FACT Oregon: Empowering Families Experiencing Disability to Pursue Whole Lives

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner FACT Oregon.

Three photos: One depicts a woman and child swimming together in a pool. One depicts an adult running, a child biking, and a youth using a recumbent bike, all wearing matching green t-shirts. And one depicts two youth running on either side of a third youth in a power chair, all three with race numbers pinned to their shirts.
When we received Lizzie’s diagnosis of Down syndrome just after her birth, I had no context for what it meant for her or us. I feared she might not walk, talk, or count to three. I did not know if she would make friends, play sports, or do homework. As her parent, my preconceived thinking about disability — my ignorance — could be the biggest limiting factor to her living a full, whole life. What do you DO with that?
— Elliott Dale

From diagnosis, disability is often presented as a deficit and a reason to segregate. This leads to lives of limited growth, social isolation, loneliness, poor health outcomes, and underemployment for too many Oregonians. FACT Oregon empowers families experiencing disability to pursue whole lives and change the trajectory for their kids to one of unlimited potential.

Parents are hungry for support, resources, and ways to engage in community. FACT Oregon provides trainings, peer-to-peer support, and community building programs for families of youth experiencing disability to help change life trajectories. We support families across all 36 Oregon counties and are parent-led. Our board maintains a majority membership of parents, and all leadership and program staff are parents of youth or young adults experiencing disability. Our person-centered, collaborative support services and trainings cover special education, assistive technology, behavior as communication, inclusive recreation, disability awareness, becoming a welcoming community, family networking, navigating disability service systems, person-centered planning, transition to adulthood, and more.

We are experiencing record-breaking call volume, with a 32% growth in calls from families seeking support over the last year. One question we often ask families when they call or attend a training is: "What is your vision for your child's future?" That one question reminds families that they have the power to change trajectory, to hold high expectations, and to give their kids the opportunities they need to live whole lives of self-determination and inclusion.

One of our newest programs, the All Ability Tri4Youth, helps improve the health and well-being of young people experiencing disability by encouraging physical activity in community. A major factor in the high obesity rate for people with disabilities is limited access to sports and recreation. FACT Oregon's All Ability Tri4Youth, the only barrier-free triathlon on the West Coast, actively demonstrates how to design programming that welcomes people with disabilities more fully into sports and recreation. Participants get a chance to explore swimming, biking, and running, and families connect with local sports and recreation resources that their youth with disabilities can access.

Elliott’s story didn’t end in fear and ignorance. He got involved in FACT Oregon, currently chairs our board, and is on a journey, living a whole life:

Our family was fortunate to connect early with people who helped us challenge our norms. People who held high expectations, showed us that disability is natural, and modeled how to navigate the next step for Lizzie and the step after that. These are the people and families of FACT Oregon. Today, Lizzie counts, she runs, she has play dates, she has ballet practice and plays soccer, she does homework. And she is in first grade in a typical class in our neighborhood school— the first child with Down syndrome to attend for as long as anyone can remember. The people at FACT Oregon helped us make that happen.

Find out more about FACT Oregon at www.factoregon.org, and register today for our All Ability Tri4Youth, which will take place August 10, 2019 at Tualatin Hills Athletic Center in Beaverton.

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. So, we embarked on a rigorous 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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APANO Ensures Asian and Pacific Islander Oregonians are Heard Through Voting

A story from Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative APANO VOTE Network.

An API youth looks at a clipboard while speaking into a microphone.

Everyone should be able to make themselves heard through voting.

That’s why the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), a statewide, grassroots organization serving the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, spent the fall 2018 election season reaching out to the one out of every 25 Oregonians who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API). APANO increased language access, provided ballot assistance, and invested in non-API-led partner organizations to extend their reach.

APANO Voter Outreach Training & Education (VOTE) Network organizes and supports the development of Asian and Pacific Islander community organizations in Oregon to achieve social justice. The purpose of the network, created in 2016, is to understand community needs and build collective power to improve the lives of Asian and Pacific Islanders in Oregon.

In order to implement equitable policies, we need to ensure that all people impacted by those policies have access to the ballot. Aware that a number of non-English speaking API face a barrier to voting, APANO prioritized expanding language access to reach these Oregonians. We translated our voter guide into seven additional languages in an effort to engage multi-ethnic and multilingual communities.

Language data isn’t often tracked on the Voter Action Network (VAN), an app groups use to identify voters and record their engagement. Many of the API folks whose doors we knocked on and whose phones we called had never had an in-depth conversation about ballot measures and the voting process before. Through multilingual canvassing, phonebanking, and running a voter assistance center out of the APANO office, APANO served 120 people in four days, propelled by the belief that everyone should have a say in measures and policies that affect their lives.

We also know that when community groups work together, we are stronger. That’s why this past election APANO invested in its VOTE Network organizations. We regranted funding to the Bus Project, the Oregon Student Association and PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste), who contacted voters and helped us get a sense of who and where our communities are and what issues are important to them. These partnerships continue into 2019 as we plan for the legislative session and upcoming elections.

