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!

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.

"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.

Highlands Neighborhood Association Hosts Awesome Advocacy Training

Several participants stand in a circle around blue tape and pieces of paper laid out on the floor.

Highlands Neighborhood Association partnered with Habitat for Humanity to host a two-day Participatory Leadership & Advocacy Training at the Washington state capitol in June.

Representatives from 20 organizations attended, including a few of our Southwest Washington partners. Experts coached participants on the importance of community leadership and inclusion, and shared how to plan well-organized strategies and approach legislators for effective policy change. 

All we can say is, WOW! Props to Highlands Neighborhood Association. We love it when our community partners find ways to share skills with other organizations in their region. And we love it even more when they are building power for advocacy, leadership, organizing and policy change! This is how we will achieve better health for everyone in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Highlands Neighborhood Association is the lead organization for Highlands Grows and Shares, an Organizing Grant Community funded by our Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Initiative.

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.”