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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Door Organizes Latino Parents in The Dalles

A story from Health & Education Fund Impact Partner The Next Door.

A family with two parents and two children runs through a park.

Every month since November 2018, Latino parents of children zero to eight-years-old gather in The Dalles to discuss health and education issues and develop their leadership skills. They’re brought together by Liliana Bello, a Community Health Worker at The Next Door. Liliana wants to hear about the barriers these parents face, meet their needs and help them become advocates for their children and families. 

Having been active in her community for the last fifteen years, Liliana knows how to meet Latino parents where they already are. She visited schools to recruit parents for this coalition. Twelve parents attended the first session. Through word of mouth, the coalition has grown to 17 participants. The Next Door gives parents $15 per meeting and provides child care with constructive activities, including art, games and walks around the building. These supports allow parents to attend consistently.

Community Health Worker Liliana Bello

Community Health Worker Liliana Bello

At the first coalition meeting, Liliana asked parents to voice their concerns about education and healthcare. A few of the concerns they listed: lack of communication between schools and parents, lack of bilingual staff at schools, discrimination against Hispanic children, unfair punishments, unhealthy cafeteria food, dangerous parking lots, bullying, uncertainty about how to help their children with mental illness, teachers’ ignorance of students with disabilities’ needs, healthcare providers’ discrimination against patients on the Oregon Health Plan and poor translation during healthcare visits.

Parents’ concerns guide the agenda for each coalition meeting. Liliana invites guests to speak on topics of interest. So far, guests have spoken about food and nutrition, child care provider requirements and parents’ rights, child development and Head Start, and how to spot and respond to child abuse. In June, parents will learn how to support children with depression.

One of the coalitions’ most fruitful visits was from North Wasco County School District’s superintendent and the director of their migrant education program. They listened to parents’ concerns about their children’s education and told parents who they can contact in specific situations. They also encouraged the parents to consider running for an open school board seat. Currently, no Latino or bilingual representatives serve on North Wasco County School District’s board, which means Latino students needs are not heard or represented. The director of the migrant education program later followed up with an invitation to a day-and-a-half long symposium and information about applying for a school board position. Fifteen people attended the symposium; nine of them were from The Next Door’s coalition!

One parent from the coalition already sits on a local board – the One Community Health board of directors. Thanks to the coalition’s encouragement, more parents have expressed interest in leadership positions, including on the school board, Head Start’s board of directors and policy council. The coalition participants feel supported by one another, often calling each other between meetings. They wish each meeting lasted longer, because they have so much to talk about.

Northwest Health Foundation looks forward to finding out what these parents do next!

Learn more about The Next Door.

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.

"We are all born (in)."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One woman speaking into a microphone, one woman signing.

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

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

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

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

Westside Community Garden of Roseburg Brings All Sorts Together

Planting day at westside community garden of roseburg.

Planting day at westside community garden of roseburg.

Westside Community Garden of Roseburg is a fantastic example of collaboration between organizations and community members. All kinds of people worked together to make this lot, located next to Roseburg United Methodist Church, a space for inclusion and growth.

UCC Nursing Group walking the Chartres labyrinth after weeding it.

UCC Nursing Group walking the Chartres labyrinth after weeding it.

Westside Community Garden provides "a communal and educational space for growing local, fresh and organic food while building a supportive community" in Roseburg, Oregon. So far, the space includes 16 foot by 16 foot garden plots, raised beds, three labyrinths, a butterfly garden, a bamboo garden, a mushroom garden and, soon, an accessible forest garden.

It would take a LONG time to list all of the organizations and people who have contributed to the Garden, so we'll limit ourselves to highlighting a few here: 

David Fricke, Executive director of Umpqua Valley disAbilities Network, sitting on the edge of one of the raised beds.

David Fricke, Executive director of Umpqua Valley disAbilities Network, sitting on the edge of one of the raised beds.

