made the role particularly special for her.

• • •

While Judy's career has spanned from community development to paleontology (really!), a deep personal connection brought her to volunteer with CCC.What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Judy Sanders and I volunteer as a concierge at the Old Town Clinic.

How long have you been volunteering with CCC?
I’ve been here probably not quite a year-and-a-half yet. It was a year in the spring.

How did you find out about this opportunity and/or CCC?
Well, I knew about CCC because one of my sons was a client of CCC’s for a number of years. When I moved back to Portland after I retired for real—I retired once and went off and worked for ten more years—I wanted to do volunteer work. As you get older, you kind of start to question if you’re earning your place to still be around, so I needed something to do to make me feel like I had some function left in the world. So, I just called up and asked if you had volunteers.

Had you worked in a clinic before?
No, I had never done anything in health care before, but I had worked with people a lot. I did community development work for 20 years for the City of Portland, so I was used to working with all kinds of people. I was actually in charge of regulatory compliance, so I have come out and monitored CCC a couple of times over the years!

And your “other job” was in…?
Dinosaur paleontology. I did that for ten years while I still had a day job, then when I retired from the City my mentor said, “Come and work for me,” so then I worked in paleo full time for ten years.

“People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like 'thank you' for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week."

Do you find that those jobs inform your work as a concierge?
Well, I’ve worked with all kinds of people, and I did oversee some projects in the city serving people experiencing homelessness. But probably more than anything it was my son, because he was homeless for some time and he had alcohol and drug addiction. One of the things that I remember he used to say—that I utilize here—is that he would talk about how he just wanted to feel like a regular person. He hated that everywhere he went he was a patient or a client and he just sometimes wanted to feel like everybody else. So, when I talk to people at the clinic we talk about all sorts of things.

And some people do want to talk about [their medical stuff] and that’s fine, but I do try to find something to talk to people about other than the fact that they’re sick or injured.

Since you’ve been here for a while, do you find that patients are recognizing you when they come in?
Yeah, a lot of them that come in regularly know who I am and I know more or less who they are. I was talking to [an acupuncture client] today and he was saying that it made him feel good to have someone there to talk to and I said, “Yeah, it makes me feel good to see you guys.” I think it’s nice for people to see someone who is familiar; I think it makes them more comfortable. But I think for a lot of people it’s just having someone smile and say hi, notice them. And for me it’s great. People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like thank you for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week.

Have there been any stand out moments in your time so far?
One was just a younger fellow who reminds me some of my son, and this fellow is in and out of sobriety, and when he was in sobriety last he was staying with his mother and she would come with him [to appointments]. While he was in his appointment, I just sat with his mother and talked to her and she told me what she was going through and I shared a little of what I went through with my son and kind of said, “It’s okay to feel this way. I did too.”

And so I think it helped her to have someone to talk about it with, because I know when I was going through that with my son, you just don’t feel comfortable talking to people who haven’t experienced it because you feel like they can’t understand and they tend to judge and tend to think you did something bad and weren’t a good mother. So, it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him.

“ was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him."

There are also a couple people who are deaf that come and there’s one lady who’s really good at reading lips, but I decided, “I’m going to learn a little bit of sign language.” I just learned to say a few things and I was so proud of myself when she came in the first time and I signed to her and she perked up. And then there were two other ladies that came in later and they saw me talking to her and they came running over, because they were deaf as well, and said, “You sign?” And then they gave me some flashcards with the alphabet, because I always have trouble with some of the letters, so now those two ladies come in and we chat a little.

And what keeps you coming back to volunteer, now that you’ve done a year-and-a-half?
For me personally, one thing is just that I do need to be out and doing things, I need to feel like I’m still productive in life. But particularly now that I’ve been here a while and know some staff and a lot of the clients, I miss them if I don’t come. I wonder if they were there and if they were okay.

Usually my last question is what would you tell folks who were interested in volunteering, but since you host so many prospective volunteers who are shadowing the concierge role, I wonder if there’s something that you tell them about the role to win them over?
For one thing, I just tell people how much I enjoy it and just what a good time I have! I just find it really rewarding and if I have the chance to spend time with someone that you know really needed somebody to talk to, it just makes you feel good. I would always, with my son, hope that when he wasn’t around, there would be somebody that would be there to be nice to him. So, hopefully I’m doing that for other mothers who can’t do that for their kids.