2018 was a critical year to defend the dignity and rights of immigrant communities. Our communities were, and continue to be, under attack from white nationalists. In 2018, we fought back to keep our families together. APANO invested directly in ballot measure campaigns for the first time ever, taking a stand on issues that directly affect communities of color in Oregon.

Perhaps the most exciting result of the 2018 election cycle was the innovative approach to winning, with 65% of the vote, the Portland Clean Energy Initiative. The Portland Clean Energy Initiative was Oregon’s first environmental justice ballot measure designed by and for the communities most impacted by climate change. Work on the Portland Clean Energy Initiative began in February 2016 when representatives from APANO, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Verde, Coalition of Communities of Color, NAACP and 350PDX envisioned a way to fight climate change that would simultaneously address racial and economic justice and create living wage jobs. This initiative was the first ballot measure in Oregon’s history launched and led by people of color, from gathering 50,000+ petition signatures to a full on field canvassing operation. It clarified what we need more of: community conversations, grassroots activism, and electoral power moving us toward an Oregon that is healthier, more equitable, and serves the many, not the few.

APANO and the VOTE Network will continue organizing and acting to ensure that immigrants, communities of color, low-income folks, and the many people who live at the intersections of these identities, have a say in the political decisions that impact their lives.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians Asks Their Community to Envision the Future

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz logo depicts a fish with a river below it and mountain above.

Community decisions should be led by community members.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians (CTSI) wants their growth over the next ten years, their community spaces, their programs and services, to reflect the hopes and dreams of all their tribal members. 

Every decade since federal recognition was restored in 1977, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians has created a comprehensive plan. This document guides Siletz tribal government and leadership through decisions they will make over the next ten years. For example, the first 10-year plan led to education programs and services, administrative offices and a community center. The second resulted in a new clinic. The comprehensive plan is a visionary document, and CTSI always invites tribal members to participate in creating it. However, they’ve had trouble engaging more than a few folks – the “usual suspects” – each time.

After community visits to Siletz and conversations with CTSI leaders, Northwest Area Foundation and Northwest Health Foundation agreed to hire a consultant to help CTSI figure out how to engage all their tribal members in creating their next comprehensive plan – 100% of tribal members.

CTSI is working with Indigenous-owned consulting firm Shoreline Consulting. Shoreline Consulting and CTSI staff have recruited several tribal members to join a Community Visioning Team, with an emphasis on members who will be most affected by the comprehensive plan (e.g. youth, mothers with children in the preschool program, members using addiction services, etc.). Shoreline knew they had to build trust and show up where people already were, so they attended Youth Council meetings, a potato bake, Restoration and other community events to meet and talk to tribal members. Now, the Community Visioning Team will help make an engagement plan. 

Some of the questions they’ll try to answer: How can we engage the 75-80% of tribal members who live outside Lincoln County? How can we engage the people who are least likely to participate? How can we foster energy and enthusiasm so tribal members are excited to not just inform the 10-year plan, but also become involved in future tribal affairs and endeavors? How can we ensure this plan is a living document?

Shadiin Garcia, Shoreline Consulting

Shadiin Garcia, Shoreline Consulting

According to consultant Shadiin Garcia, this process and document have the potential to be healing and transformative. CTSI’s comprehensive planning celebrates tribal sovereignty. It also empowers the Siletz community to thrive on their own terms and improves well-being for future generations.

Northwest Health Foundation is honored to play a small part in supporting this work. 

Visit ctsi.nsn.us to learn more about the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.

CAPACES Leadership Institute is preparing Latinx Oregonians to run for office

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Healthy CAPACES.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ elected office cohort stand and smile in front of a large painting depicting farmworkers.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ elected office cohort stand and smile in front of a large painting depicting farmworkers.

Representation matters. When elected officials and other community leaders reflect the communities they serve, those communities do better. Having had similar experiences to their constituents, these leaders understand the issues firsthand, know the barriers they need to tear down, and can create change that improves people’s lives.

In reality, leaders rarely reflect the communities they serve. Although only 31% of the U.S. population is made up of white men, white men make up 65% of the United States’ elected officials. Similarly, 38% of Oregonians are white men, but white men make up 67% of Oregon’s elected officials. That means women and people of color, among other populations, are underrepresented.

Four out of five students in Oregon’s Woodburn School District are Latinx, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the Woodburn school board had a majority of Latinx school board members (although still not four out of five). As Latinx representation on Woodburn’s school board has grown, Latinx student dropout rates have gone down, teen pregnancy rates have gone down, gang activity has decreased, and graduation rates have gone up. One of Woodburn’s high schools is now among the top five in the nation. 

Woodburn’s success in electing Latinx candidates is largely due to the efforts of a group of nonprofit organizations known as Alianza Poder/Power Alliance (Formerly the CAPACES Network). The Alliance includes an electoral organizing entity, a housing development corporation, a nonprofit focused on educational accountability and equity, a statewide immigrant rights coalition, a youth leadership program and more. By leveraging all their skills, resources and, most importantly, people power, Alianza Poder does an amazing job of engaging and activating their communities, getting out the vote, and preparing community members for leadership opportunities. Acción Política PCUNista, the Alliance’s 501(c)4, succeeded in electing Oregon’s first Latina immigrant to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2016. They also supported Latinx candidates to run for school board and other local positions.

