The UnWind: Investing in the People and Relationships that Sustain the Work

Nonprofit leaders of color sit on wooden benches beside a golf course, enjoying each other’s company.

None of us can improve the health of our region alone. We need an ecosystem of community-led organizations working together to change systems that pose barriers to health.

With this in mind, and to honor the charitable intent of a gift Kaiser Permanente Community Fund received from the estate of Ronald Culver, Northwest Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) organized the UnWind.

Community-led organizations’ most valuable asset is people-power. The skills and talents people offer to their communities have the potential to create a vibrant, healthy and fulfilling future for everyone.


I truly believe this was a worthy investment in our communities’ most dedicated and awesome leaders and our communities will reap benefits form the change our leaders will strive for and implement. And prioritizing care is a step in the direction of changing systems and institutions to be more resilient, inclusive and culturally responsive.

This work is difficult and often frustrating. It’s not easy to change systems, especially when organizations have access to limited resources. Staff, board members and volunteers burn out and leave movement work. Tension develops between individuals and between organizations.

KPCF knows we’re all stronger when we work together.

The UnWind brought leaders of color from community-led organizations together to build relationships and learn self-care skills, to sustain their interest in and energy for this work for the long-term.  


Walked away feeling like our org has allies we can collaborate with, gave me a sense of strength in unity. We developed a network that will hopefully continue for the rest of our careers.

Two UnWind cohorts convened in a series of three retreats over 10 months. Each cohort was comprised of up to 20 people, representing 10 organizations selected through an invited application process. Each organization was invited to send two individuals, including community members, staff, board and/or individuals important to that group (e.g. donors, collaborative partners, “competitors,” allies).

A pair of incredible facilitators, Amy Carlson and Michelle Johnson, led these groups in conversation, guided meditation, and techniques for reflective practice. These activities were designed to pull people together across organizations, weaving a cloth of leaders and organizations supportive of one another, preparing them to strategize and change systems together in the future.


We don’t have enough time to stop and get to know each other more, so this experience was invaluable and will transform the way we show up as partners and friends.

There are some things that we ought not leave to chance. One of these is cultivating trusting and respectful relationships among community leaders as we confront tough social challenges together.


Kaiser Permanente Community Fund knows a people-powered movement is critical to organizations, collaboration and systems change:

  • We invest in the skills and talents people offer to their communities, amplifying their efforts to create a vibrant, healthy, and fulfilling future for everyone.

  • We believe health is best created by collaborative efforts that are led by people in their own communities and meaningfully include people who face the greatest barriers.

  • We accelerate change to create the conditions for health in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.

  • We have created a growing network of collaborators who unite their neighbors and nurture more active, connected lives.

  • We invest in the long-term success of our partners, setting the stage for them to refine their approach and share their ideas.

The Roots of Health: Latino Network

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how Latino Network taught us to focus on the roots of health, even when it pushes us out of our comfort zone.

Children participate in Latino Network’s Juntos Aprendemos program.

Children participate in Latino Network’s Juntos Aprendemos program.

“We need programs — in the schools — for us to attend with our children when they are young, so we can learn what is expected of them in kindergarten and how to prepare them. There is no one in the school who speaks our language, and then they tell us our children are already behind when they start kindergarten. How is it possible that our babies be behind if we were never given the opportunity to teach them?” — First year participant in Juntos Aprendemos

In the late 1990s, Latina mothers in Portland had clearly articulated the racial opportunity gap in early learning and had a vision for how to eliminate it for their children. When Sadie Feibel, director of Children, Family and Community Services at the Latino Network, heard this frustration and determination voiced by many families in her community as they struggled with the transition into kindergarten, she and Christine Taylor, a community health nurse, responded.

They brought Latino parents, children, and educators together to build bridges between the community and its schools. And so, Juntos Aprendemos (Together We Learn) was born. The culturally specific, dual generation early learning program prepares young children to succeed in school and supports parents to be their children’s first teachers and strongest advocates.

When KPCF first started, we funded programs focused on equity in healthcare, such as delivering culturally competent care. We did not connect our vision for health to programs like Juntos Aprendemos. As we learned from our community, as well as from the growing public health conversation about social determinants, we realized how important childhood and education are for life-long health.

“We need to start creating the conditions for success as early as possible. When kids start kindergarten ready to learn, they do better in school and can graduate with the knowledge and resources they need to be healthy adults,” said Northwest Health Foundation Community Engagement Officer Michael Reyes Andrillon.

Health and hospital systems weren’t used to funding groups like Juntos Aprendemos, and doing so took us out of our comfort zone. We weren’t familiar with the nuances of early childhood and education, nor were we a part of existing networks and collaborations focused on these issues. We needed to adapt to become an effective funder in this area. “As we grew, we learned about the entire ecosystem that allows students to be successful in school. School districts are incredibly complex; funders and community partners need to support families as they navigate bureaucracy and advocate for their children,” said Michael Reyes Andrillon.

While not easy, these changes allowed us to be a better community partner, as illustrated by the collaboration between KPCF and Latino Network. Over the past three years, we have supported the growth and expansion of Juntos Aprendemos. What began as a pilot at one elementary school has now expanded to twelve schools, serving over 1,600 children and parents since the program began. These children and parents are now better able to succeed in school, advocate for themselves, and create healthy patterns of development.

“Our work has an emphasis on whole families and whole communities,” said Michael Gibson, development manager for Latino Network. “It’s not just about getting the outcomes for X, Y, Z in terms of reading or math. It’s also the connections that families make together, which can then lead to system change, advocacy, and greater community strength.”

The successes of Juntos Aprendemos show what is possible when funders step out of their comfort zones. Through funding this program, we learned new approaches to creating health in our communities and invested in developing partnerships and networks. We worked to identify great programs led by community members, and instead of asking them to navigate our funding, we changed our funding to best support them.

“Often, funding priorities are rigid and narrow, and not focused on racial justice or holding up community-driven solutions as a priority,” said Sadie Feibel. “But KPCF has invested in what’s already working in our community. They’ve provided support for existing sites while helping to expand Juntos Aprendemos to new schools. Through their support, we are able to grow this program in more communities that need it.”

Through thoughtful listening to learn what works, KPCF was able to develop new approaches to amplify the change that is happening in communities, making investments for more effective and long-lasting change.

Grow Organizations, Not Just Programs: Verde

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how Verde taught us to commit to growing organizations, not just funding programs.

Cully residents at a Winter celebration at the start of construction of Cully Park.

Cully residents at a Winter celebration at the start of construction of Cully Park.