Was there anything else you were hoping to tell us?
I think one of the things I like about having people come and shadow, particularly ones who haven’t really had much experience with [this population], is that I think it’s really important that as many people as possible get to be involved with all different parts of the community. The people that come to the clinic, they’re not any different than anybody else. They have the same issues and problems and I find, in life, that over the years people just live in their little box and you only meet people like you and it makes all the other people around in the world seem different. It’s not until you get to know people, and whether its people from other counties or life experiences, you just don’t understand that there is actually so little difference. So, I really like the fact that people are willing to come and try it out.

NHCW Health Care Hero: Lydia Bartholow

Aug 17, 2018

Lydia Bartholow still isn’t absolutely certain how she came to become Central City Concern’s (CCC) associate medical director for outpatient substance use disorder services.

“I sort of feel like I’m still a crusty punk kid who magically got into this role,” she says.

But it’s exactly Lydia’s past—her upbringing, an adventurous young adulthood, the paths she chose—that informs her present and makes her an integral, guiding voice for how CCC serves those in need of addiction treatment. In her role, Lydia works primarily with the CCC Recovery Center and Eastside Concern programs, overseeing the outpatient services that engage individuals working to start or maintain their recovery journey. And while being an associate medical director carries a wide range of responsibilities, Lydia is singularly driven.

“My passion really is and shows up in working to make sure that our patients are the drivers of their health—that the patient experience is as good as possible.”

Lydia’s laser focus on CCC’s patients, many of whom are marginalized, living at or near poverty, and often cast aside or uncared for by mainstream health care systems, can be traced back to how she was raised. Growing up in a Unitarian Universalist household set the table for Lydia’s sense of who she wanted to work with—those “who are hardest to love”—as well as her obligation to them: “to love them as much as possible.”

“I sort of feel like I’m still a crusty punk kid who magically got into this role."

In her early 20s, Lydia lived as a self-described “gutter punk kid.” While living amongst the trees or hopping trains, she became familiar with many issues like substance use disorder that bring clients in to receive CCC services. At the same time, she was also exposed to ways of seeing how people relate to each other that greatly influence how she approaches her work.

“A core ethos in the punk world is being non-hierarchical. Believing that one person doesn’t have more power or worth than another,” Lydia shares. “I try to bring that into every encounter with a patient.”

Lydia’s goal is to preserve what she calls “patient autonomy.” Her training may give her a different kind of knowledge than her patients, but she aims to put her patients in position to drive their health care based on what they know best: their own experiences.

“I want to make sure that our system is one that allows our patients to feel safe enough to name what they need from us. I don’t mandate behavior change and I don’t judge them,” she says. “We don’t ask them to fit into our health care world.”

In recent years, Lydia’s effort to create a sense of safety for patients has led her to become one of CCC’s most outspoken proponents of trauma-informed care, a framework that acknowledges how trauma affects people. For those living with addiction, trauma can come from numerous places—even where they turn to for help. Trauma-informed care reorients care systems and practices to honor and center patients’ experiences.

“We can’t just chase positive patient outcomes,” she says. “We really want people to feel seen, heard and supported on the way to reaching those outcomes.”

Her training may give her a different kind of knowledge than her patients, but she aims to put her patients in position to drive their health care based on what they know best: their own experiences.

It’s difficult to imagine CCC having made so many strides toward integrating trauma-informed care without Lydia’s endless enthusiasm for and advocacy on behalf of the patient experience, but it took a number of twists in her own journey to get to where she is today.

She originally trained as a medical herbalist before choosing to follow her heart for working with marginalized populations. She took her time to decide between medical school and nursing school before choosing to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner. Realizing that those who are part of vulnerable populations often struggled with addictions and trauma, she further focused her goal to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). It was as a PMHNP that Lydia joined CCC, and she’s been improving how the organization provides care since.

In her work, Lydia wants little more than for her patients to find healing from addiction. What sets Lydia—and CCC—apart is focusing just as much on how they get there.

“Our job is to walk hand-in-hand with our patients and to make sure they’re at the center of everything we do,” she says. “They’re in such a vulnerable time and I want them know they can count on us.”

NHCW Health Care Hero: Steve Hardenbergh

Aug 17, 2018

Spend any time with Steve Hardenbergh and one thing becomes overwhelmingly clear: he’s an optimist who believes in the innate goodness of people, through and through. His hearty laugh and easy smile proclaim it. The life in his eyes shows it. And most importantly, his actions prove it.