While Alianza Poder has led incredible progress, Oregon’s elected officials are still far from reflecting Oregon’s Latinx population (Oregon’s largest ethnic minority). So, this year CAPACES Leadership Institute launched People’s Representatives – a bilingual leadership development institute based in Marion and Polk Counties, designed to prepare social-justice-minded Latinxs to compete for appointed or elected office or volunteer on committees.

People’s Representatives has two tracks: one for people curious about running for elected office, and one for people who want to serve on committees. Over the course of five trainings, all participants self-assess their values, financial resources, social network, etc.; conduct research about their region and elected office/committee of choice; and learn about messaging. Elected-track participants also learn about fundraising for and planning a campaign, while committee-track participants learn about building relationships and making change through committees.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ committee cohort stand, sit and kneel in front of a wall hung with paintings and photos. They’re all smiling.

Graduates from People’s Representatives’ committee cohort stand, sit and kneel in front of a wall hung with paintings and photos. They’re all smiling.

The committee pathway graduated its first cohort of 16 people, mostly Latinx parents, on April 28, 2018. The first elected pathway cohort graduated on September 15, made up mostly of young adults. Already, some of the committee pathway graduates have been selected to serve on a school district hiring committee and a Salem area transportation committee.

People’s Representatives will continue to check in with all its graduates, even after they’ve taken on public service leadership roles.

We can’t wait to hear more stories from People’s Representative graduates and the cohorts to come!

Q&A with Author and Social Justice Activist Grace Eagle Reed

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Grace is one of the leaders who participated in the Collaborative.

Grace Eagle Reed holds her fingers up in a “peace sign.”

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I am part of several communities that address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, gun violence, racism, alcoholism/addiction support, nonviolent communication, homeless/houseless street outreach, etc. I’m also on Multnomah County’s Disability Services Advisory Council.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I was part of the MLK Jr. marches in the U.S. South, Vietnam War protests, support for the Black Panthers, Native American Métis movement (bringing equality to mixed-blood Natives), the women's rights movement (yes, we did burn our bras) and Woodstock (peace through music and legalizing that MaryJane). I was able to enjoy Jimmy Hendricks, the Beatles, Janis Joplin and Bob Marley in LA, and I’ve been a social justice activist since then.

Last year I was awarded Senior Leader of the Year by the City of Portland. I step up for leadership roles in various places in my life, mostly as a supporter for leaders who are more front and center in creative art/poetry, religion, political and peace movement efforts. I prefer to be a cheerleader to those that are already doing good work daily in the social justice arena.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to play in the future?

A. I am 75 with 40 years of sobriety and a published author/poet/dramatist with a B.A. in drama therapy and a M.A. in restorative justice/conflict resolution. I hope to do more work with organizations with my 'Friendship Table' project. I am also working on another book.

Q. What did you get out of participating in the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative? 

I enjoyed being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative and the people involved. There is much work to be done, and I admire people who step up with passion to bring justice and peace to the chaos and who look for more solutions. 

Q. What did you contribute that you hope others learned from?

A. Justice is needed in most areas of life, especially with marginalized and oppressed peoples. Restoration and balance in the broken systems of this world takes many people with much courage and vision, and I am grateful to be part of this movement. I addressed this in my book Negotiating Shadows and continue to work toward world peace. Our local region is doing much with housing issues, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc., and I am glad I am part of making life more wonderful for my city and community.

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.

Q&A with Pessoptimist Mohammed Usrof

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Mohammed is one of the leaders who participated in the Collaborative.

Mohammed sits cross-legged on top of a round picnic table, smiling.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Muslim community, Arab community, Arab American community, the Palestine solidarity community. And people with disabilities.

What leadership roles have you played?

I’m not sure how to define leadership, but I was part of the Unite Oregon Pan-Immigrant Leadership Program. Through them I was able to participate in introducing bills and supporting bills to end profiling and supporting the housing for Section 8 and expanding it. Also, I was an activist on-campus when I was at PSU in regards of the Palestinian question and how to introduce people to what’s going on in Palestine in regards of occupation. And also further exploring the intersectionality between the Palestinian question and other issues that are facing our communities here in Oregon. How to tie both issues together in regards of advancing to find the best way to handle it.

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I haven’t taken any leadership role in regards of disability specifically, so I would like to further advance my skills and my spectrum to go to that. You know, like currently, I’m facing some stuff relating to work and technology and how to introduce the workplace to the right technology. And that accessibility culture it’s not just like accessibility because we like to be progressive, but to be part of the culture itself. So that’s something I’m interested in. And also, in regards of what leadership stuff I did, is at work also we’re currently working on exploring what’s the best way to target the holidays. In regards of like marginalized people like holidays, like the Muslim holidays, Jewish holidays, the Hindu holidays and like how, for example, the county is recognizing only the mainstream Christian holidays and MLK and Presidents Day, but when it comes to the Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha for Muslims you have to educate your supervisor about the holiday in order to be able to ask the day off. So we’re working on that and trying to find what’s going on, so we’re mobilizing, organizing, having meetings. So that’s one of the things that we’re doing, but in regards of advancing, I’d like to basically introduce myself more to disability and people of color in general.