For years, Wendy Yah-Canul dreamed of a neighborhood park for her children to play in. As a resident of the Cully neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, Wendy worked with her neighbors to transform a former landfill into the park she dreamed of. At the beginning, she helped test the soil to make sure the land was safe for a park. Seven years later, Wendy joined with thousands of people to celebrate the grand opening of Cully Park, which has slides, a climbing wall, and plenty of green space for families to exercise in. The park even has ADA-accessible play equipment, making play more equitable for all of the neighborhood’s children.

Cully Park is just one success story of the Living Cully collaboration. Living Cully uses sustainability as an anti-poverty strategy, advocating for environmental policies and opportunities that bring new resources to residents of the Cully neighborhood. Verde, one of the organizations involved in the collaboration, has also created a plan to bring renewable energy to the neighborhood and worked to ensure that 75% of the contracts to build Cully Park went to women- and minority-owned businesses and social enterprises.

The successes of Living Cully relied on policy changes that shaped priorities and practices of city agencies. Prior to this funding, Verde’s executive director was able to respond to new opportunities and further develop partnerships with other organizations led by communities of color. It came at a time when Portland had a new mayor committed to sustainability and when the federal government provided new economic stimulus resources dedicated to neighborhood development.

When Kaiser Permanente Community Fund learned of Verde’s successes and desire to expand their work, we decided to support their growth as an organization with a $50,000 capacity building grant. “We used capacity building grants to pay for the things organizations usually can’t find funding for, such as building relationships, networking, researching, and figuring out how to navigate systems,” said Jen Matheson, director of programs for Northwest Health Foundation. “These grants allow people to come together and strategize in new ways.”

With this funding, Verde’s executive director was able to respond to new opportunities and further develop partnerships with other organizations led by communities of color. It came at a time when Portland had a new mayor committed to sustainability and when the federal government provided new economic stimulus resources dedicated to neighborhood development.

“The funding provided freedom for us to explore new opportunities, to experiment, and to bring other organizations into collaboration for that work. For the first time, we were able to create partnerships with multiple organizations of color around environmental policymaking,” said Alan Hipólito, director of special projects for Verde. With the additional capacity, Verde was able to join Living Cully and work with the Coalition of Communities of Color to put environmental justice goals in their strategic plan and hire their first environmental justice staff position.

Kaiser Permanente Community Fund continued to fund Verde as it grew its advocacy work, providing $225,000 to implement new organizing and program efforts. Over the last few years, Verde has grown in their role as a collaborator and driver of systems change. In November 2018, Verde and their partners worked to successfully pass a Portland ballot measure that will generate $30 million a year to hire people of color and people with low-incomes to create clean energy and sustainable housing.

“The Portland Clean Energy Initiative was the result of greater collective environmental justice capacity among communities of color. This capacity was supported by funders who allowed us to grow as a community and as an organization. Some of our experiments were incredibly successful, and even the ones that didn’t work still made us all stronger,” said Alan Hipólito.

Verde taught us the power of investing in organizations and not just programs. By having resources to grow its collaborative advocacy work, Verde was able to shift public funds toward investments in both environmental sustainability and economic opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color. From new green energy projects to the ability of parents like Wendy to work in the community garden while her kids play nearby in the park, the benefits of supporting an organization through its growth can be felt throughout an entire community.

Set the Stage without Defining the Script: OPAL Environmental Justice

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon taught us the benefits of setting the stage without defining the script.

Youth Environmental Justice Alliance onstage at the 2017 Climate March.

Youth Environmental Justice Alliance onstage at the 2017 Climate March.

If Tommy Jay Larracas is able to catch one of the few buses that leave after-school activities, he settles in for a long crowded ride. It can take more than two and a half hours to get home, which leaves little time for chores and homework. The same is true for his morning commute; if he can’t catch the early school bus, he has to scramble to find money to pay for a ride on the public bus. When he doesn’t have the extra money or time, Tommy can’t find a way to get to school.

When Kaiser Permanente Community Fund first decided to focus on improving educational outcomes for Oregon youth, we weren’t thinking about how students get to and from school. Among other funders, we heard lots of discussion about creating new after-school programs, but we rarely heard discussions about what young people need to actually get to those programs.

Thankfully, one of the values that defined how we operated was community-driven solutions. Instead of defining the solution we wanted to fund, we instead articulated a vision and invited community-based organizations to identify possible solutions. “Northwest Health Foundation believes that communities understand the problems they face best, because they live them everyday,” said Community Engagement Officer Michael Reyes “So of course they would also know the best solutions to those problems.”

When we said we wanted to see greater racial equity in education, one community group, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, directed our attention to public transit and the ability of students to get to and from school and after-school programs. OPAL’s Executive Director Huy Ong told us, “Expanding transit access to underserved schools is a systemic change to win more equitable educational access for low-income youth and youth of color. Access to transportation is a critical factor in improving school attendance rates. OPAL’s organizing activates the potential of our youth to re-imagine how they get to school, and to lead the charge to make their vision a reality.”

Once we learned that public transit was a major barrier for students of color to participate in school and after-school programs, we decided to fund OPAL, even if it took us outside of our comfort zone of funding traditional educational programs. “We trust OPAL, because OPAL’s work is led by the communities OPAL serves. This campaign, for example, was led by youth of color from high schools throughout Multnomah County,” said Michael Reyes Andrillon.

OPAL was successful, not only in Oregon, but across the nation. Their community-led Campaign for a Fair Transfer led to a change in federal policy that requires transit agencies to conduct an equity analysis before changing transfer times. OPAL’s YouthPass to the Future campaign also convinced local policymakers to expand the YouthPass program to give public transit passes to students to two additional Portland-area school districts. Youth in the program, like Tommy, now have a consistent, reliable way to get to and from school and other opportunities across the city, although recent budget cuts mean that OPAL must once again campaign for the program. Again, youth are taking the lead.

OPAL, like many other organizations in constantly-changing environments, must continuously search for new sources of funding to pursue their vision. “Scarcity of resources keeps us from being able to build strong partnerships,” said OPAL Community Engagement Coordinator Shawn Fleek, because it means “we just have more projects and less general operating grants. Projects say ‘reach these numbers, get these outcomes, put your report at the end of the year.’ But when work is led by community, we might not know in advance exactly what we’re going to achieve, but we know we’re going to achieve it by the right process.” Instead, Shawn says, more funders need to say, “We trust your values and your methods. Take this money and use it to do whatever the community says it needs to do.” In short, Shawn says, “Let us do our work.”

From our experience with OPAL, KPCF learned about what is possible when we invite community-driven solutions. Instead of defining specific outcomes we want to fund, we articulate a vision and invite community-led organizations to define a path to get there. By doing so, we learn from the communities most impacted by barriers to health and begin to see new solutions for established problems.