For more than 25 years, Steve has worked with people at or close to rock bottom because of their substance use disorder who had made their way to Central City Concern’s (CCC) treatment services. He’s seen people suffer, relapse or pass away. But before that, he saw rock bottom in the mirror.

“In the late 80s, I was using a lot of drugs and drinking too much while I was in acupuncture school. I was the one who reeked of alcohol during morning class,” Steve says. “So I ended up going into treatment back when CCC ran the Portland Addictions Acupuncture Clinic (PAAC).”

For more than 25 years, Steve has worked with people at or close to rock bottom…. He’s seen people suffer, relapse or pass away. But before that, he saw rock bottom in the mirror.

Steve committed himself to a life of recovery, and slowly but surely, his fortunes turned. He finished his acupuncture studies and came back to be an acupuncturist at PAAC (which would eventually become Portland Alternative Health Center, then the CCC Recovery Center). Since he also had a degree in social work, he was asked to step into a counseling role, too.

“People were always willing to test the waters of opening up to me,” Steve says. “I can only be honest and genuine with them, and they can know what to expect out of me. I think that helps.”

Today, two decades later, Steve is a mainstay at the Old Town Clinic: he’s (still) an acupuncturist, a counselor for patients utilizing medication supported recovery as well as those managing chronic pain while simultaneously in addiction treatment. He draws from his glass-half-full approach to remind even the most hardened clients that change is possible. Merely showing up to receive support, he’s quick to remind, means they’re listening to their inner selves.

“I give them encouragement that they’re good people. I strongly believe that listening to our true self is a real good way to help change behaviors. I want to help clients feel and realize that they are more than labels, that they’re more than an addict, more than an alcoholic. Inside, they are good.”

Steve’s message has won him scores of fans over the years. But even when clients linger after a group session to chat with him or come search him out when they’re at the clinic to thank him for his support, he points the conversation back to the client.

“He always reminds the patient that no matter how much he’s helped their recovery, ultimately, they're the one doing the work,” shares a colleague. “This happens a lot!”

While it may be tempting to reduce Steve’s optimism into a tidy belief about individual value and willpower, Steve says that tapping into one’s innate goodness and true self is only half the story. Finding people who can offer support, empathy and wisdom is crucial to making positive changes.

“Finding a community that understands you and what you’re trying to do can give you the confidence to change those behaviors,” he says. “It’s hard to see someone not experiencing connection. It’s hard enough to give people confidence that they don’t have to rely on drugs. It’s just as hard to give them the confidence to know they’re worthy of love and connection.”

“I want to help clients feel and realize that they are more than labels, that they’re more than an addict, more than an alcoholic. Inside, they are good.”

Counting on community is a lesson that Steve leans on in his own work, too. He knows he’s not perfect—“when I make mistakes, I have to own them and be more mindful and be better moving forward”—but he feels grounded by others he finds himself around daily.

“Whenever I feel like helping a person change is all on me, I remind myself that there are so many other awesome people at the clinic involved in their care,” he says. “And that’s a good thing, not just for me, but for our clients!”

In the rare times when Steve feels discouraged, something or someone eventually comes along to remind him that his eternal, vibrant optimism for those he works with is warranted.

“Once in a while, someone will come up to me, maybe at the grocery store or something, and ask if I remember them. And they’re there with their kid and they tell me they’ve been in recovery and sober for eight years,” Steve says, his eyes lighting up recollecting the last time it happened. “Things like that… they’re really good. Real good.”

NHCW Health Care Hero: Whitney Berry

Aug 16, 2018

Sometimes it takes a few steps off the path to find one’s way forward. It’s a lesson that Whitney Berry is grateful to have learned, and one that helps her empathize with the patients she sees each day when she comes into work.

Whitney is the clinic coordinator for Central City Concern’s (CCC) Old Town Clinic (OTC), a position that, until just a few years ago, she didn’t know existed. Yet, in retrospect, many of her experiences, instincts and preferences point to exactly the place she finds herself in now.

Growing up, what Whitney did know was that she wanted to work with people. The allure of intersecting with a limitless universe of stories and personalities and journeys was too much for her to imagine anything else.

The allure of intersecting with a limitless universe of stories and personalities and journeys was too much for her to imagine anything else.

“I think people are just so fascinating. We all have something to bring to the table, and I love learning about what the something is,” she says.

Whitney initially pursued a future in nursing, but realized that it wasn’t the right avenue for her to work with people. Instead, she earned a degree in family and human services, which introduced her to ways of working with her community that deeply resonated with her values of helping those in need. Her brief time in a nursing program was the detour she needed to unearth a bit more of the path she was making for herself.