Umpqua Valley disAbilities Network plays a key role in ensuring the Garden is accessible to people with disabilities. They were responsible for creating raised beds so that people who can't crouch or bend over to reach the ground can still garden. They've worked hard to make other parts of the garden accessible, too.

accessible wooden walkway in progress.

accessible wooden walkway in progress.

An Eagle Scout project contributed an accessible plank walkway with wheelchair ramps.

Meals on Wheels of Roseburg and others take advantage of the produce grown in the garden, distributing it to hungry residents in need of healthy food.

We could go on and on. In short, Westside Community Garden is an amazing collaborative effort contributing to the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of Roseburg's community members.

Northwest Health Foundation supported Westside Community Garden of Roseburg through a Learning Together, Connecting Communities grant to Umpqua Valley disAbilities Network in 2014.

"It's not what's wrong with people, but rather what happens to them."

Healthy Living Collaborative's first group of graduating Community Health Workers. Matti is the one in the red sweater.

Healthy Living Collaborative's first group of graduating Community Health Workers. Matti is the one in the red sweater.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) of the Healthy Living Collaborative of Southwest Washington (HLC) come from the communities they work in. A combination of health training and community understanding make HLC's CHWs ideal connectors for community members and health systems. They have the knowledge and resources people need, as well as the trust of the people they are working with.

Matti Neal is one of those Community Health Workers. She graduated from HLC's first round of CHW training, and she was one of only 25 CHWs in Washington state selected to participate in Healthy Generations' NEAR Expert Presenter and Coach Education cohort.

NEAR is the study of the intersection between neuroscience, epigenetics, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and resilience, or, as Matti explained, "It's not what's wrong with people, but rather what happens to them." 

Here's what Matti learned at the training:

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences are a major determinant of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, mental challenges, drug abuse, chronic disease and success in education.
  • The first step toward healing comes with awareness, education and understanding of the problem, which often requires a change in thinking.
  • The dynamics that lead to high ACEs scores can improve with the support of community resources, trusted relationships, thriving communities, respect, faith and culture.
  • And community organizing and policy advocacy can lead to improved health for an entire community.

Matti's greatest takeaway? Everyone can make a difference in someone's life, or even in the health of a whole neighborhood. Anyone can make a positive impact on community health and help to change policies. In addition, Matti's understanding of ACEs has led her to become more compassionate. She makes an effort to learn a person's story before jumping to conclusions. 

The NEAR training has inspired Matti to pursue further education in the area of mental illness, addiction and recovery counseling. It has also led HLC's CHWs to plan community education and events incorporating many of the learnings that Matti brought back to the community.

Improving Health for Iraqi Refugees

When calculating the costs of war, we often neglect the health and economic costs of traumatized immigrants coming to the U.S. as refugees from violent, and prolonged, conflicts in places such as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Despite being tens of thousands of miles from the war zone, Oregon’s Iraqi population is still struggling with the resonating consequences of violence and displacement. Many who sought refuge and asylum in the United States from the first Iraq war continue to deal with lingering trauma - more than twenty years after immigration.

Research shows that refugees from wars and civil conflicts are particularly vulnerable to ill health. The Iraqi Society of Oregon (ISO) is dedicated to helping immigrants deal with the trauma they experienced in their home country, the culture shock of adapting to new lifestyles and systems, and economic and social isolation they still experience today. These challenges have been identified as “triple factors” of trauma that make so many immigrants vulnerable to ill health.

In December 2011, the Iraqi Society of Oregon received a $50,000 capacity-building grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund to gain social, psychological, and medical support for Iraqi immigrants. “This project will work on researching, educating, and healing the immigrants and refugees so they gain life skills for a positive health attitude and create a change to seek a healthy lifestyle,” said Baher Butti, executive director.

“Many traumas take place, and most are not dealt with properly.”

Even after 20 years, the Iraqi population of Oregon still experiences high levels of poverty, poor health, and isolation, much of it a result of the different phases of loss that they went through in the refugee process. “The local Iraqi community lives in isolation,” Butti says.  “Most arrived as early as the 1990s, after the first Gulf War.”

