Last month, our Homeless Education Liaison spoke at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.  She works with kids who are struggling with the challenges of homelessness and mobility by providing them with services and knowledge that often leads to long-term success later in life.  The number of lives she has touched during her decades-long tenure is truly remarkable.
Following her presentation at Liberty, she shared part of her experience:

I spoke regarding the theme of HOME.  One of the students responded with this word poem.  She said she created it 30 seconds after I left the class!
It was inspiring to hear students’ willingness to describe what “home” means to them.  A few in the class openly talked about staying in our Community Action Family Shelter as small children, and how it helped their families.

The poem includes a line that I really love: “A thing you hardly think about.  A place you barely give any thought.”
Families staying at our shelter think about the word “home” everyday.  I’ll be writing more about this theme, including what it means (and doesn’t mean), over the next few weeks.  
Until then, it raises an interesting examination: What does “home” mean to you?

Last month, our Homeless Education Liaison spoke at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.  She works with kids who are struggling with the challenges of homelessness and mobility by providing them with services and knowledge that often leads to long-term success later in life.  The number of lives she has touched during her decades-long tenure is truly remarkable.

Following her presentation at Liberty, she shared part of her experience:

I spoke regarding the theme of HOME.  One of the students responded with this word poem.  She said she created it 30 seconds after I left the class!

It was inspiring to hear students’ willingness to describe what “home” means to them.  A few in the class openly talked about staying in our Community Action Family Shelter as small children, and how it helped their families.

The poem includes a line that I really love: “A thing you hardly think about.  A place you barely give any thought.”

Families staying at our shelter think about the word “home” everyday.  I’ll be writing more about this theme, including what it means (and doesn’t mean), over the next few weeks.  

Until then, it raises an interesting examination: What does “home” mean to you?

Ray of Sunshine

The team here at Community Action grew a little bit stronger last month.  When Maria Garcia-Garfias joined us on the front line, we knew almost immediately that she would have a lot to offer.  What we did not know, is that she would have her own story to tell.

A week after she arrived, I asked her to write about her experiences so far.  Here’s what she sent me:  

It is amazing how the sun can break through fog.  Suddenly warming up the world and people’s spirits.  That is the same feeling Community Action instills in others.  This is the exact reason I wanted to work here.  

I began my journey at Community Action only a week ago.  I am the new face people will see when they enter our doors, and the new voice heard when calling.

Although I have only been working here for a short time, I know the impact Community Action has on the people of Washington County, including myself.

See, some time ago, my mother got laid off from work.  She was a farm worker.  She came to ask for energy assistance.  I will never forget my mother’s gratitude (and my own) for the help Community Action gave to our family.

Much like my mother, people come here because there is concern; maybe their families will not have heat, or they are facing eviction. They come lost in fog trying to find the light here.  When people receive assistance they need, suddenly there is hope.  It is completely rewarding!

I am proud to have joined the team at Community Action and make a difference in people’s lives.

There will be much more to come from Maria on our new blog this summer.  Stay tuned - she has talent and something to say.

~

Maria rocking out with my Taylor 614!

Home is where the heart is.

Two years ago, I had a conversation that changed the entire direction of my future.

Actually, it was two conversations.  The first occurred casually in the hallway during the workday at my former job.  The last place I expected to discover something incredible.  It’s funny, really.  I was talking with a close friend and co-worker.  What began (and ended) as a quick conversation triggered a series of events that led me to where I am now in my life.  Go figure.  Next to the coffee pot and fax machine.

I wasn’t raised in Washington County, but I was active in the community I grew up in, and I was looking for a way to make “here” feel more like “home”.  I was intrigued by the thought of working more closely with people.  The idea of connecting those who want to help others with those who need them, has been an underlying passion that I’ve held tight for years.

I can’t remember how the conversation drifted this direction, but my friend perked up as she mentioned a place that does that very thing.  Almost as if she was electrically shocked.  Even her eyes started racing back and forth with excitement. 

She was pals with the E.D.She was gonna make a phone call.I should look into the place and maybe there’d be an opportunity to get involved with them somehow.Go visit.Great place.Nonprofit.I might learn something. 

She offered good advice.  Life changing, in fact.

Obviously, I did what anyone would do: I researched googled the place.