Her route to CCC was similarly winding. She worked with youth with behavioral hardships, then tried out office work with a retail business. During the latter, she unexpectedly found a knack for administrative work, but found herself missing interaction with others more than ever before.

CCC had always been in Whitney’s periphery. Her father has served on the board for many years, and a family member found stability through CCC’s addiction treatment services. Without any clinical credentials, Whitney didn’t consider the possibility of working with the population CCC serves. But when she found out about the clinic coordinator opportunity, she knew that it was a prime opportunity.

“It was a combination of working in health care, administrative duties, and meeting all sorts of people,” Whitney says. “I also felt the need to give back to the place that changed the life of my family member who went through CCC’s services.”

Since arriving as the clinic coordinator, Whitney has become a crucial staff member whose work behind the scenes as a do-everything, know-everything resource “greases the wheels of Old Town Clinic,” as one colleague describes.

When new employees start at Old Town Clinic, Whitney becomes their guide, helping them find their place in the bustling operation that sees more than 20,000 visits each year. When the clinic needs to coordinate access with local hospitals, Whitney is likely on the phone making that happen. When the clinic’s care teams identify a new way to help patients, they’ll often call on Whitney to help execute their idea.

“Everyone in the clinic has their own work, so I fill in gaps so they don’t necessarily have to worry about connecting the dots,” Whitney says. “No matter which clinic staff I’m helping, I’m helping someone who cares for our patients. And by helping them, I’m part of lowering the barrier to receiving care at OTC.”

“No matter which clinic staff I’m helping, I’m helping someone who cares for our patients. And by helping them, I’m part of lowering the barrier to receiving care at OTC.”

Several times a month, Whitney also meets one-on-one with prospective patients as part of a new Old Town Clinic initiative to provide same-day intake appointments, allowing patients to meet with a provider much sooner. Before the initiative, a patient waited an average of 14 days for an intake appointment. With Whitney’s willingness to step in and draw from her passion for hearing people’s stories, the average wait is now effectively zero days.

“In the past, people came in to OTC and realized they had to schedule two weeks out. They went through a rollercoaster of emotions,” she says. “That they can get in with an intake and potentially be seen even that day is amazing.”

Though the majority of her days is spent making sure the needs of clinic staff are met, Whitney absolutely shines in this role. The opportunities to meet directly with patients affirm for Whitney that her path, indirect as it’s been, has led her to where she wants—and needs—to be.

“Being the clinic coordinator has pushed me to want to work with our population even more. Seeing what I’ve seen and hearing what I’ve heard, I can tell people that this is not the end.”

NHCW Health Care Hero: Brian Barnes

Aug 16, 2018

Like most superheroes, Brian Barnes has an origin story. It may not be as dramatic as the ones you’ve read in comics, but the lines that connect his past experiences to who he is, what he does, and his motivations today are just as bold and clear.

As Central City Concern’s (CCC) associate director for behavioral health in primary care, Brian oversees parts of Old Town Clinic’s (OTC) care continuum that support individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse. Brian ensures our patients not only receive the care they need, but that they receive the very best we can offer. His colleagues attest to his singular drive to provide a level of care to our patients—many of whom live on the margins—where they may have received less than excellent care, but certainly deserve the best.

“Brian goes above and beyond consistently and tirelessly to make sure patients get the right kind of care at the right time, regardless of barriers,” said a colleague. “He offers innovative methods when doors to access appear closed. He develops seamless pathways for patients to reduce barriers.”

Brian began to carve out a reputation for his tenacity and relentlessness in finding solutions for his patients’ care.

The extra effort is absolutely worth it to Brian. He’s seen up close how mental health and addiction care can let someone down. He was once the one receiving it.

“I was a client of substance use disorder treatment and mental health services for many years and at many levels of care,” Brian shares. “I experienced a number of professionals who were trying to help me but either weren’t trained or didn’t care enough to get to the root causes of my problems, even when I was in a very vulnerable place.”

Brian couldn’t help but think that if he found himself in this line of work, he would do things differently. Better, even. “It felt obvious to me what I needed to do: work in a position where I could continually try to increase the quality of substance use disorder treatment and mental health services.”

He began pursuing this idea that continued to stick with him. First came the alcohol and drug treatment counseling certification and job as a counselor in a local opioid treatment program. Then the Master of Social Work degree in order to provide mental health services. Then came an internship with CCC, where he saw how effective integrated care could be while working as a counselor in OTRC.