Where do you work?

Multnomah County.

What’s most exciting to you about disability justice?

I’m excited that we’re exploring it in a group of non-white people, because there is this big thing about like, well, disability justice concept is being exploited, or like I mean being explored only, by white people. And when I see a group of us in the room talking about it and exploring it as people of color. I started reading the handout that we got that is actually like a Black vision, a Black lens of disability justice that actually makes me feel happy.

What do you hope to get out of being part of the Collaborative?

Well if I want to be realistic, I hope to be a friend of at least all of them. All of the people who are there. On a wider lens I hope to, you know, be connected to the work of disability justice just like after the Collaborative because, yes we did four days a year, but what’s after? How can we translate the concepts that we’re tackling into something visible on the ground?

What’s your vision for the future of our region?

I can’t see very well, but… [laughs] 

In regards of disability and accessibility, I’m skeptical in regards of if we’re going to the best. But I think I would like accessibility to become part of our culture, not something strange or something special. Or something like when you go to an employer or go to a FedEx store, not having to have help to use the printer. Like the printer to be all accessible printer for example. So I would like the vision to be something like that.

My vision for the future in a more realistic way, a disability group that focuses on and is led by people of color.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

My favorite book is The Pessoptimist by Emile Habibi, and… It’s, you know, he’s a Palestinian and writer, and he’s exploring the regular person notion in regards of the question of Palestine from a person who’s on the ground, who’s basically, it was written when Oslo was like people starting talking about it, and the idea of two-state solution coming up. And somebody on the ground basically happy that there might be some good stuff coming out of it, but at the same time very disappointed at it wasn’t yet justice that we deserve as Palestinians or he deserve as Palestinian. That notion of not optimistic, but optimistic. I feel like it’s an ongoing book. Yes, maybe it’s written about the Palestinian question, but, you know, switch the Palestinian question and put Trump. Or like put accessibility, or put something. You find yourself as a person who’s living in this contemporary age basically cannot be optimistic and cannot be not optimistic. Or pessimistic. So it’s like in-between.

And songs, there’s so many. I like Fairuz. Fairuz is like one of the most famous singers in the Arab world. She’s almost eighty-three, and she’s singing. She just released an album this year, and she’s wonderful. The best time to listen to her is in the morning.

And movie. I’ve never answered that question before. The Lion King.

Anything else you want people to know?

I would just like to see us advancing, and what’s the role of Northwest Health Foundation after the Collaborative? One of the things is like the room that we’re meeting in. It’s one of the best rooms in regards of accommodating people with disability that I’ve ever been in. If there’s a way to make this room accessible for the community of people with disability, how is that would look like? In regards of like the access to the online, like how it’s very helpful in accommodating all types of wheelchairs. And how the tables are configured. So I think, yeah, that’s a question I have. And I think it would be very, very helpful. I remember in one of our email threads – I don’t think if any of the Northwest staff was on it – we were trying to do a meeting outside of the Collaborative, and the different type of accessibilities ended up being a barrier. So, I think that’s a need, and I think it would be nice if you can explore what to do as an organization. 

(c)3s and (c)4s and LLCs (oh my): EUVALCREE Finds New Ways to Support Community

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Eastern Oregon Latino Alliance for Children and Families.

A dancer in a Jalisco dress and Sugar Skull mask performs at EUVALCREE's Day of the Dead celebration.

A dancer in a Jalisco dress and Sugar Skull mask performs at EUVALCREE's Day of the Dead celebration.

Communities need places and reasons to gather, to build relationships, celebrate together and support one another. When neighbors know each other and spend time together, neighborhoods are safer and stronger.

Strong community connections are even more important in rural communities, where resources are scarcer and services are farther away.

In eastern Oregon, the nonprofit EUVALCREE (a 501(c)3 organization) arose with the purpose of connecting Malheur County’s Latino residents with each other and with other eastern Oregon communities and institutions. They wanted to see more Latinos taking on leadership roles and influencing policies. By engaging and connecting community, and training and positioning leaders, they believe they can improve the lives of children, families and communities throughout Oregon and Idaho.

One way EUVALCREE seeks to accomplish these goals is by hosting large public events, bringing people together to relax and enjoy themselves. This strategy has had huge success. For one, it creates safe cultural environments, through which the Latino community in Malheur County has shared their culture with non-Latino community members and overcome negative stereotypes. It’s also resulted in many more community members expressing interest and becoming involved in EUVALCREE’s leadership trainings and other programs.

Youth stand and smile beside a food cart at EUVALCREE's Day of the Dead celebration.

Youth stand and smile beside a food cart at EUVALCREE's Day of the Dead celebration.

EUVALCREE’s events attract thousands of community members a year. Their largest event so far, on Children’s Day 2018, drew over 3000 people. Not to mention, 94 volunteers committed 754 hours of their time to make it happen.