Baher Butti was a practicing psychiatrist in Iraq until he fled from the most recent war in 2006. He was exiled in Jordan when Dr. David Kinzie, a professor of psychiatry at OHSU, invited him to a world conference to speak about the psychological trauma. Dr. Kinzie ultimately helped him find asylum in the U.S.

Through the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund, the Iraqi Society, the Center for Intercultural Organization, and the Beaverton Mayor’s Office are now working collaboratively to respond to the Iraqi population’s needs by coordinating culturally-specific services, mental health, city government, and schools. This solution moves Iraqi immigrant “upstream” by bringing together social and economic integration with a holistic mental health approach.

“Health inequities are reflected in unjust distribution of resources, power, and opportunities that lead to poor health outcomes for the refugees and immigrants,” said Butti, “However, this project is solution oriented, and aims to achieve multicultural health equity through community members, community organization, and policy and system change.”

“There is an honest desire from the larger community to reach out to new communities, especially refugees and immigrants.”

While the wider community will now have the opportunity to connect with the Iraqi community, Butti says the newcomers have a responsibility too.

“Inclusiveness is a mutual process where people provide support and embrace the newcomers to facilitate their healing,” said Butti, adding, “and the new comers will contribute with their values, and productivity, and even historical background to the new community.”

Healing Decades of Trauma Through Oral History

Three Cambodian women sit on a couch in front of a cameraman.

During the mid-1970’s, the radical Cambodian Khmer Rouge killed nearly one-fourth of the entire Cambodian population through executions, torture, starvation, disease and exhaustion. The regime sought a nation completely exempt from Western influences such as education, religion, and city life. As a result, 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives.

Many Cambodians escaped the war, and settled in Oregon and Southwest Washington in the early 1980s as refugees. Even after thirty years, many Cambodians are still traumatized from their experiences, and are still unable to speak about them. As Cal State Long Beach sociology professor Leakhena Nou pointed out in Street Roots Magazine, the long term stress of this trauma can linger for decades, manifesting in diabetes, stroke, drug addiction, alcoholism, and family violence. “When you cut yourself deeply, a scar remains. That’s how I see the state of mind for the Cambodians.”

By 2010, there were as many as 10,000 Cambodian-Americans living in Oregon and southwest Washington.

Funded in part by a $50,000 Kaiser Permanente Community Fund grant, the Cambodian American Community of Oregon (CACO), began a unique and creative project to help Cambodian-Americans begin to heal.

The Cambodian Oral History Project had young Cambodian-Americans interview their parents and grandparents about their lives, without shying away from the brutal and repressive years under the Khmer Rouge. Eventually the interviews would be compiled into a 35-minute documentary film, and screened for public viewing encouraging community members to speak out in order to heal.

“By having the youth understand their parents and grandparents history, they will hopefully appreciate the freedom and liberty they have; and take the opportunity to educate others about the effects of genocide,” said co-director of the project, Mardine Mao, “Similar to the Holocaust survivors, Cambodian-Americans have a culture of silence when it comes to sharing their story of the genocide.”

20 adults and 19 youth, age ranging from 13-75, volunteered to participate in the interviews. Interviewers were given formal training with a two-session oral history workshop. Interviews and recording were spread out over a two month period.

Many of the youth felt that the interview process brought them closer to their elders than before speaking about the traumatic experiences in Cambodia.

“I already think of my mother as wonder woman and my hero, but with this project it just makes me think even more of her, if that was even possible,” said Kimberly Im, who interviewed her mother with her sister as part of the project, “Learning about her struggles and her life story makes me put things into perspective.”

"She feared for her life, her family’s life. She had no food to eat, no safety, nothing. The experience robbed her and her other commmunity members of that. She lost her childhood and the innocence that I got to have freely and without struggles,” said Im.

The documentary has had viewings in over 15 venues, including high schools, universities, nonprofit and community-based organizations. CACO hopes to pursue a screening on public television.

“Being a part of this project opened my eyes. It made me more compassionate and aware. I am closer to my mother after this,” said Im.