As he moved through his internship, his counseling position, and then into a role as a CCC clinical supervisor, Brian began to carve out a reputation for his tenacity and relentlessness in finding solutions for his patients’ care. When he was receiving care, he felt his service providers too often stopped when they saw even a shadow of a barrier.

“We don’t just settle with ‘no.’ We see gaps and we bridge them.”

While his experience with the treatment system motivates him, his bridge-building instincts were honed in a different part of his past: his tenure as a bank vice-president who oversaw collections and foreclosures. In an industry widely reviled for its mercilessness, Brian reoriented his department to help, not harm, homeowners. They didn’t want to take their homes, he says. Rather, his staff acted as counselors, assessing how they could find a mutually beneficial resolution with their customers.

"Are our patients willing to do the work of their treatment plan? Do they have the ability? If the answer is ‘no’ to either, then the question becomes, ‘What do we need to do to fill that gap?’"

“If we could learn from them whether they had or didn’t have—willingness to pay or ability to pay—then we’d be able to address the deficit,” Brian says. “I see that applied to what we’re doing here. Are our patients willing to do the work of their treatment plan? Do they have the ability? If the answer is ‘no’ to either, then the question becomes, ‘What do we need to do to fill that gap?’”

Brian has gone to extraordinary lengths to fill that gap for patients who would otherwise be lost in the system. He does this by coordinating care across multiple organizations, weaving together innovative low-barrier treatment plans tailored to a patient’s very complex and very unique situation, arranging last-minute transportation, and more. It’s not easy, but Brian believes it’s absolutely worthwhile.

When Brian relied on the system, it came up short in many ways. However, there were a couple of professionals who demonstrated unconditional care, concern, and supportive engagement. They are his role models. Now that he’s part of the system, he’s committed to going the extra mile for the sake of his patients.

“This is the most stretched I’ve ever felt in any career. But I expected this work to be difficult. That’s why I’m doing it,” Brian says. “For many people, there’s nowhere else to go beyond Old Town Clinic. That’s what we’re here for. And it works.”

NHCW Health Care Hero: Sally Swain

Aug 15, 2018

On many nights, Sally Swain would go home from her shift at a local social service agency and think about the people she’d met that day.

She remembered the contours of their faces. She mentally catalogued the things they carried with them. She wondered what behavioral health resources were out there to help them. Sometimes, Sally simply sat in awe at how they maneuvered through the reality of being homeless with as much grace as they did. Their stories, she says, captivated her.

“These people were absolutely leaving their mark on me.”

Among the people she got to know, she noticed that those having the hardest time remaining engaged with services, or even keeping their spot at a shelter, were almost always folks living with untreated serious mental illness. Her thoughts drifted toward them most often. Soon, her thoughts translated into action.

Sometimes, Sally simply sat in awe at how they maneuvered through the reality of being homeless with as much grace as they did.

“I started to look into what kinds of jobs help this population and I found that a master’s of social work was the kind of background that would put me in position to do that,” she says.

As the clinical supervisor for one of two Community Outreach Recovery Engagement (CORE) teams at the Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), Sally puts her concern, passion, and education to work. The CORE team serves adults with major mental illness to help them remain integrated in the community as much as possible. They work with the patients to develop the tools to be active participants in their own lives. Without CORE, these patients would likely be cycling in and out of hospitals, shelters or institutions—much like those whose circumstances nudged Sally into this line of work in the first place.

Sally is often the first person a new CORE client will meet with. Her familiarity with CORE’s patient population—the barriers they face, the services they’ve tried, the goals they have—as well as her gentle Southern charm help her build bridges. Clients learn, many quickly, that she will listen to them, advocate for them, and support them. Some clients who met Sally years ago while she was working at other agencies remember and ask for her by name.

“A lot of times, we’re doing simple tasks that I think give people a chance for greater meaning and connection in their lives,” Sally says. “It can be a lot of fun taking someone to get a haircut or accompanying them to make a phone call.”

Progress—as Sally, her team, and their clients perceive it—isn’t elusive, per se, but it is reimagined beyond typical notions of success. While outcomes are important, the CORE team’s primary aim is to simply be present in the lives of their clients and to support them in any and every way they can.

“In our work, success might be that someone who’s never done mental health treatment before forms one trusting relationship. Maybe it’s someone who’s able to come in and simply ask for what they need,” Sally explains. “At the end of the day, I think that success can be as simple as fostering a relationship between us and the people we’re serving.”