When EUVALCREE was founded in 2014, the infrastructure to support these events didn’t exist. So, EUVALCREE created the infrastructure. They gathered the people and learned the skills to provide sound systems, lighting, security, etc. Before long, other groups were asking for their help with non-EUVALCREE events.

As demand for their services grew, EUVALCREE’s leadership decided to form an LLC – an event production company – to meet the community’s needs and protect their nonprofit from liabilities. They also registered a second LLC – a security company – owned by the production company. All proceeds go to their 501(c)4 (EUVALCREE ACTIO), which owns the first LLC.

Members of the Eastern Oregon Latino Alliance for Children and Families pose in front of the Oregon State Capitol building.

Members of the Eastern Oregon Latino Alliance for Children and Families pose in front of the Oregon State Capitol building.

EUVALCREE ACTIO was founded in 2018 to support and provide community members with additional tools and resources for civic engagement and community efforts.

Altogether, EUVALCREE, EUVALCREE ACTIO and the two LLCs are operated by and with 76 people and engage hundreds of volunteers and thousands of community members.

They continue to expand their work. In September of 2018, EUVALCREE will be opening an office in Hermiston. Their region has expanded to include 8 counties in Oregon and 5 in Idaho, and they hope to host events and support community in all these places.

If you’re ever in eastern Oregon, make sure to check out one of EUVALCREE’s events. If you’re interested in hosting an event in eastern Oregon, use their services! You’ll be supporting community and leadership development among Latino Oregonians.

Q&A with Environmental Justice & Immigrant Justice Leader Joel Iboa

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Joel is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Joel stands on stage smiling with a group of graduates in caps and gowns seated behind him, facing the stage.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I consider myself a first-generation Oregonian, a child of immigrants, Latino, Indigenous and disabled.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. A bunch. In high school, I was captain of my water polo and swim teams. College, I had leadership positions in MEChA and the Coalition Against Environmental Racism. After college, the governor, Kate Brown, invited me to join the Governor’s Environmental Justice Task Force. I’m the chair of that now. Two years ago, I was chosen to be on the City of Eugene’s Human Rights Commission. I’m now the vice chair, and I was just elected to be the incoming chair next year. I’m also the oldest of three siblings. That was my first leadership role. My mom was the oldest of 14. And I’m the oldest cousin of about 30.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. Like I said, I’m going to be the chair of the Human Rights Commission in Eugene and the Governor’s Task Force. I want all my leadership roles to have a positive impact on the most vulnerable: disabled people, communities of color, elders, children. I want my leadership roles to get increasingly larger and more impactful as I get older, because leadership positions are where you can have the most, largest impact on a lot of people.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. The people who participate in disability justice are some of the most vulnerable. One of the earliest things I worked on was the achievement gap between white students and students of color. I learned that when black boys do better, all students get better. When the most vulnerable are supported, everyone benefits.

Disability justice also affirms that all our bodies are unique, and all our bodies are essential. It welcomes people who haven’t been able to participate. It affirms that disabled bodies aren’t a detriment to the world. They’re an asset. The liberation of people with disabilities is crucial. The ADA and disability rights are also crucial, but DJ builds on that by transforming society to see people with disabilities as having inherent worth.

The movements I’ve been involved with – immigrant justice, anti-prison, environmental justice – some of the people most affected are people with disabilities, especially queer and trans people of color with disabilities. I see this as the last frontier in terms of my personal development.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I’m hoping we can begin to make some noise around disability justice. We’re already starting. The people in the group are movers and shakers.

I want to see disability justice raised in the same way gender has been raised recently. We’ve realized men aren’t the only folks who can lead. Queer and trans folks need to be welcomed and centered. We’re dealing with double standards around sexual harassment. I’m hoping we can do the same thing with disability. For instance, access check-ins should be normalized. Aspects of disability justice are useful for everyone, especially people doing this strenuous, stressful, emotionally difficult work.

I also want to see us develop political power at a local and statewide level. 

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. I know it sounds cheesy, but life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A lot of people don’t have these things. For many of us, life itself is difficult. I want to live in a time and place where everyone who lives here can pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I love those movies. When I was really sick in middle school, and I spent three months in a hospital up in Portland – which is part of the reason I became disabled – one of the things that got me through was Lord of the Rings. It still helps me feel better, when I’m sick or having a bad day. All things Tolkien, actually. *laughs* That’s my vision for the future of our region. Hobbiton.

Q&A with Disability Justice Visionary Myrlaviani Perez-Rivier

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Myrlaviani is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

photo portrait of Myrlaviani

What is your vision for the future of our region?

I envision Disabled People of Color winning political positions, influencing decisions, and deepening our overall capacity as a community.

What is most exciting to you about Disability Justice?

Disability Justice demands, by way of compassion and caring communities, systems change, institutional reform, and a new notion of private and public market performance defined, owned, operated, and valued by community members most impacted. Disability Justice is all about creativity and innovation. It’s invigorating and demanding. It means you have to show up and demonstrate radical self-love and compassion, which are founded on standards of quality caring and intimate connection. We account for the complex strata of universal access, intersectionality of race, disability, gender, and religion with the never-ending and always-loved question of “What am I missing here, right now? Do we have what we need?” We are the road builders and bridge architects we need. I feel we are ready for Us.