A week later, the second conversation occurred in a job interview.  What I uncovered that day was so precisely what I had been seeking, that I was a bit startled by how well Mary was able to read my mind and point me to this unique place.  I forgot all about the job I was applying for and had a chance to reconnect with my own spirit and rekindle what I’ve always known is my true passion in life - helping others.

Presumptuously perhaps, I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I was offered the job.  I didn’t care that much, to be honest.  I was going to involve this place somehow in fulfilling my goals, but wasn’t confined to the idea of working there.  I’d volunteer and that would be enough for me.

By fate, I was offered a job though and I decided to take the risk and go for it.  I was committing to a massive change, scared, nervous about making the right choice.  Was I really willing to go after my passion head-on?  What if I jumped in impulsively?

A few days later, before I officially started the position, I had an opportunity to have breakfast with people who would give me another perspective on the agency.  The format was an annual event called People You Should Know.  I stumbled (quite literally) out of bed early on a Wednesday morning and sat stalled in 217 traffic - me and Bob Dylan singing together at 7am in the dark, wondering what we’ve committed to.

When I arrived, my new boss perkily greeted me at the door, every bit as friendly and genuine as she was in my interview.  I was directed to a warm smiling gentleman, who stood up to shake my hand and humbly offer me a seat next to him.  He made me feel welcome, like I belonged at his table.  He even poured my coffee for me.  I only found out later that he was Chairman of the Board.

What I discovered during the event astounded me.  I heard the truth about what’s beneath the surface in our towns.  I learned how poverty looks and feels in our neighborhoods.  I was shocked to see statistics about our community, and saddened to think of the decisions that so many people are forced to make because they’re affected by the challenges of living on a small budget - or no budget at all.  I heard it all confirmed and personified by an aging couple who reminded me of my aunt and uncle, as they muscled through years of emotion and heartache to share their journey with a room full of strangers. 

I learned that more important than helping our friends financially, the agency’s greatest gift is reviving hope in those that have searched - and struggled - to find it anywhere else. 

I learned that Community Action was about to do the same for me.

My insecurities about accepting the job when I walked into that room, stayed in that room when I left.  On the way back, I caught myself smiling silently in the car.  The drive out to Hillsboro was bright and sunny. 

I found my niche.  I made the right choice.  I was in the right place.   

Two years later, I feel the same way.

Community Action felt strangely familiar to me.  Their promise to help people help themselves shot straight to my heart in a matter of moments, like I had been there for years. 

Like I had found my way home.

_____________________________________________________________
Join us for
People You Should Know this year on Wed. November 16!
Click here
to register or call 503 693.3230 for more information. 

Can’t make it to the event?  No worries.  Step up a different way.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley has been a solid advocate in speaking up for Community Action programs at the federal level.

I had a brief opportunity today to ask the Senator about the future of CSBG in the 2012 budget.  Here’s what he had to say:

Chris
Thank you for supporting Community Service Block Grants in the new budget.  Can you paint any type of picture on what the future may hold for programs that rely on CSBG as a major funding source?

Senator Jeff Merkley
Chris – on CSBG: Both Community Development Block Grants and Community Service Block Grants are essential to our towns and counties. They provide a lot of flexibility and support for critical services. I’ll be fighting to preserve them but this raises a broader issue: that is, the Republicans’ budget plan guts education and energy and infrastructure funding, which are essential for America moving forward. Meanwhile the Republican plan doesn’t touch defense despite Secretary Gates stating that $175 billion in defense spending could be cut because it provides no value to national security. Of course, the Republican budget does nothing to end the war in Afghanistan. What it does do is end Medicare and transfer the savings in huge bonus tax breaks to the best off in America. For example, a family earning $1 million would get a bonus payment of over $100,000 and a family earning over $10 million would get bonus payments of over $1 million. The Republican plan is completely wrong-headed and I’ll do all I can to stop it. We defeated it on the floor of the Senate last night. And we’ll keep defeating it until we drive a stake through its heart.

HopeSpring, a transitional housing program for homeless mothers and their children, has been named the winner of the 2011 Cameron Award for Outstanding Community Collaboration by The Vision Action Network of Washington County.

The program is a partnership of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, LifeWorks NW, Community Action, and Domestic Violence Resource Center. Over the past 16 years, HopeSpring has helped 339 families who have experienced domestic violence or struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.

The program offers monetary assistance, counseling, education and relapse prevention support. “HopeSpring was chosen because it exemplifies multi-organization collaboration that utilizes creative approaches to address one of our community’s most pressing needs, and has measurable and substantial impact,” said Karin Kelley-Torregroza, executive director of Vision Action Network, in a written statement.