While walking alongside clients opens opportunities to witness and participate in triumphs, it also exposes Sally and her team to disappointments and heartbreak.

“We’re with people in times of great sadness and in times of rejoicing. I’ve been taught so much by our clients about what it really means to weather something.”

“We’re with people in times of great sadness and in times of rejoicing,” Sally says. “I’ve been taught so much by our clients about what it really means to weather something.”

Even after five years at Central City Concern, and more than a decade working with vulnerable populations, she continues to learn that she shares the weight of her work with those around her as they experience the peaks and valleys of their clients’ lives. Having a team around her reminds her how vital it is for clients to know that the CORE team is ready, able, and present to help.

“Every day I find where my limits end and another person’s capabilities start. We find a way to be in this together. I know I’m not alone in this.”

NHCW Health Care Hero: Charlesetta Dobson

Aug 15, 2018

Central City Concern’s (CCC) Imani Center program is a shining example of how we tailor our services to meet the unique needs of a population. Imani Center counselors and peer support specialists provide their clients with Afrocentric, trauma-informed approaches to mental health and addictions treatment. It’s a life-changing program that represents the best and most innovative approaches CCC has to offer.

But the work they do—and the dramatic progress their clients make—can quickly unravel without stable, supportive housing.

That’s where Charlesetta Dobson, a housing case manager based in CCC’s Richard Harris building, enters the scene. Part of her case load is devoted to Imani Center clients making the transition into our supportive housing program. To Charlesetta, the link between housing and Imani Center’s health care services is bright as day.

“This housing provides them the stability that gives them a chance to succeed in the health care services they’re engaged in,” she says. “When you have keys here, you have that stability. You’re not having to worry about which doorstep you’re going to sleep in or if someone’s going to go through your stuff.”

“My mom was an addict. My father was an addict. A lot of my family members struggled with it. So I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to help people avoid that and live up to their best potential.”

Charlesetta works closely with the Imani Center to support clients during their delicate first steps on the path of recovery. She meets with incoming residents before they move in, connects them to resources, and holds weekly check-ins with each person to keep them accountable to their treatment plan. She helps tenants connect their Imani Center treatment goals with their housing goals.

Need a food box? Can’t find the motivation to attend a treatment group? Interested in taking a community college class? Moving to Alaska and need to know what recovery resources are available there? Charlesetta’s got your back.

“The clients know they can always find an empathetic ear and unwavering support in Charlesetta,” says the Imani Center’s director, Linda Hudson. “It’s so clear to clients that she wants so much for them to succeed.”

To clients, Charlesetta is a model of someone who has everything together. She’s both knowledgeable and patient, compassionate and non-judgmental. She admits, however, that she hasn’t always been the person others see today.

Charlesetta grew up surrounded by problematic behaviors. “My mom was an addict. My father was an addict. A lot of my family members struggled with it,” she shares. “So I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution to help people avoid that and live up to their best potential.”

While Charlesetta feels fortunate to have avoided substance use, early and constant exposure to related behaviors like stealing derailed her plans. She eventually faced an 18-month sentence for organized retail theft.

“I remember thinking that this is not the plan! That was the point I started to get my life together,” Charlesetta says. “For me it was either 18 months in jail or 18 months to transform my life.”

Need a food box? Can’t find the motivation to attend a treatment group? Interested in taking a community college class? Moving to Alaska and need to know what recovery resources are available there? Charlesetta’s got your back.

She used the time going back and forth with the courts about her case to enroll in school. She studied hard, built relationships with professors, and committed to becoming part of the solution. She pursued her associate’s degree in alcohol and drug counseling, which led her to CCC as a Letty Owings Center intern.

While the work Charlesetta does with Imani Center clients is professionally satisfying, it also remains deeply personal.

“It’s important for me to help people who look like my mother, who look like my aunties—to be able to give them the resources and opportunities that I feel like my mother didn’t necessarily have access to,” she says. “It’s important for me to be on the other side of everything I saw and had experience in before.”

Charlesetta is living her calling. There are hard days, of course. Seeing residents submit a second positive urine test, which violates the program agreement. Seeing residents leave the program for various reasons. Knowing that she won’t be able to walk alongside their journey, at least for the time being.

But she’s inspired by those “who are working their butts off. The ones taking suggestions, following through with everything,” says Charlesetta. “I get an intense satisfaction when I see someone doing what they’re supposed to do, even if it’s not according to their original plan. Sort of like me.”