What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

My goals include organizing a group of leaders holding conversations within and across urban-rural communities to discover and cultivate participants committed to policy and program change and implementation. Addressing current power dynamics will enhance collaboration across systems by way of generating ideas and building alternative solutions. Our community has the solutions and, through strategic partnerships, we can help lead and build the results we need.

For instance, this looks like rural and urban Oregon building relational bridges and, through a willingness to learn, adapt, and innovate, realizing opportunities for one another while addressing public problems. One which comes to mind is food deserts. We need effective policies whereby our Disabled community can readily access high-quality, nutritious food. There are solutions, but we need courage and support. At the same time, nothing happens without supportive housing, and who says passive-designed homes cannot also be designed within the universal design criteria? High-quality housing designed around collective access means building a new type of community—a community where people actively support one another. This is the vision I have of our reNew Oregon™—one where we support one another and build a meaningful future together. When enough of us make this decision, then we will see employment rates rising, especially for Disabled “People of Color.”

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I am committed to becoming a better transformational leader: identifying, cultivating, and promoting leadership and leadership development in Disability communities. I am keen on improving the employment rates of individuals with disabilities and recognize this will require not only policy change but also changes in awareness and attitudes on the part of families, businesses, and civic leaders.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Disability foremost, and all else follows. I come from a multicultural background. I grew up dancing flamenco, listening to Tejano music, being friends with Latins from Central America to South America to Spain, marching with Chicano Agricultural Workers (Cesar Chavez), listening to my Mother’s stories of her ancestors and, on my Father’s side, learning about poverty and oppression, or how the Mexican-American wars impacted the trajectory of his family’s development. The cultural extremes from both families provided a rich and textured playground of possibilities from which my curiosity and drive still develop.

What leadership roles have you played?

I have participated in local advisory boards or commissions, as well as community engagement work across Disability lines, especially with “People of Color.” I also started a community restorative listening circle. I have been particularly enthusiastic in volunteering for positions that work towards criminal justice reform, racial justice, and disability justice, across government and community-based organizations.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

The book I’m enjoying the most right now compels me to wonder and enjoy breathing, reading, imagining impossibilities and living, again. It is Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Artists lead the way for social change and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is wonderfully and refreshingly uncompromising.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

When you love something or someone, including yourself, you make a stand, define your standards, live with integrity and a willingness to self-assess. With that in mind, I’m curious about what is important to my fellow Disabled community members. I want to know what satisfies and, equally, what leaves them with discontent within our current system. Further, what improvements are they willing to invest their talents, energy, and time in to create and operate? If you are interested in developing dialogue around these and other questions, please contact me through NWHF.

Building Latinx Youth Leadership on Oregon's North Coast

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative La Voz de la Comunidad.

A group of nine Latinx youth pose in front of a wooden bridge surrounded by trees and other greenery.

BYP100. Dreamers. The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Youth are leaders. And, they will continue to lead as they grow older. We need to prepare them for future leadership roles, from committees and boards to elected office and everything in between.

Oregon and Southwest Washington become more and more racially and ethnically diverse every day. Unfortunately, there are few culturally-specific youth leadership programs, particularly beyond the I-5 corridor. Youth of color don’t see themselves represented at most leadership programs, and, often, they opt out.

A decade ago, Cispus Learning Center staff member Vincent Perez noticed few Latinxs participated in youth leadership programs in Washington. So, he convinced the Association of Washington School Principals to develop a leadership camp specifically for Latinx youth. That camp was La Cima, a bilingual leadership camp for Latinx youth with the goal of building their skills and improving school climates. Last year, noticing a similar need in their region, Lower Columbia Hispanic Council started La Cima Lower Columbia on Oregon’s North Coast.

La Cima Lower Columbia welcomes Latinx high school students from Astoria High School, Seaside High School, Warrenton High School, Tillamook High School and Taft High School in Lincoln City. In 2017, 19 students spent three days together at Camp Kiwanilong. This April, 36 students spent four days together. Both years, participants wished the camp went on longer.

Participants and staff in the second La Cima Lower Columbia camp in 2018 pose together in rows. There are 48 people total.

At La Cima, everything is in English AND Spanish, and no one has to be proficient in both – campers or staff. Campers engage in hands-on activities, reflecting on experiences and issues, making goals for themselves, creating fun group presentations and solving problems together.    

“[La Cima] is a great camp,” said 2018 participant Alma Bolaños Hinojosa. “Not only will you make friends, but you feel the atmosphere of a family. When you least expect it, at the end of the day, you are already known as a leader.”

Six Latinx youth stand in a row, foot to foot, their legs spread wide. They're inside a wooden shelter with picnic tables.

This year, youth spent the last day of camp learning how to start clubs at their schools. That way, they’ll still have a little bit of La Cima with them throughout the year. So far, Astoria High School and Warrenton High School have both received funding for this purpose.

Lower Columbia Hispanic Council Executive Director Jorge Gutierrez wrote, “I have found this program to be unique, innovative and among the most rewarding and satisfying work I have been a part of as an executive director at LCHC.”