Guiding Values: Partnership for Safety and Justice

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how Partnership for Safety and Justice taught us the benefits of formalizing and articulating our approach with guiding values.

Partnership for Safety and Justice advocates walk through the hall at Oregon’s State Capitol during PSJ’s lobby day.

Partnership for Safety and Justice advocates walk through the hall at Oregon’s State Capitol during PSJ’s lobby day.

Brittney’s life didn’t look like the lives of most other children. Her parents were incarcerated for addiction-related harms, and Brittney was passed around from family members to friends to strangers. She lived out of a suitcase, was depressed, and would sometimes lie in bed all day without eating or talking, just worrying about her parents.

Brittney’s experience is common for children of incarcerated parents, who experience lower health-related quality of life than their peers. Children whose parents are incarcerated face higher rates of heart disease, depressive disorders, and drug use than children who do not have parents behind bars. That is why we see Oregon’s growing prison population as a health problem. From 2000 to 2010, Oregon’s prison population increased by nearly 50%, putting the health of both inmates and their families at risk.

“Originally, KPCF received applications from, and funded, more traditional public health organizations and projects. But what we really wanted to get at was the social determinants of health — factors like economic opportunity or early life — that are shown to set the stage for lifelong health,” said NWHF Director of Programs Jen Matheson. In the mid 2000s, even though we knew in our hearts that incarceration was a health problem, we didn’t have a mechanism for the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund to invest in solutions. We weren’t reaching out to organizations that worked on this issue, and they were not applying for our grants. Instead, we saw applications from traditional healthcare delivery, community health, or academic health programs.

So, we embarked on a rigorous process with our advisors to evaluate the fund and its impact. Through the evaluation, we learned that the organizations we felt were a good fit for the fund embraced a set of specific approaches.

We decided to further explore these approaches, articulate them as values, and use those values as filters to decide who to fund. Those values were:

• Social and Racial Equity

• Collaborative Partnerships

• Community-Driven Solutions, and

• Systems Change.

With our newly articulated guiding values, we could appeal to organizations that may not have previously seen their work as a fit for the fund. One of those groups was Partnership for Safety and Justice, which promotes a more effective approach to public safety that focuses on prevention and keeping people out of prison. Andy Ko, the executive director of Partnership for Safety and Justice said, “The fund’s values were consistent with what we wanted to achieve...They also expressed through their own priorities that they understood the intersectionality and the systems element of what we were trying to do.”

We funded Partnership for Safety and Justice to improve health in communities disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system. The organization wanted to pursue justice reinvestment, which would steer state funds away from prisons and into community-based programs that help people succeed outside of prison. These programs include services such as crime prevention, mental health and addiction treatment, and crime survivor services.

We first supported Partnership for Safety and Justice with two capacity building grants to lay the groundwork for a legislative campaign. We then gave them a three-year grant to implement the campaign, which successfully secured passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act in 2013. Then we offered the organization another three-year grant to monitor how the law was implemented.

As a result of Partnership for Safety and Justice and their partners advocating for community-based alternatives to prison, eleven Oregon counties decreased their prison usage rates. These counties put fewer people in prison than before the advocacy campaigns, and more than 6,000 people were able to return to their families and communities.

One of those people was Elizabeth. By the time Elizabeth was 30, she had experienced abusive relationships, struggled with addiction, and felt like she was in basic survival mode. She was jailed multiple times over two and half years, each time separated from her family and community. After her last time in jail, Elizabeth qualified for the community programs now offered because of the work of Partnership for Safety and Justice and their partners. Instead of being behind bars, Elizabeth returned to her children and, with the help of organizations in her community, overcame her addiction. Last year, she celebrated with her family when her daughter got accepted to Stanford University.

Stories like Brittney’s and Elizabeth’s show us how we can make bolder decisions to create healthy communities. Articulating our guiding values was a pivotal movement in the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund that created the structure to make those decisions possible.

 
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New Approaches to Community Partnership: SKCE

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality taught us to put new insights into action.

A mother and son practice reading together at SKCE’s Leyendo Avanzamos program.

A mother and son practice reading together at SKCE’s Leyendo Avanzamos program.

Before Estela Flores joined the programs offered by the Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality (SKCE), she did not understand the grading system at her children’s school. Estela did not graduate elementary school and moved to the United States with the hope of a better future for her children. However, she did not know how to navigate the bureaucracy of the school district, she couldn’t help her children with the homework they were assigned, and she was not familiar with the meaning of an “A,” “B,” or other grades the teacher gave.

“I remember back when I was young and see how far we have come, how far my mom has come,” said Estela’s daughter, Celia Flores. “I just feel so thankful that she has had the opportunity to attend workshops and events and become part of the group of Latino parents with the coalition. One of the most important ways I saw my mom change was when she learned not to be afraid. She didn’t know English, and she didn’t know much about the school system, but she learned how to make sure we were doing well in school.”

SKCE’s motto is backed by solid research: parents are the key to their child’s educational success. For years, SKCE has worked to inspire and equip Latino parents to get involved in their children’s education and schools and change the dynamics that influence academic success for students of color.

When SKCE first connected with KPCF, SKCE wanted to address Latino student education success through parent program support and increased advocacy. They worked to activate more Spanish-speaking parents to get involved in their children’s education, focusing on absenteeism and mental health. At the same time, SKCE also knew that direct intervention with parents was not enough; they needed to advocate more and work to change school district policies and practices by partnering with districts.

We saw an opportunity to invest in SKCE in a way that brought together many of the lessons we learned throughout the life of our fund. Instead of funding a specific program, we provided SKCE with flexible funding, coaching, and technical assistance that allowed the organization’s leaders to hire administrative staff and step back from day-to-day operations. By doing so, they could focus on building capacity to deepen relationships, develop partnerships, and create the community-led infrastructure for systems change advocacy.

SKCE increased the size and resources of their advocacy program budget to campaign for a more equitable and culturally responsive education workforce. 38% of the district’s students are Latino, but only 6% of their teachers are, and SKCE knew students would benefit from seeing themselves reflected in their educators. It is well-documented that when students see their race, ethnicity, and culture reflected in their schools, their educational success, health, and attendance significantly improve. In addition to funding staff time for advocacy activities, committee participation and professional development, KPCF provided critical technical assistance to conduct a community assessment, clarify strategies, and use developmental evaluation to track community change.