The Cameron Awards, founded in 2005, have been presented annually in recognition of those groups and individuals who value collaboration to serve others. The awards are named after Charlie Cameron, longtime Washington County administrator and a founding board member of Vision Action Network.

The award will be presented during the network’s annual celebration at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 2, at the Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E. Main St., Hillsboro. The event is free, but registration is required by calling 503-846-5792, or by sending an e-mail to VAN@co.washington.or.us.

Great social commentary from my buddy and counterpart at 211info, Matt Kinshella

Work hard. Do the right thing. Homelessness is something that will never happen to me. Sometimes, all it takes is one life-changing experience to land you on the streets: a job loss, death of a loved one, divorce, natural disaster, or serious illness.

Next thing you know, a chain of events sends things spiraling out of control…

How would you cope? Where would you go? What would you do? Figure something out, right?

We invite you to take the challenge… Play SPENT

Every Dollar Counts. Every Voice Matters.

Community Action’s new Conversations website has already been quite a roller coaster ride for me during its first month of existence.  I’m thrilled that it allows us to communicate things that matter most to Community Action directly to the offices and homes of everyone in cyberspace, and I get excited when I uncover new ways of making this type of site beneficial to the families we serve.  After all, the ultimate goal here is to engage the community in issues that are happening all around us every day, but can be easy to overlook amidst busy schedules and hectic lifestyles.  I think hopehelpchange.com is a major step in the direction toward doing just that, and I’m proud to be part of anything that creates better public awareness and education.

My typical morning routine when I sit down to work has become: Open email, check RSS, Tweetdeck, Google Alerts, etc for news related to Community Action’s mission, check-in on Tumblr, consume first of many cups of coffee, proceed with caution for the remainder of the day.  The filtered and (hopefully) relevant result of my morning routine usually gets posted somewhere on this site. 

As I look through the last month of posts, it’s hard not to feel the emotional effects of the current state of our economy.  The sad truth is, if you spend too much time reading the Headlines page, you might feel overwhelmed by it all.  But, it’s real and we should all be informed about the issues at hand.  The alternative would be to ignore what is real.

We all know these are tough times.  It’s true for everyone.  The State of the Union speech startled us all at Community Action when the President promised to cut our programs.  Now, the future has become even more uncertain for families facing tough times.  I apologize in advance for how the Headlines page might make you feel six or twelve months from now.

However, there are many bright spots on the site, and most of them come from inside Community Action.  The Success page has become my favorite, because it’s a tiny slice of a countless number of great things that happen here all the time.  As we build the site more in depth over the next few months, I hope this blog in particular will serve as a reminder to everyone of why our work matters so much, especially here and now.

And just maybe readers might also feel compelled to do something to help after checking out the site.  If you look beneath the surface, you’ll see that literally everyone can have some kind of role in fighting poverty.  There are dozens of different ways to get involved, and I love that the site provides opportunities to explore them.  No gift or contribution is too small or unimportant.  Our annual Spirit Dinner event highlights achievements that grew out of partnerships like these.

A big part of my job includes staying engaged and communicative both within the agency and in the community, and if I were limited to saying just one thing to anyone right now (amidst the news, charts, forms, numbers, data, meetings, government hearings and client experiences), it would be: If you think you can’t do anything, if you don’t believe you can be part of a change bigger than you, if anyone at all ever thinks they are helpless by joining Community Action in fighting the war on poverty … they’re wrong.  Every dollar countsEvery voice matters.

For now, my morning routine will continue roughly as outlined above.  I promise to include the best stuff I see.  If you have suggestions or thoughts on how to make the site/agency/world/tuna sandwiches better, I’d love to hear from you.  Until then, maybe we’ll run into each other on the new site.

I’ll be hanging out on the Success page…

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

Consider the story of Carolyn, who was in her 40s when her husband of twenty-five years left her with two daughters. She had never received any kind of assistance and describes turning to her local Community Action agency as “the hardest thing I had ever done.” Her fears were quickly allayed as she “was treated with respect and was never made to feel like a drain on society.” She enrolled in a workforce development program that helped her with tuition and books while she attended community college.   

“I went to college five days a week and spent the weekend working, so I never had a day off,” writes Carolyn. “When I graduated I became a Registered Nurse, able to support myself and my family. I couldn’t have done it without the Federal Workforce Development Program and the supportive services the local Community Action Agency provided.

But the Boehner-led “so be it” Republicans would nearly eliminate funding for Community Service Block Grants (CSBG) for the remainder of 2011, and President Obama proposes cutting it in half in 2012. The cuts would disrupt the antipoverty services provided by 1,065 community action agencies nationwide to over 20 million low-income people, including 5 million children, 2.3 million seniors and 1.7 million people with disabilities. What makes the cuts even more insane is that the agencies generate $6.54 from state, local, and private sources for every federal dollar received, according to the Coalition on Human Needs.

Katrina vanden Heuvel has been The Nation’s editor since 1995 and its publisher since 2005.  A weekly columnist for The Washington Post, she is a frequent commentator on American and international politics on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, PBS and public radio.

I love working for Community Action because of the perspective it brings to my own life. :)

60 Minutes Extra | Finding Strength While Homeless

Tiffany Langhorn’s parents lost their jobs and the family is now homeless, but the honors student says the experience has made her stronger and more responsible.


Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7358651n&tag=contentBody;housing#ixzz1GiG0IDw4

60 Minutes Extra | Hitting Hard Times

After a period of homelessness as a young teenager, Aaron Boyar was finally taken in by a loving family, and then hard times hit.


Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7358648n&tag=contentMain;contentBody#ixzz1GiFR6HX6

Millions of Americans tuned in to Sunday’s “60 Minutes” and were moved by a piece called "Homeless Children: the Hard Times Generation". Scott Pelley looked specifically at some of the youngest victims of these recent tough times.

Since that story aired on Sunday, the reaction from across the country has been extraordinary. Florida social worker Beth Davalos, who runs the Seminole County Public Schools "Families in Transition" program and helped many of the students featured in the piece and their families, appeared on “The Early Show” Thursday.

Since the piece, Davalos said the reaction has been “unbelievable.”

"Awareness is most important. It is happening everywhere. There’s 1.5 million homeless children identified right now. And the numbers are much more than that. But they can go to their local school districts. Ask them how many homeless children do we have? And what are your needs? They might need gift cards, they might need new clothing or shoes or financial donations or help that these children will have access to sports programs or clubs or even gas cards, so their parents can go look for a job. There’s so many ways to help. But the first thing is, find out what’s going on in your neighborhood. And what are your community needs."

How to House Homeless Families

Steve Berg
VP of Progr
ams & Policy
National Allia
nce to End Homelessness


A little over a week ago, CBS’ “60 Minutes” focused on children and families experiencing homelessness. The piece received a lot of attention in the week that followed – and rightly so. The piece explored the effect that the recession has had on financially vulnerable families and poverty among children. It specifically featured interviews with children experiencing homelessness and highlighted the problem of families who are forced to live in motels.

I wanted to pass along an update on one of the featured families, the Bravermans. Jacob Braverman, just 14, came home from school one day to find himself locked out of his house. His mom had lost her job, and the bank warned them they had 30 days to leave their home. But just five days later, the police made them vacate the property. Jacob, his mom, and their dog moved in with neighbors across the street. In the episode, Jacob talks about how this experience made him more shy and forced him to mature much more quickly than his peers. He was constantly concerned about the instability he faced and worried what would happen if the neighbors kicked his family out of their home.

Since the episode (filmed in mid-December), the Bravermans have moved into their own apartment in Altamonte Springs, FL. They were able to do so with the help of a Recovery Act program called the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). HPRP provides communities with resources to offer rental assistance and services to families and individuals so that they can stabilize in housing to end their homelessness – or even prevent homelessness it before it begins.

Unfortunately, the HPRP was designed as a short-term program and funding is starting to run out in many communities. But there is a replacement funding opportunity.

The HEARTH Act, passed by Congress in 2009, improved the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. Under the HEARTH Act, communities will be able to continue the great interventions that have helped thousands of families just like the Bravermans across the country.

But it only works if Congress adequately funds the Homeless Assistance Grants program in fiscal year 2011. You may have read it here before; the appropriations process that’s continues to stymie Congress and the country holds funding levels for homeless programs in limbo too. In order to implement this portion of the HEARTH Act, an increase in funding is needed for the homeless assistance grants.

We need you to make sure that you tell your members of Congress that you want to continue to help and house families like the Bravermans.

"Improving the state EITC would help working families get ahead."