26 March 2008

Immersion in community

This past weekend, my husband and I participated in a short “homeless immersion” activity in Portland through Hands On Greater Portland. Typically this activity is an overnight excursion where someone stays outside overnight, has limited or no money, and has a series of activities they must complete like finding a loaf of bread without paying for it, finding out the process to get a single room occupancy in a hotel, and finding bathrooms open all hours.

Our experience was over a few hours… just a taste. We met in Old Town a representative from JOIN and a fellow who had spent many years living on the streets. We walked through Old Town learning about shelters, service organizations, and the reality of living on the street.

Things I learned:
• There are no family shelters in Portland. Families are often split where a male will go to one shelter and the female and children to another. This is not unusual. Baltimore has just one family shelter.
• There are no shelters for women in downtown Portland.
• There are about 2,000-3,500 people living outside in Portland. 1 in 4 of those individuals are children. As a point of comparison, there are 12,000 people who are homeless in Washington, D.C.
• There are beds for about 25% of the homeless in Portland.
• Most shelters require a TB card to stay there to verify they do not have tb.
• One shelter requires that the men lock up their own clothes during the night so they won’t leave in the middle of the night.
• JOIN has an innovative model where they get people into houses first and provide services to help with the transition. An alternative model is to piece together services after eviction or to focus on employment first.

One of the parts of the afternoon was to eat at a shelter along with folks living on the street. I had a strong reaction to this opportunity. I felt like it was disrespectful to “parachute in” for one meal and know that I could walk away and buy lunch wherever I wanted to. It felt like I was a tourist in their life. Would me eating there keep someone else who needed a meal from eating? I didn’t take the opportunity to eat in the shelter. I am still thinking through that decision. Maybe I should have focused on listening to the other’s I had the potential to eat with and then tell their story to others.

It was an emotional day. Learning the reality of living on the street and the difficulty of getting an i.d., getting services, finding a place to eat, and finding a place to sleep was palpable. But it was just a few hour experience. What’s next? What do I do with the emotion in my gut and questions in my head?

One of the questions to our leaders was what should we do next? They recommended volunteering our time in a shelter or supporting one of the organizations we heard about. Is that enough? Does that make a difference?

So many questions. It is good to have questions and it was a very valuable experience.

21 March 2008

Stand for Change.

The most difficult part of service and volunteerism is not getting up early or making the time... It's not the sweat that is sometimes required... the most difficult part of volunteerism is making change that lasts... it's looking someone in the eye and being able to relay back to them that their needs will be taken care of not for now, but for always.

I can serve thousands of people a meal, but is that addressing the root cause of their hunger? I can build a hundred houses, but will that address the root cause of homelessness? I am at a point in my life when I need answers to those questions. I see a need for increased dialog in our communities about why people are hungry. I see a need for increased dialog about why we have such division of wealth in our country. I see a need for discussion and ACTION so the root causes of suffering are addressed!

Over the last two days I have had an amazing opportunity to listen to a few of our future political leaders about how to create lasting change. No doubt change sometimes has to happen at a policy level. Yesterday I went to a Portland Mayor’s debate. I was listening for action and next steps more than platitudes. I got some action steps. I am interested in hearing more about how new city leadership will address our pressing needs (and I want to hear less drama about polls.)

Today I rolled out of bed and waited for over 3 hours to hear Barack Obama speak in Portland. One friend woke up at 2am to make sure she was there at the front of the line. (K you are AMAZING!) I was definitely not that motivated. Getting on a bus at 6:30am seemed like enough of an effort. I have to say, seeing the crowd that turned out early to make sure they were in the room is prime evidence of people's interest in change.

I was listening for action. I was listening for next steps. And I was listening for the leadership that can call us to action. Wouldn’t it be great if communities all over the country came together to talk and act so that we all are safe, healthy, and full of life?

This fellow can take us there. He is inspiring without question and substantive without measure.

(I love taking pictures and wish I had taken these, but I found them on Flickr taken by another person at this morning's rally.)

TOTAL VOLUNTEER HOURS as of 3/21 = 55.5

15 March 2008

What does it mean to “volunteer?”

Recently I was looking at research on volunteering. I have to admit, I love reading research on volunteering and service-learning. I see it as “fun”. There is research out there that shows that when volunteers feel more attached to their community through indicators like homeownership, they are more likely to volunteer. There is also a discussion in this same piece on the connection between socio-economic status and rates of volunteering. Simply put, if you aren’t worried about where you are going to find food to feed your family, then you have the luxury of volunteering. Hmmm.

That’s what the research says, but is it reality?

I grew up in Indiana in a small town of about 10,000 people. The main industries at that time were agriculture and factory work. Now this small burg had no volunteer center. We did not have a bustling non-profit sector, but had some of the regular players; Big Brothers Big Sisters, the United Fund, and the American Red Cross, for example. Social services were provided through churches, city government, and neighbors.