Building strong relationships with district administrators and leaders was a key component and took lots of time. SKCE was able to hire more people and parents from the local Latino community and develop their leadership. With their new capacity, they had the ability to attend the school district’s decision-making committees, testify more at school board meetings, and meet consistently with district leaders. Together with district leaders, they identified specific changes the Salem Keizer School District needed to make in their recruiting, hiring, and training practices.

Annalivia is excited: “I started bringing Latino parents and staff to committees. I’ve got staff that are trying to learn English, and they’re boldly going forth and trying to figure out how to get in this committee and say something. KPCF had an understanding that we have to pay low-income, underrepresented people to do what you would expect other white organizations to do with volunteers.”

With SKCE’s expert Latino parent voices, the district adopted their first Safe and Welcoming School Resolution, created a new office of Equity and Student Advancement, and promoted a long-time principal of color to direct it. The new office began the work of training principals and teachers in cultural awareness and responsiveness, and developing long-term plans for continual professional development in these areas. Latino students and parents began feeling more welcome and safe at school.

With flexible funding, SKCE was also able to hire Spanish-speaking parents to plan a systems change strategy with their constituents. They focused on partnership development and continuously showed up to district meetings as they grew into a trusted partner of the district. The highlight came in the summer of 2017 when the district awarded SKCE a contract to conduct a teacher training institute in collaboration with the district’s human resources department. Hosted at SKCE’s office, 17 educators attended the pilot Language and Culture Institute, learning Spanish in the morning (taught by the district) and spending the afternoon doing activities with Latino parents and staff. SKCE staff also worked with the district to host job fairs where they hired Latino employees.

The relationship between the district and parents of SKCE has grown strong, in part due to the openness of Superintendent Christy Perry and the people she hired. Last year, SKCE was recognized as the district’s partner of the month at the school board meeting. “I feel like we have finally reached our goals of being a partner to the district, of being truly valued as a Latino organization. This literally happened because KPCF,” said Annalivia.

Without the capacity and technical support of KPCF, Annalivia says they never could have maintained the steady growth, and the steady planning and accountability meetings needed to reach many of their goals. Annalivia added, “We are changing school and district culture, and we will never stop, and we will become a part of their culture so what was radical 20 years ago is best practice and innovative and highly praised now.”

KPCF is proud of our flexibility in keeping up with the latest research and trends, not just in health but in the nonprofit sector, in education and in and equity issues in general. We found that our culturally specific nonprofit partners were more than ready to take their work to a higher level of systems change as soon as we stepped up to help them make that possible, and other foundations are following suite. Culturally specific organizations are often led by people who are affected by the social justice issues KPCF wants to fund. We are investing in these organizations as the most effective way to improve health and education equity in our society.

 
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The Roots of Health: Resolutions Northwest

The Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) at Northwest Health Foundation was founded in 2004 with an initial $28 million investment by Kaiser Permanente to improve conditions for health. As we learned how to best partner with community organizations, we made pivotal decisions that changed how we operated. In this story, we tell how Resolutions Northwest taught us to focus on the roots of health, even when it pushes us out of our comfort zone.

Restorative Justice Co-Director Natalia Mathews leading circle with students at Rigler.

Restorative Justice Co-Director Natalia Mathews leading circle with students at Rigler.

Rigler Elementary School felt a lot different before Resolutions Northwest brought restorative justice to the school. Ten years ago, if a student ignored instructions or disrespected a teacher, they would have received a referral. In some cases they may have been sent to the office and spent a portion of their day there, missing critical instruction time. As referrals built up over the course of the year, the student may have faced suspension or even expulsion.

Now, as one teacher recounts, restorative justice helps educators address factors underlying behavior and keep students in school. One teacher told Resolutions NW, “I participated in a restorative dialogue with a student who had ignored instructions and used disrespectful language with me. During the session, he said he thought of himself as a bad kid and assumed that I saw him as a bad kid. The session allowed us to start to address this self-image and was the turning point in our relationship, which has been extremely positive ever since.”

Restorative justice holds students accountable without the strict punishment that is often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities. It is a philosophy and practice to address harm between individuals and communities and undo systemic patterns of institutional racism and oppression. “Our goal is to build, maintain, and repair relationships in order to foster healthy and inclusive school communities,” said Christina Albo, director of restorative justice for Resolutions Northwest.

Restorative justice uses dialogue and social-emotional learning to teach young people to navigate their emotions and take responsibility for their actions. The skills it teaches create healthy habits that last a lifetime. In schools where restorative justice programs have been implemented, there has been a decrease in the difference of academic and disciplinary outcomes between students of color and their peers. During three academic years (2011-2014) of the Restorative Justice Program at Rigler Elementary School, African American and Latino students’ rate of major disciplinary referrals declined compared to their White peers. Relative rates began to rise in 2014-2015 when the program didn’t operate that year.

As KPCF matured, we decided to focus on education as a key area for investment that can create health in our communities. With stated values around social and racial equity, we were introduced to the work of Resolutions NW. “Education is a key factor to determining life-long health. We can’t measure impacts to health immediately, but we can find other indicators to measure our progress toward healthier communities. Resolutions Northwest helped us see how we can realize our vision by improving graduation and school discipline, and decreasing bias against students of color and students with disabilities,” said Michael Reyes Andrillon, Community Engagement Officer with Northwest Health Foundation.

With our support, Resolutions NW was able to expand their pilot into five additional schools and develop a partnership with Portland Public Schools. They now work closely with the district to reduce disproportionate discipline for youth of color and have even negotiated a multi-year contract with the district to build restorative justice into the district at all levels.

“Looking back, we now see that creating partnerships between schools and community organizations is key to creating health. Schools are asking for help, and the solutions they need can be created only in partnership with the students and families in their communities,” said Michael Reyes Andrillon. As a result of how we matured as a fund, and the decisions we made to address the roots of health in education, Resolutions Northwest has been able to nurture school efforts that give students a greater chance to live vibrant, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

 
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Willamette Workforce Partnership Improves Job Seekers' Mental Health

Economic opportunity and stability are key to good health. When families can afford quality housing, food, healthcare, childcare and other necessities, individuals and communities do better.

In 2012, our communities weren’t doing well. Families struggled to make ends meet, and nearly one out of 10 Oregonians was unemployed. Due to the Great Recession, many of these folks were unemployed long term, leading to depression and other mental health issues.

At the peak of unemployment in the United States and our region, researchers at the mid-Willamette Valley Worksource Center (then called Job Growers, now the Willamette Workforce Partnership) discovered that programs in Britain and Australia were successfully using cognitive-behavioral therapy to improve the mental health of the long-term unemployed and, thus, help them find jobs. Inspired by reading about these programs, Willamette Workforce Partnership created a series of workshops based on cognitive behavioral principles. Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded a small pilot. Results were positive, and the federal Department of Labor then funded a state-wide five-year project.