As the lead organization for La Voz de la Comunidad, one of Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities’ ten Community Collaboratives, LCHC is involved in a project to learn about leadership development programs across Oregon and Southwest Washington and create a resource bank of leadership development curriculum. La Cima Leadership Camp is an asset to our region, and will certainly help inform that resource bank.

Somali Families Need Somali Teachers

A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Immigrant and Refugee Engage Project.

Every family and community wants their children to succeed in school. Oregon’s Somali community is no different.

Three members of the Somali community sit on one side of a white tablecloth-covered table.

However, the Somali community faces some additional barriers to education in the United States. For one, there’s the language barrier. Even if a Somali student speaks English fluently, members of their family, including their parents, might not. That means it is challenging for parents to engage in their children’s school. (It’s been shown that parent involvement advances learning.) In addition, as Somali children lose their native language, it becomes harder and harder for them to communicate with older generations of their family and community.

There is also a cultural barrier to education for Somali families: most Somali Americans lived in refugee camps for years before they moved to the U.S., and the refugee camps did not have formal schools. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Somali children, youth and their families might have trouble understanding and navigating Oregon’s school system. As a result, many Somali students drop out.

Concerned Somali parents and community members met with Portland Public School District officials, hoping to solve these problems. At first, PPS offered money to the Somali community for afterschool problems. “Money is great,” said parent and community member Isgow Mohamed, “but that’s not the issue.” What they really needed was someone in the schools who spoke their language and understood their culture: a Somali teacher or administrator.

Thanks to the Somali community’s advocacy, PPS hired a Somali teacher to teach at Rosa Parks Elementary School, and occasionally visit other schools as well. And, they’re determined to place more Somali teachers in more schools across the district. That way, Somali children and youth will feel supported in the classroom. Parents will have someone they trust who they can bring questions to. Teachers will encourage students to speak Somali, as well as English. If all goes well, Somali students will thrive.

It is doubly difficult for immigrants and refugees from non-English speaking countries to advocate for themselves. They may not be comfortable speaking up for themselves in English. In addition, they may come from countries where civic and political engagement is discouraged, sometimes violently. The Immigrant and Refugee Engage Project, led by their Multiethnic Advisory Group, engages and supports immigrant and refugee community members to participate in storytelling and advocacy for systems change. Northwest Somali Community Organization is one of their core partners.

Q&A with Palestinian Rights Advocate and Basketball enthusiast Waddah Sofan

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Waddah is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Waddah sits in a wheelchair in front of picnic table and smiles.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. I am part of Palestinian/American, Muslim, Middle Eastern, people of color and disabled communities. I am a very diverse individual who is lucky to belong to all of the above communities.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I was highly involved as a student government leader at Portland State University and community leader, community organizer and disabled rights advocate. I've also been involved with the following agencies:

  • Advisory chair for Multicultural Student Center, Portland State University

  • Student government leader, Portland State University

  • Head of disability advocacy cultural association student group, Portland State University

  • Outreach coordinator for Arab Persian Student Organization

  • Board member for Center for Intercultural Organizing (now known as Unite Oregon)

  • Wheelchair youth basketball coach for Oregon Disability Sports

  • Co-founder of Palestinian Federation for Disabled for Sport

  • Member of national wheelchair basketball team

  • Co-founder of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, Portland State University

  • Member of Disability Power PDX, City of Portland

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I would like to improve my leadership skills to be able to serve the disabled community at large, to help create and change polices at the local and state level that impact disabled peoples' daily life. Also, I would like to share my experience and train disabled youth to become independent and take command of their lives.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. Advocating for disabled individuals around the globe is something that excites me about disability justice. Also, what excites me is that we, the oppressed people, are uniting and moving together as one to bring justice and equity to those who seek it.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I would like to be more familiar with policies and regulations that concern disability accessibility in our community, so I would be able to communicate them clearly to improve outcomes for people with disabilities.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. In my simple opinion, I would like to see the disability rights and disability justice movements continue to grow and more people claim their own uniqueness or identity as people with disabilities or as an oppressed people. I would like for everyone to live in peace and harmony, and for our community to be very welcoming and understanding of those they don’t have common interested with.

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. My favorite movie is The Green Mile. It is a great story about forgiveness, kindness and love. The story was very uplifting and draws you into it most of the time. It was about an innocent man who has very soft heart on death row for a crime he did not commit. The man has nothing but hope and love for all people he came in touch with. He healed peoples' hurts on his own expense when either used his miracle of healing. He even healed those who were selfish and put him to death. It is a story of giving and making good in life despite knowing you won’t live long enough to see the goodness that impacted others.

Q&A with Healthcare and Housing Advocate Nico Serra

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Nico is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Nico sits in their GRIT Freedom Chair in the middle of a street and smiles. Behind them people wear rainbow flag capes and a unicorn hoodie.

Q. What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

A. The transgender community and the queer community. The disability justice community. The Black community. The healthcare advocacy community.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of speaking at events and rallies, and to give testimony at hearings. I’m on the Board of Directors at Real Choice Initiative and Health Care for All Oregon, and I organize with several other groups focused on justice for vulnerable people.