In my hometown… When someone passes away, the cooking starts; casseroles, desserts, and the like descend upon a family. Are the cooks volunteering?

When someone needs a ride to a doctor’s appointment, there isn’t necessarily a formal nonprofit that makes the connection. Neighbors step up. Is that volunteering?

I babysat for a friend’s two girls last night. We played Monopoly to pass the time. At 34, I am not a typical babysitter. I do not have a “fee” for such an evening. I wanted to help out my friend and enjoyed spending some time with their amazing daughters. Was that volunteering?

I define “volunteer” as one who is willingly fulfilling a community need. Typically there is no compensation, but there are exceptions to that rule. AmeriCorps is one example. I think the service or kindness needs to be for someone else’s benefit and that someone else is ideally involved in defining that need or the volunteer is part of the community being served.

So, in my mind, the examples ARE volunteering. That does not bode well for the world of research as we need to start knocking on each and every door to get the true story of volunteering.

What does it mean to “volunteer?”

Total Volunteer Hours as of 3/14/08: 52.5

Coming up:
- Photography at a reunion
- Continued Reading on Tuesday afternoons
- A homelessness immersion
- An Alums board meeting in Denver
- An evening with the Cascade AIDS Project
- And I'm looking for interesting new opportunities!

07 March 2008

And so it goes...

This week has slowed me down a bit. I have been sick which makes being perky out in the community tough.

This week has included another day reading at Sunnyside. I am getting really good at reading "I Spy" books with Davis and Mia picked two Shel Silverstein books this week. The Giving Tree always makes me tear up. To hear her read it made it even more emotional. What a great way to spend an hour amongst my work hours! I always leave with a spring in my step.

Last night was our AmeriCorps Alums leadership meeting. We are reforming our leadership structure and infusing more energy into the work. It has been fascinating to watch the ebs and flows of our work. It is time for another surge of energy which is exciting. Soon I will have a new website to share with you!

Total Volunteer Hours as of 3/6/08: 46
It has been one month! Average hours per day = 1.6. Yippee!

06 March 2008

Johnson Creek Watershed

Last Saturday was a big AmeriCorps Alums project. The day before, I had a good 20 people signed up and was very excited that the project was so popular. As B and I woke up on Saturday, I peeked out the window to see some ominous clouds. Sure enough as we pulled up to the project site, the rain started. Even though Portland is known for its rain, it is still shocking and brings one pause as they start the day wrapped in rain gear. Our attendance was hurt by the water coming from the sky, but those who showed impressed the heck out of me with their dedication.

So... the rain came and went Saturday morning, but the volunteers never wavered. At the end of the day, over 600 native plants were put into the ground. And luckily it rained to get the plants off to a good start.

Total Volunteer Hours as of March 1: 44.25

Brothers and Sisters... can you spare a dime?

AAAHHHH! I am behind in my blogging! I have overdue library books... quel horreur! And, I nearly had an overdue movie rental tonight. I am slipping. In addition to this volunteering adventure, I have also started a new job. I am an Executive Director in a wildly exciting nonprofit. Get on board folks... it is going to be a wild ride the next few months!

My thoughts for today...

Brothers and Sisters can you spare a dime?

How does one decide where to give?

Do you run into people who ask you for money? If you are in a city, you might think of a homeless person. I am guessing the emotions that come up are not positive… thinking about someone on the street asking you for money might conjure confusion, anger, empathy, or sadness. If I said the person was me, and your investment could change the lives of thousands, you might have a different thought in your head.

My husband and I recently decided upon our yearly giving. I feel like I missed the day where I learned about what is “right” when it comes to giving monetary gifts, but I am trying to make up for it. We are committing 5% of our gross income to our community in 2008. It’s a start.

Now, I am asking YOU for a dime or whatever you can muster.

I am a new Executive Director in the nonprofit world. I lead an organization called Oregon Campus Compact. We are a membership organization of colleges and universities across Oregon who believe in the transformative power of service.

My organization, Oregon Campus Compact, leverages financial and people resources which gets students and faculty into communities. ORCC offers AmeriCorps Members, training, technical assistance, and pass through grants towards this end.

We raise the voice of every student across the state towards addressing our community’s most pressing needs. We want to students to graduate with an education in community.

So why would you want to send a donation to this effort? Because…
- you can be part of something big, something that transforms. (That will feel very good.)
- I will take good care of your investment and hey... you like what I am doing here.
- We need YOU.

Please offer what you can to:

Oregon Campus Compact
c/o Portland State University
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207

Checks can me made out to: Oregon Campus Compact. You will receive an acknowledgement for your records as your donation will be tax deductible as allowed by federal law.

Thank you for your investment in this work.