To date, more than 1,200 unemployed people have gone through the workshop series in WorkSource Centers around the state. The workshop runs for four weeks, with three two-hour session per week. Topics covered include: how thoughts and feelings affect behavior, risky thinking and how to counter it, increasing emotional awareness, managing negative emotions, building self-esteem, goal setting and maintaining momentum during a job search.

Willamette Workforce Partnership plans next to pilot test the workshop series with groups that historically face more barriers to employment. That includes job seekers with various disabilities, young adults with Autism, social service recipients, workers’ compensation participants, and folks being released from incarceration.

Beginning this September, Public Policy Associates will formally evaluate the five-year project. Preliminary results will be available in December.

Western States Center & CAPACES Network: Winning with Reproductive Justice

A woman sits on the floor holding her child. He looks over her shoulder, smiling. She is laughing. 

According to Western States Center’s Gender Justice Program Director Amy Casso, when you lead with Reproductive Justice you can win. Why? Because Reproductive Justice is intersectional and inclusive; everyone can see themselves in it. It also has the ability to shift narrative and culture in communities.

The CAPACES Network organizations, a group of primarily Latino-led and serving organizations in Oregon, saw an opportunity in Reproductive Justice. After participating in Western States Center’s We are BRAVE Cohort, CAPACES Network staff wanted to bring a Gender Justice and Reproductive Justice lens to all their work. They partnered with Western States Center to guide them through the process.

Over the last year, CAPACES Network executive directors and staff participated in monthly trainings and discussions around building and integrating a Gender and Reproductive Justice lens into their organizations’ program work. A pivotal moment came in August when many of them participated in Activists Mobilizing for Power 2017 workshops like “Talking About Abortion in the Latinx Community” and “Over-policed and Undervalued: reproductive justice, prison-abolition and birthing” to deepen their understanding.

A person stands in front of a row of gray boxes, visible from the waist down. Each box has a  statistic painted on it. The closest one reads, "In 2011, 1 in 13 white Oregonians were uninsured and 1 in 6 people of color were uninsured."

CAPACES Network members also participated in the campaign to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act, advocating for all Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity or type of insurance, to have access to the full range of preventative reproductive health services.

Over the next year, Western States Center and CAPACES Network will conduct a community assessment in order to better understand the community’s concerns and needs, as well as identify opportunities for policy shifts. They’re working closely with several organizations, including both of the Network’s youth organizations, Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS) and Talento Universitario Regresando a Nuestros Orígenes (TURNO).

It’s clear the partnership is already impacting community members. Western States Center recently hosted an event with Mujeres Luchadoras Progresistas, unrelated to their partnership with CAPACES Network. At the event, Amy Casso asked community members if they’d heard about the Reproductive Health Equity Act and what it could do for them. All of them had.

Ultimately, CAPACES Network hopes this partnership will result in a healthier community and healthier families.

Three Success Stories from Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon

Royalty Spirits

Chaunci sits at a desk, her hands folded. A laptop and a bottle of Miru Vodka sit on the table in front of her.

Chaunci King founded Royalty Spirits in 2013, distilling and selling Miru Vodka: high-quality pear-flavored vodka made locally in the Pacific Northwest. The name Miru is appropriate, because Miru is a dominating Sea Goddess, and Chaunci plans for her company "to dominate the world of flavored vodkas." She's determined to succeed in a white, male-dominated industry.

Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon provided Chaunci with business development services, MarketLink research, an Individual Development Account and financing. Thanks to MESO's support, Chaunci has been able to launch two new products: non-flavored vodka and whiskey.

Previously, Chaunci was unable to access capital to grow her business. She lacked strong cash flow, collateral and time spent in business. Chaunci was about to sign up with an online lender whose loans had predatory rates, because she had pending orders and needed to fill them. Fortunately, MESO provided Chaunci with a $30,000 loan just in time. 

"You know I'm a bartender by trade; I noticed most flavored vodkas that are catered towards women are super sweet and missing the vodka bang! So I decided I wanted to create a vodka that was for us by us, less sugar, delicious pear flavor and natural vodka essence! Whiskey was an automatic second product with a trending rise as a drink of choice with millennials and my preferred sipper." - Chaunci King

 

Big Body Towing

Ron Brown leaps into the air in front of his tow truck.

Ron Brown came to Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon in 2007 for help with his first business, Big Body Towing. His excitement was contagious. MESO matched his enthusiasm with their support, setting achievable goals and mapping out strategic plans to help with his vision of growth. Over the years, Ron has gone through numerous challenges, but he has faced them head ­on with a positive attitude. Ron’s customer service is top notch, and his humor gets him through the daily challenges of owning a business.

Last year, Les Schwab offered Ron the opportunity to buy the property he was renting. Ron had difficulty raising the needed capital and returned to MESO for advice. As 2015 drew to a close, MESO asked their longtime supporter, United Fund Advisors, if they could place loan capital they'd allocated to MESO to help Ron purchase the commercial property. With United Fund Advisor's consent, MESO provided the $70,000 necessary to purchase the property, currently valued at $225,000.

Several individuals and companies came together to help create long­-term financial security for Ron and his family. Because Les Schwab was willing to share their excess property, Ron will have a more sustainable livelihood.

 

Modern Human Instruments

Jessica Chan gives a thumbs-up.

Jessica Chan is an industrial designer and the founder of Modern Human Instruments LLC. She has a diverse background, from teaching martial arts and personal training to customer service, construction, freelance art and design. Jessica's parents, immigrants from China, hoped their daughter would become a doctor. However, Jessica's passion lay with entrepreneurship and design. With all her zeal and stubbornness, she began making her mark in the industry.

Jessica's first product, an innovative writing instrument called the WinkPen, is built to write with wine, coffee or tea, and it is already sold out. Jessica's vision with WinkPen was to create a sustainable alternative to the everyday writing utensil. She wanted to provide "a high­-end innovative writing instrument for artists and collectors alike."

"As with any startup company, the journey can be crazy and very unexpected. I quickly learned that the support system and people you choose to surround yourself with was key to making it and becoming successful. There's always an answer if you look hard enough." - Jessica Chan

Jessica secured seed funding through Portland Development Commission's Startup PDX Challenge. She also participated in the Streetwise MBA program through PDC and MESO; and she accessed an IDA, MarketLink market research, credit building and financing.

"MESO has been an absolutely wonderful experience. The community within the program is beyond words, and the individualized support and resources— invaluable. MESO not only is a place of knowledge and resources, but also hope and encouragement." - Jessica Chan

 

Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon is one of Northwest Health Foundation's Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners.