I spend a lot of time advocating for myself and other folks with serious health concerns. Many have shared resources with me, and I enjoy passing that knowledge on to others. I’m mostly focused on housing and healthcare. I strongly believe that housing is healthcare, because no matter how good someone’s healthcare is or how good their nutrition is, if they don’t have housing it doesn’t matter.

The waitlist for accessible housing in the City of Portland is fifteen, eighteen years long. Folks are forced into nursing and group homes, where they control almost nothing about their lives. Recently, I heard a friend talking about how hard it is to be twenty years old and living in hospice care. They were trying to study for exams, but instead wound up hanging out with someone who was about to pass because that person’s family didn’t show up. People forced into these situations describe what sounds like imprisonment. They don’t get any privacy. They can’t choose what they want to eat or when to eat. They can’t come and go as they please. They don’t even get to choose when to bath or go to the bathroom. This and ending up on the street is everyone’s worst nightmare, and it's brought to you by your tax dollars. I’m doing my part and encouraging others to join in changing this problem.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I want to organize with other People with Disabilities and serious health concerns, transgender people and people of color to find or create sustainable, accessible and affordable housing and healthcare.

I also want to focus on employment for the mentioned populations. Due to capitalism, eugenics and imperialism, I think people with health issues, transgender and non-binary people, and people of color have a harder time getting and keeping jobs. I want to organize folks struggling to find work to become personal care assistants. Then we’ll have someone who doesn’t just tolerate or respect our culture, but who are actual members of the same cultures and communities.

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. What’s most exciting to me is that it affects everybody. I agree with something a friend and fellow organizer said: “I’m less interested in breaking through the next glass ceiling and more interested in raising the floor.” With disability justice, everybody does better.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I hope to have a more thorough understanding of where the disability justice movement came from and how I can continue the work. I’ve become disabled in my adult life, so I don’t have as deep of an understanding of it compared to folks that have had altered abilities since birth or childhood.

I’m excited about meeting more brown and Black people organizing around Disability Justice. These are all seriously resilient people who know how to survive almost impossible circumstances. These are people who get it and want to change the way things are, not just for us, but for elders and the people coming after us as well.

Q. What is your vision for the future of our region?

A. The system must undergo revolutionary reformation, because it’s not just a broken system, it’s a system that was built on the broken backs of brown and Black people and that continues to this day. 100 million indigenous people were killed when this land was colonized and 52 million people were killed in the TransAtlantic slave trade. Is it really any wonder why some people’s lives are more difficult than others? Being actively hunted in the streets and/or being thrown into institutions absolutely changes whether or not a person can reach self-actualization. I think We The People must throw capitalism out. In 2017, 82% of the wealth in the USA was in the hands of the top 1%. That means that the other 99% of us are expected to step on the throats of our loved ones and neighbors and fight over the leftover scraps. I, for one, am done with this dynamic, and I think many others are too.

I think unlearning the dangerous practice of consuming one thing or another to deal with big feelings is the place to start. Learning how to be in the center of our centers, in the eye of the storm, will help all of us emerge from our "trauma tunnels." From there, everyone learning how to think critically is a part of my vision. I think the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast are places where all this could actually change. I think there are enough people here who care and are actually doing real things to create these changes.

The way the Social Security Administration defines disability is all about functionality. If someone has an inability to hold down housing, that makes them functionally disabled, in my opinion. The folks stranded out on the street are on the front lines of a brutal class war, and We The People cannot wait for the State to solve this. We must create ways to meet our needs and the needs of those around us. If there is any place on this land where this could happen, it's Portland, the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast.

I envision everyone receiving holistic healthcare and being housed. Unfortunately, institutionalized oppression is real, and this crushes our bodies, minds and spirits. If we get locked out of healthcare and/or housing, it’s almost impossible to develop sustainable connections with those around you, get a job, and so many other things. When someone shows up and is deemed to have red flags – you’re a person of color, you don’t have insurance, you don’t have a place to live, you have depression, chronic pain, you’re trans, queer, you’ve been on opiates, you experience post-traumatic stress, etc. – unless you have a really good support network, advocates, and, in my case, help from my Congressional Representative, you get blown off and end up dead, on the streets or in prison. When I first sought treatment after being hit and dragged around a corner by a station wagon while riding my bicycle, I was blown off, yelled at, humiliated, among many other horrors. For example, it took three years to get a cast on my broken hand. So, it’s really important to me to pass Health Care for ALL Oregon and on the West Coast, while at the same time changing the way people think about healthcare. Many folks are taught to run to the doctor’s office for every piece of advice about how to take care of our bodies, but there’s so much people can do themselves just by changing what we put in our bodies and other daily habits.

Q. What is your favorite song, book or movie?

A. I’m really into this Beyonce song called “Freedom:” “Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move, freedom, cut me loose! Freedom! Freedom! Where are you? Cause I need freedom too! I break chains all by myself, won’t let my freedom rot in hell. Hey! Ima gonna keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

A. Please join me in this work at RealChoiceOregon.com and HCAO.org (Health Care for ALL Oregon). Let go of the next glass ceiling, raise the floor and build from the ground up.