Cambios Micro-Development Program helps Latino families become business owners and community leaders

Three generations of a family stick their hands in a big pot of soil. They're learning about propagation.

Three generations of a family stick their hands in a big pot of soil. They're learning about propagation.

Every family should have the opportunity to strive for a healthier, happier and more stable future. When families can support themselves in ways that are meaningful to them, our communities become stronger and we all benefit. That’s why Huerto de la Familia, a community-led organization in Eugene, Oregon, provides the means for Latino families in Lane County to improve their health and economic self-sufficiency.

One way Huerto de la Familia does this is through their Cambios Micro-Development Program. Every year, Latino families in Lane County who want to start their own small businesses, or take small businesses they’ve already started to the next level, sign up for weekly classes, participate in one-on-one business counseling sessions and create their business plans.

A student works out watering calculations on the whiteboard at farm business class.

A student works out watering calculations on the whiteboard at farm business class.

Over the last year, Cambios Micro-Development Program has expanded and evolved to better meet the needs of community members. Previously, the weekly class ran for ten weeks. Now it runs for twenty. On top of that, participants planning to start farm businesses can sign up for an additional eight weeks of specialized training through a curriculum designed, and taught, by staff from Oregon State University’s Small Farms Program. They practice their new skills for large-scale planting on land donated by Two Rivers and Love Farms. Other participants, who plan to start restaurants, have the chance to test their businesses and earn money in Huerto de la Familia’s food booth incubator.

The partnership doesn’t stop there. Huerto de la Familia’s executive director, Marissa Garcia, emphasizes that this work doesn’t result in instant gratification. Huerto de la Famila works with families for years, until they can sustain their businesses on their own.

The family behind Tikal Latin Cuisine showcases their Guatemalan food. 

The family behind Tikal Latin Cuisine showcases their Guatemalan food. 

Cambios Micro-Development Program allows Latino families to make a living doing work they love and believe in. As a result, community members benefit through access to healthy, local and culturally significant food. For instance, one man who recently graduated from the twenty-week training will raise livestock humanely, with an emphasis on providing meat for specific Mexican cultural dishes, such as birria. Another participant will start a farming nonprofit with the aim of growing healthy food for people who can’t afford it, especially people who don’t have the time or ability to grow their own food in Huerto de la Familia’s garden (e.g. parents with young children, those with chronic illnesses, elders, etc.)

Huerto de la Familia’s goals for Cambios Micro-Development Program go beyond immediate change. The organization and participants have a bigger vision, for long-term change, as well. They want the Latino families involved to become leaders in Lane County’s business community, and in the community as a whole. Currently, 12% of Oregon’s residents are Latino. That number isn’t reflected in Oregon’s leadership, and Huerto de la Familia hopes Cambios Micro-Development Program will contribute to changing that.

Cambios Micro-Development Program's 2016 graduates celebrate their success.

Cambios Micro-Development Program's 2016 graduates celebrate their success.

Huerto de la Familia is one of Northwest Health Foundation's Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners.

Oregon Renters Lead the Way to Safe, Stable and Healthy Homes

A crowd, led by children holding a Community Alliance of Tenants banner, marches in support of tenant protections. Many people hold signs with messages promoting stable housing.

Change should always be led by the people who will be most impacted by it. Solutions work better for everyone when they are created by the communities that need them the most. It’s the curb-cut effect.

For example, everyone in our region — Oregon and Southwest Washington — has been affected by the affordable housing crisis. Even homeowners feel the impact when neighbors, coworkers and employees, their children’s classmates, teachers, caregivers and countless other community members suffer the stress of housing instability. Housing instability impacts all of us. But who is most impacted? Who should lead the way in confronting this problem?

According to Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), low-income tenants — mainly, people of color, families with children, low-wage workers, people with disabilities and seniors. Which is why CAT is partnering with a number of organizations to advance tenant protections this legislative session.

A woman holds a drooling toddler with curly black hair.

Across our region, increased demand for housing has led to rent hikes and no-cause evictions. Too many families find themselves houseless, priced out of their cities and towns, sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars and shelters, even on the street. Without a safe place to call home, they struggle to keep their jobs, feed their kids and get them to school.

Families who haven’t been evicted are too scared to ask their landlords for necessary repairs and improvements; they’re afraid of retaliation. Meanwhile, their children suffer from “slum housing disease” due to unhealthy living conditions.

Their fear is warranted. Families with small children, especially from immigrant and refugee communities face higher barriers to quality housing, and they’re more vulnerable to discrimination, retaliation and involuntary displacement.

A woman sits with three young children at a Stable Homes for Oregon Families listening session.

CAT members, as well as their majority-tenant board of directors, identified no-cause evictions and lifting the ban on rent-stabilization as their top priorities. So CAT responded by convening the Stable Homes for Oregon Families Coalition, a group of over 75 organizations advocating for the 40% of Oregonians who rent their homes. CAT also initiated the Tenant Leadership Council, composed of parents of color to lead the #JustCauseBecause campaign this legislative session.

The Tenant Leadership Council spent time helping shape House Bill 2004, vetting it against their experiences, and mobilizing their fellow tenants to participate in various actions, including phone banking, visiting their legislators, hosting rallies and supporting civic engagement opportunities for renters. They also coordinated lobby days at the Oregon State Capitol and developed and presented testimony in support of the bill. On February 4, they packed a listening session with 250 people, and 20 legislators and their staff attended to hear residents from all over Oregon share their stories. On April 30, they plan to pack another listening session in Eugene. 

Oregon tenants and legislators fill several round tables at a listening session for Stable Homes for Oregon Families.

Thanks to the leadership of low-income Oregon tenants, we trust #JustCauseBecause and #RentStabilization are the best choices for our state. We may not end the affordable housing crisis with these two bills, but we will reduce stress and fear, mitigate displacement and ensure renters feel supported enough to demand healthy living conditions. And everyone in our region will benefit because of it.

Community Alliance of Tenants is one of Northwest Health Foundation's Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners.

We Need Fewer Parents in Oregon Prisons

A mom and toddler, bundled up in winter hats and coats, rub their noses together.

Children should be surrounded by family, because children do better when their family is present. They do better in school, and they are healthier overall.

In the U.S., too many parents are torn away from their children by incarceration. In Oregon alone, over 14,500 parents are in prison. That means more than 20,000 Oregon children – more than 700 classrooms full of kids – are growing up without their mom or dad, and they're suffering for it.

Infographic showing 63% of men in Oregon prisons are fathers, 81% of women in Oregon prisons are mothers. 70% of dads in Oregon prisons don't have in-person visits with their children; 20% don't have any contact with their children. 50% of moms in Oregon prisons don't have in-person visits with their children; 8% don't have any contact with their children.

Children with a parent in prison are more likely to drop out of high school, abuse drugs and alcohol, become teenage parents, commit crimes, and become unemployed or homeless.

To make matters worse, due to the discrimination in our criminal justice system, children of color are affected at a much higher rate. Black children are seven times more likely to have a parent in prison.

Far too many families are being torn apart by the criminal justice system. This separation can be devastating for parents and their children. I know because I lived it. In 2001, I was separated from my son and sentenced to prison for a nonviolent offense. It was heartbreaking to see the trauma and harm that my incarceration caused him. Because I was a single parent, my son bounced from one family member to another and suffered the brunt of their negative reaction. Our financial situation was tight too, so during my entire prison term, my son could only afford the bus ride to visit me once. Not being there for my son was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
— Anne, formerly incarcerated mother

Fortunately, there are ways to fix this problem. One way is the Family Sentencing Alternative (FSA), which is currently being tested as a pilot program in Deschutes, Jackson, Marion, Multnomah and Washington counties. The Family Sentencing Alternative allows parents convicted of nonviolent offenses to be assessed for intense supervision and appropriate services while remaining united with their children in the community. In Washington state, a similar program saved the state $59 a day per parent, and only eight of 120 participants committed a new felony offense.

Partnership for Safety and Justice (PSJ), a nonprofit that works with people convicted of crime, survivors of crime, and the families of both to advocate for policies that make Oregon’s approach to public safety more effective and more just, is one of the main proponents of the Family Sentencing Alternative. PSJ is currently supporting successful implementation and refinement of the FSA pilot projects, as well as seeking to increase community understanding and support. They'd like to see this program expand to the whole state.

PSJ hopes to shift the public conversation about incarceration from a debate regarding criminal punishment as a perceived means of increasing public safety, to a discussion about the far-reaching and long-term harms of parental imprisonment.

Partnership for Safety and Justice is one of Northwest Health Foundation's Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners.

 

Six Years Later, Cully Park is Much More Than a Dream

Cully community members stand on a portion of Cully Park land that is ready for development.

Portland's Cully neighborhood is rich with racial and ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, the neighborhood itself is resource-poor. It has much less parkland, low access to transportation and few sidewalks compared to other parts of Portland. It also has an abundance of brownfields – contaminated, post-industrial land.

In 2002, Portland Parks Bureau bought one of those brownfields – a 25-acre landfill – with the intent of turning it into a park. After years of open houses and design meetings, the Portland City Council finally agreed on a master plan, featuring sports fields, walking trails and an estimated price tag of up to $18 million. Although the plans were approved, funding was not. 

That's when the Cully community took over. Living Cully, a collaboration made up of nonprofit partners Verde, Native American Youth and Family Center, Hacienda Community Development Corporation and Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro/East, led the community to seek funding and transform the former landfill into a welcoming and useful public space.

Two people in orange construction vests hang a tarp over a sign that reads "¡NUEVE PARQUE EN CAMINO!" with a map.

In 2010, a $150,000 Northwest Health Foundation/Convergence Partnership grant enabled Living Cully to develop the very first stages of Thomas Cully Park. Now, six years later, Living Cully has raised over $9.5 million, and only needs to raise $1 million more to meet the project's $10.6 million budget (down from the $18 million estimated by the City Council in 2002). Most recently, on Portland Parks Foundation's 15th Anniversary, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced a $3 million allocation from the City.

Not only has Living Cully raised millions of dollars for the park. Since development began in 2012, Scott School students worked with an architect to design a community garden; Verde restored a section of the land too steep for park features to create a mixed deciduous-riparian habitat; Verde Nursery began growing plants in a 10,000 square foot staging area for distribution throughout the park; a group of Native and non-Native community members created an Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden; Cully neighborhood schools and students helped design a play area meeting the needs of young people in the neighborhood and youth with disabilities; and Living Cully transformed NE 72nd Avenue into a Greenstreet.

Thomas Cully Park is truly by and for the people, and we can't wait to see future transformations of the space!

This is an update on a past Partner Spotlight written a few years ago. Check out the original Partner Spotlight.

Oregon Islamic Academy Students Build Bridges

Photos of Oregon Islamic Academy alumni on a bright blue background.

Muslim Educational Trust (MET)'s Oregon Islamic Academy is much more than a school. It's a launching pad for healthy futures, a sanctuary for Muslim students of all races and socioeconomic classes, a community of people who value learning in many different ways. It's also an excellent example of how culturally-specific education can support a child to succeed.

"I left MET a stronger person in my faith than I think I otherwise would have been. It's hard being a Muslim in today's society, but they helped build our confidence in that aspect of our identities by providing outreach, interfaith, and presentation opportunities for the students," said Mariam Said, an Oregon Islamic Academy class of 2012 alumna who is currently a teaching intern at Milwaukie High School.

Mariam says she has so many good memories of her time at MET, "it has all sort of melded into one warm feeling." She fondly remembers working with everyone in her high school to make a short film for their Islamic Studies project and celebrating graduation on the Portland Spirit.

Oregon Islamic Academy students take Islamic Studies and Arabic classes and pray together in the afternoon. They also take science and art, math and English, participate in service learning days and collaborate with other schools and community organizations. For example, Oregon Islamic Academy has partnered with Oregon Episcopal School on a class called American Story, in which students share and respond to immigrant stories. 

Students who are members of the Youth Ambassadors Club at Oregon Islamic Academy travel to schools throughout the area to give presentations and answer questions about being a Muslim student in Oregon. They've found students and staff at these schools to be very curious and welcoming. Oregon Islamic Academy staff see their students as reversing misconceptions about what an Islamic school is and who graduates from one. They also see their students as bridge builders, from their community to other communities.

When Oregon Islamic Academy was founded, it had 12 students. Today, it has grown to 160 K-12 students, some driving to Tigard every day from as far away as Vancouver, WA, plus a waiting list. Oregon Islamic Academy graduated its first high school class of two students in 2011; this year, it will have graduated 21 seniors since the inception of its high school program in 2007. So far, 100 percent of students have gone on to four-year colleges and have continued to put their faith into action by excelling in all that they do and by being committed, well-engaged citizens of the world.

Muslim Educational Trust is a Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partner.

"We are all born (in)."

'Together, we can erase the divide between “us” and “them” and celebrate schools and communities where all individuals are embraced and included.'

A mapping exercise from the 10th Annual All Born (In) Conference.

A mapping exercise from the 10th Annual All Born (In) Conference.

On April 23rd, 2016, Northwest Down Syndrome Association (NWDSA) and All Born (In) will host their 11th annual All Born (In) regional cross-disability conference. This conference—aimed at parents, educators, providers, self advocates and civic leaders—teaches best practices for embracing disability and reaching and teaching all people.

Three women pose for the camera in a crowded conference room. Two appear to have Down Syndrome; one is in a wheelchair.

NWDSA and All Born (In), sister organizations, believe in full inclusion and public understanding and acceptance. They are tireless advocates for inclusive education. For example, they offer a Kindergarten Transition Workshop to help parents of young children with developmental disabilities become advocates for their kids at school. NWDSA/ABI also led Think College Inclusion Oregon—a coalition of middle and high school students, families, education professionals and Portland State University faculty—to seek funding for an inclusive college program at PSU. They succeeded in obtaining a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement the program.

"Special education is supposed to be a service, not a place," said All Born (In) Executive Director Angela Jarvis-Holland in a recent article in The Portland Tribune

One woman speaking into a microphone, one woman signing.

The 2016 All Born (In) Conference will include more than 30 workshops on a range of topics, everything from "Behavior in the Early Years: Ideas for When the Going Gets Tough" to "Economic Freedom and Rights." There will also be two keynote speeches by Dr. Richard A. Villa and Keith Jones.

We at Northwest Health Foundation are particularly excited about Keith Jones' keynote "Soul Touching Work to Increase Access, Inclusion, and Empowerment at the Intersection of Race and Disability." Keith Jones is a disability rights activist, composer, producer and hip hop artist. He also identifies as a person with a disability. 

You can get tickets for All Born (In) Conference here.

Northwest Down Syndrome Association is a Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partner.

At Open School, the Racial Achievement Gap is Zero

Two youth sitting on a table, looking over their shoulders at a poster with a poem in two languages.

Oregon's high school graduation rate of 74% is one of the worst in the nation. That number is even lower for students of color and students in families struggling to make ends meet. But some Oregon schools are leading the way in improving academic achievement, especially for students facing inequities. One of these is Open School.

Open School has closed the achievement gap between white students and students of color. Nationally, the gap is 25%. At Open School, the gap is zero.

Here's an example of what Open School does for its students:

In sixth grade, Guillermo exhibited multiple warning signs that suggested he might drop out early. Guillermo's counselor contacted his family and suggested that they enroll Guillermo in Open School East. They were hesitant at first, but eventually agreed. 

Several kids of various races and ethnicities lined up on a hillside.

After giving the counselor permission to give their information to Open School East, Open School's enrollment coordinator reached out to Guillermo’s family. In no time, a visit was scheduled where the coordinator, Guillermo and his parents could all sit down and talk in Guillermo’s home. 

At the end of 6th grade, Guillermo was scoring at the 3rd grade level in both reading and math, and he was receiving ELL supports as a non-native English speaker. His parents, both undocumented immigrants, were unfamiliar with the system and unsure of how to navigate and advocate for their child without drawing attention to their undocumented status. Their fears for the success of their child won out over their fears of deportation. The entire family attended an Open School enrollment night, and they enrolled Guillermo for the 2014 school year.

Teacher and student bending over a worksheet.

By the summer of 2015, after lots of hard work, constant communication and an abundance of mutual support, several things had changed for Guillermo and his parents: 

  • On his year-end benchmark tests in 2015, Guillermo met or exceeded grade level in both Math and English.
  • Guillermo no longer needs official ELL supports, having passed the English Language Proficiency Assessment with flying colors. 
  • Guillermo has even met the Smarter Balance benchmark, which is currently believed to be harder than other benchmarks. 
  • Guillermo’s parents have become models for family engagement and participation, and have become leaders in the Open School East community. They have spoken as parent-reps for Open School East to the Gresham-Barlow School District board of directors; volunteered to act as liaisons to similar new Open School East families, working from their own experiences to create an atmosphere of welcome, reassurance and safety for other undocumented families; and participated actively by leading efforts to start a culturally-specific Latino Families group. 

How does Open School do it? In many ways. They center their work around equity. They use restorative justice practices to resolve conflict. They take time for Art and Movement. They regularly engage with students' families. They listen to students and their families. And so much more! Guillermo is just one of many students whose futures have changed thanks to Open School. 

Open School is a Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partner.

BRAVE Leaders Build Power for Reproductive Justice

Story submitted by Western States Center

Emily Lai flashing the peace sign. Photo courtesy of Momentum Alliance.

Western States Center’s We are BRAVE project supports leaders of color to advance policy and create cultural change to improve communities of color’s access to reproductive healthcare.

The success of BRAVE is highlighted by the personal and professional development of Emily Lai. A BRAVE leader, Emily began her reproductive justice journey as part of We are Brave’s 2015 cohort.

“Honestly, the only reason I am able to do reproductive justice work in Oregon is because of BRAVE,” said Emily. “The dedicated staff at Western States Center has tirelessly and lovingly cultivated a sacred space for communities of color to come together to articulate our experiences with injustices and our visions for justice. BRAVE is a place for us to heal, to bond, and to build our individual and collective strength to advocate for ourselves and reproductive justice."

BRAVE provided the space for Emily to align her commitment to social justice and young people, and her own personal self-determination for reproductive autonomy as a young person. Currently, Emily works with Momentum Alliance as a Reproductive Justice Camp Coordinator where she lives and practices reproductive justice values and leadership with young people. Her professional development parallels BRAVE’s theory of change. Lai often expresses how her participation in BRAVE helped shape her intersection lens for how and whom she works with; the process for how to apply and integrate reproductive justice values; and strength to voice the importance of young people’s role in their own reproductive autonomy. 

"I work for a youth-led social justice nonprofit called Momentum Alliance. This year, at our fundraiser, one of our sponsors withdrew their sponsorship as soon as they found out that we were voicing our support for abortion access at our fundraiser. I was a little intimidated and discouraged from publicly and unequivocally supporting abortion access. But my organization rallied behind me, and I believe that BRAVE gave our organization the courage—the BRAVEry, if you will—to unapologetically stand up for abortion access."

The BRAVE project creates the conditions to leverage leadership through the introduction of reproductive justice core concepts. BRAVE leaders connect those concepts to policy and cultural change to achieve positive health outcomes for families. We realize that communities that respect the dignity and self-determination of all people, particularly young people, are integral to positive early life and childhood development.

Western States Center and Momentum Alliance are both Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners. Momentum Alliance is also the lead organization of a Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative.