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.
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.
A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Eastern Oregon Latino Alliance for Children and Families.
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.
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.
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.
Portland's Cully neighborhood is rich with racial and ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, the neighborhood itself is resource-poor. It has much less parkland, low access to transportation and few sidewalks compared to other parts of Portland. It also has an abundance of brownfields – contaminated, post-industrial land.
In 2002, Portland Parks Bureau bought one of those brownfields – a 25-acre landfill – with the intent of turning it into a park. After years of open houses and design meetings, the Portland City Council finally agreed on a master plan, featuring sports fields, walking trails and an estimated price tag of up to $18 million. Although the plans were approved, funding was not.
That's when the Cully community took over. Living Cully, a collaboration made up of nonprofit partners Verde, Native American Youth and Family Center, Hacienda Community Development Corporation and Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro/East, led the community to seek funding and transform the former landfill into a welcoming and useful public space.
In 2010, a $150,000 Northwest Health Foundation/Convergence Partnership grant enabled Living Cully to develop the very first stages of Thomas Cully Park. Now, six years later, Living Cully has raised over $9.5 million, and only needs to raise $1 million more to meet the project's $10.6 million budget (down from the $18 million estimated by the City Council in 2002). Most recently, on Portland Parks Foundation's 15th Anniversary, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced a $3 million allocation from the City.
Not only has Living Cully raised millions of dollars for the park. Since development began in 2012, Scott School students worked with an architect to design a community garden; Verde restored a section of the land too steep for park features to create a mixed deciduous-riparian habitat; Verde Nursery began growing plants in a 10,000 square foot staging area for distribution throughout the park; a group of Native and non-Native community members created an Inter-Tribal Gathering Garden; Cully neighborhood schools and students helped design a play area meeting the needs of young people in the neighborhood and youth with disabilities; and Living Cully transformed NE 72nd Avenue into a Greenstreet.
Thomas Cully Park is truly by and for the people, and we can't wait to see future transformations of the space!
This is an update on a past Partner Spotlight written a few years ago. Check out the original Partner Spotlight.
This blog is the fourth in a series of posts written with staff and students at Oregon Active Schools elementary schools. Oregon Active Schools supports programs that inspire a lifelong love of physical activity and its many benefits for every child in Oregon through opportunities to be active before, during and after school.
[Image description: Five kids play on a playground carousel. One girl leans back over the edge, her braid flying. One sits and dangles her legs over the side.]
HERE'S WHAT AIKEN ELEMENTARY STAFF HAD TO SAY ABOUT OREGON ACTIVE SCHOOLS:
Q. How did your school use its Oregon Active Schools grant?
A. In 2014, Aiken Elementary applied for the $3,000 grant to construct a walking trail, but after calculating the cost we realized the expenses for the trail significantly outweighed the aid provided by the grant. Northwest Health Foundation allowed the school to repurpose the grant to help fund the building of a new playground. This funding allowed the Aiken PTO, Oregon Active Schools and Ontario School District to partner to add three new playground structures to the Aiken campus. The ribbon cutting event was well-attended and a healthy “create your own” snack-mix station was provided by OSU Extension staff.
In 2015, Aiken Elementary applied for an additional $3,000 grant to fund a walking program at the school. Aiken partnered with OSU Extension staff Barbara Brody and Jill Hoshaw to outline a plan to increase the amount of physical activity opportunities students receive in the school day. Included in this project will be a spring kick-off assembly, jog-a-thon, walking club, and recognition of students who are making health conscious choices when it comes to exercise and nutrition.
Q. What sort of changes have you seen in your school related to physical activity?
A. Through the additional funding and a partnership with OSU Extension, students are given far more opportunities to get out of their desks, learn healthy life skills, and move. The new playground equipment has been very popular with students and it is the busiest place on the playground. If you drive by Aiken Elementary on evenings or weekends you can see students and other community members enjoying use of these new installations.
This year, OSU staff trained teachers at Aiken to implement the use of Balanced Energy Physical Activity Toolkits. Through the use of this resource from October to December, students have increased their physical activity by 2,298 minutes, or over 38 hours. Since obtaining grant funding, Aiken has made physical education and nutrition a focus of family and community events.
Q. Why do you believe physical activity in schools is important?
A. Physical activity in schools is important because we are teaching children skills to be successful in life. Health plays a major part in overall success. We know from data gathered that students who receive adequate physical activity opportunities have better behavior and academic performance. We want to provide students with the best education possible, and providing them physical education plays a crucial role.
HERE'S WHAT AIKEN ELEMENTARY STUDENTS HAD TO SAY ABOUT OREGON ACTIVE SCHOOLS:
Q. How has recess changed since Oregon Active Schools started at your school?
Alina, 3rd grade: “We get to play more fun things in PE. We had a contest on how many bean bags each person could throw into a bucket. The spinny thing is my favorite part of the new playground. I sometimes come play at Aiken on the weekends.”
J.J., 3rd grade: “We get to play more activities in PE. The slide is my favorite thing on the playground. I like to play indoor soccer.”
Q. What is your favorite part about recess or PE?
Will, 1st grade: “My favorite part of PE is when we start to play with bean bags and buckets. We go in groups and then we start to play. We go run to the other buckets and try to put the bean bags in the other buckets. We try to empty our bucket and fill someone else’s bucket. My favorite game is soccer when I get to practice and play games.”
Q. Why do you think physicial activity in schools is important?
Brooke, 5th grade: “It’s important because every kid needs exercise. Playing outside makes me happy. Fresh air is good for kids. It helps my mind focus. It’s free to play at school, but for city sports you have to pay money.”
Aiken Elementary is one of Ontario School District's five elementary schools.
A story from Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative APANO Voter Organizing, Training & Empowerment (VOTE) Network.
January 2016 - on one of the first Saturday’s of the new year, a nondescript corner office building on 82nd Ave in Southeast Portland was filled with activity and livelihood. Walking or driving along 82nd Ave, one does not easily notice the brick and mortar building where the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is based. It’s tucked away inside the Wing Ming Plaza, across from Wing Ming Herbs and above Yan Zi Lou Chinese restaurant. The space begins to fill as community leaders from Eugene, Salem, Beaverton, Corvallis and neighborhoods around Portland gather around a U-shaped table for the APANO’s VOTE Network meeting. It's not often that Asian and Pacific Islander (API) leaders and organizations come together in this fashion to discuss how our communities are going to become more civically involved, not only in this critical election year, but for a longterm movement.
[Image description: Several adults sit around a circle of tables. A tablecloth reads "APANO." Red lanterns hang from the ceiling. There are banners, flags, signs, etc. with Chinese characters along the back wall.]
On this day, 16 leaders from 13 different organizations shared their thoughts and ideas. From the long established Chinese American Citizen’s Alliance (CACA) that is one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations, to the Micronesian Islander Community (MIC) that was founded to serve the needs of Oregon’s Micronesians, these groups have a common vision: to promote justice and civil rights and raise the visibility of APIs in Oregon. Our state’s 250,000 individuals who identify as API share a common fate. Our communities have made rich contributions to the economy, business, labor, culture and the fabric of this state. However, our accomplishments have not been met without hardship, discrimination, exclusion and imprisonment. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Japanese internment camps during World War 2, to present day examples where anti-immigrant sentiments and values live on, we continue to fight for justice and recognition. On that Saturday morning, we talked about our rich and powerful histories, but also real barriers to our participation due to language, cultural barriers and restrictions. Leaders discussed the importance of civic engagement and the value it brings to our communities.
[Image description: A large group of adults pose in front of a display of flags, red lanterns, banners with Chinese characters, a framed illustration of a man with a long white beard.]
The VOTE Network, which stands for Voter Organizing, Training and Empowerment, is newly formed in 2016, with thanks to Northwest Health Foundation’s Healthy Beginnings + Healthy Communities Initiative. The Network brings leaders from diverse Asian American, immigrant and Pacific Islander communities to increase participation in civic engagement and help build the capacity of organizations. APANO’s civic engagement program recognizes that voting builds awareness about our communities concerns and their power to make positive changes. Meaningful civic engagement means making voting relevant by supporting voter registration, voter education and Get Out The Vote in ways that connect the issues to the concerns in our communities. APANO does this by creating spaces to dialogue with candidates in selected races, by analyzing and endorsing priority ballot measures we believe have the biggest impact on Asian and Pacific Islanders, and building the power of our communities to impact political decisions through voter education and turnout.
Our growing list of VOTE Network Organizations:
Chinese American Citizen’s Alliance
Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associations
Philippine American Chamber of Commerce
Japanese American Citizen’s Alliance
Korean American Community of Oregon
Micronesian Islander Community
COFA Alliance National Network
Portland Lee’s Association
Zomi Association US
DisOrient Asian American Film Festival of Oregon
Asian Council of Springfield and Eugene
Oregon Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs
Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce
Oregon Minority Lawyers Association
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:
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.
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.
According to a survey commissioned by Be Your Best Cottage Grove (a cross-sector coalition of community partners), residents of Cottage Grove, OR see drug and alcohol addictions as one of their greatest obstacles to becoming a healthy, vibrant community. Recently, this small, rural city in Lane County took steps to surmount that obstacle.
On November 9, 2015, the Cottage Grove City Council voted to ban smoking in parks. This ban includes not only paper cigarettes, but e-cigarettes and other inhalant deliver systems. By passing this law, Cottage Grove hopes to help people quit smoking and prevent kids from starting smoking by creating supportive, smoke-free environments and changing social norms.
Be Your Best used several different tactics to help get this law passed. They sent a letter of support for policies that prevent kids from becoming addicted to nicotine to the Cottage Grove City Council. Be Your Best members reached out to City Councilors directly to express support, and to community members to educate them about the policy and ask them to reach out to the City Council, too. They also testified at the City Council meeting.
Be Your Best Cottage Grove uses a collective impact approach to improve community health. Be Your Best partners include: United Way of Lane County, South Lane School District, PeaceHealth, Lane County Public Health, South Lane Mental Health, The Child Center, Family Relief Nursery, Sustainable Cottage Grove, Looking Glass Community Services, Parent Partnership and other businesses, civic partners and faith-based organizations.
By surveying and reaching out to community members, Be Your Best makes sure that the work they are doing reflects the community's wants and needs. By participating in policy advocacy, Be Your Best increases chances that change will be made in a broader and more-permanent way.
Be Your Best Cottage Grove is a Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Organizing Grant partner.
On the evenings of August 15th and 22nd, nearly 20,000 people converged on SE 82nd and Division, the center of Portland's Jade District, for the Second Annual International Jade Night Market.
Many local businesses set up booths where visitors could buy various wares and delicious multicultural foods. There were also two stages with music and performances, many fair-style games and a beer garden serving Portland Brewing's Night Market Special Lager.
Visitors could also wander into the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space (JAMS)--a community space for neighborhood events, activities and meetings, which has taken up residence inside an old discount furniture store. Recently, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) used JAMS to host the Vision Zero kick off event. (The Vision Zero Task Force aims to improve traffic safety for Portland neighborhoods.) This Fall, JAMS will host Our Families, Our Homes, a film series about gentrification and displacement. And many more events are sure to come!
These events are all part of the effort to energize the Jade District around common goals. The Jade District seeks to unite the community around vibrant culture and commerce, making the Jade District a "must-see destination" for visitors, as well as a better environment for its multicultural residents. So far it seems to be working pretty well!
(Even better, the Jade District's Steering Committee is entirely made up of community members who live, work and/or own property in the Jade District!)
We will show up for equity, Metro and Momentum Alliance! Thanks for asking, and thank you for including voices that represent the diversity in our region.
A short history: Momentum Alliance started with a video--a documentary actually--called "Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth." The founders of Momentum Alliance were members of the youth crew that helped produce and distribute "Papers" nationally. Since their founding, Momentum Alliance remains committed to being youth-led and youth serving. Their board is two-thirds youth (under 25).
Momentum Alliance was founded with a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund at NWHF. They are also a Lead Organization for one of our Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Organizing Grant communities.
This story has already received a ton of news coverage, but we think it deserves even more! One NE Portland neighborhood has succeeded in buying a former strip club, and everyone is pitching in to transform it into a community-friendly space.
After more than a dozen years of operating across the street from two community centers, a pediatric health clinic, school bus stops and affordable housing, the "Sugar Shack Strip Club" posted a For Sale sign last summer. Cully neighborhood nonprofits quickly organized to raise money to purchase the building.
Verde, Hacienda Community Development Corporation (Hacienda CDC), Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) and Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East combined forces to fundraise. Multiple foundations awarded grants; Craft3 extended a $2.3 million loan; and Portland Development Commission contributed a $250,000 loan. In addition, 528 individual funders donated a total of $54,094 through an Indiegogo campaign.
The sale closed this summer, and volunteers immediately started to clean up the property, doing everything from picking up trash to weeding to painting a mural! A celebration is planned for August 4th from 4-8pm. There will be food, music, arts and crafts, and community members will be invited to share their vision for the future of the neighborhood.
This is the miraculous kind of thing that can happen when communities organize!
Verde, Hacienda CDC, NAYA and Craft3 are all Kaiser Permanente Community Fund funded partners. NAYA is also funded by our Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Initiative and Learning Together, Connecting Communities.
The Highlands neighborhood in Longview, Washington has, for decades, gone without many of the advantages enjoyed by other communities – a strong retail district, an adequate park, thriving social service organizations, etc. It’s also one of the poorest districts in the state and has some of the highest rates of unemployment, drug use, and debilitating medical conditions such as lung cancer and diabetes to be found anywhere.
Clearly, the people who live there deserve better.
In 2006, the Longview City Council made revitalization of the Highlands a top priority, and in 2008 the City of Longview adopted the Highlands Neighborhood revitalization Plan. Soon afterward, the city and the newly formed Highlands Neighborhood Association applied for a Kaiser Permanente Community Fund (KPCF) grant to employ a community member to improve connections among the people in the Highlands.
As one City employee said in requesting the KPCF funds, “to make a difference in the Highlands, change needs to come from within the neighborhood.”
The grant request was funded, and after some searching, they finally found the right person for the job.
Meet Elizabeth Haeck, Longview’s “Community Coach.”
Most people in the Highlands already knew Liz. She volunteered everywhere from the Homeless Outreach programs to the Juvenile Detention Center, so she met a lot of the 4,900 residents who live in the neighborhood.
What she envisions, she told the Longview Daily News is a “‘front porch society,’ where neighbors know each other and help each other as needed.”
To do this, she brought people together, mostly through the newly formed Highlands Community Center.
Now the Highlands has a thriving community garden. And a new walking and biking trail is under construction.
The community center is full of programs, such as:
- Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops
- Foster family support groups
- Teen outreach programs
- Roundtable conversations about health
- Medical screenings
- A community library
- Volunteer clean-up groups
“All it took was an opportunity,” she says.
Everyone agrees that the community coach grant has been a success. Despite that, Liz works outside the coaching job to find other partners and ensure that the progress continues long into the future.
“It’s now so much more than the coach work,” she says. “The city continues to be involved, and other foundations have become interested. Parks and Rec has completed a planning process for remodeling the outdated Archie Anderson Park. There are many improvement projects that have been identified that would benefit residents of the Highlands.”
“It’s not one big thing that will make a difference.” she points out. “It’s a network of activities.”
When asked about the health impact of all this work, her response is immediate.
One influence of her work is that people in the community are beginning to know and communicate with each other. “For so many people, the norm was to be afraid of your neighbors and isolate yourself,” she says. “This is terrible for health outcomes.”
“Social connections are very important but so is educating people about where to access services. When money is scarce, it’s hard to know where to begin to find the social services you’re entitled to. The community center has helped people with that.”
Now, a local family health services program comes to the community center and provides information for people, instead of waiting for people to come in on their own. “Riding a bus to these places can take half of a day, so when services come to the community center, it makes a world of difference,” she says.
This has carried through to even the police department, which has worked with the community center. As a result, she says, “people are beginning to see the police as their friend – not their enemy.”
She adds that the recent National Night Out also went a long way in helping build more social trust and community cohesion.
Despite the outstanding success that the community coach role has achieved, there’s much more work to be done. The Highlands Neighborhood Association remains critical to future success, and its sustainability will be essential to keeping the positive momentum that is currently underway.
Attendance for Neighborhood Association-sponsored programs must increase, and new funding partners will have to be added in order to ensure financial stability.
“It’s still fragile. We still haven’t built a solid foundation for the people to thrive, and that’s what we’re after,” she says, adding, “I’ve completely fallen in love with the people of the Highlands.”
“Many struggle and none of them deserve to.”
Thanks to photographer Hakan Axelsson for his portraits of some of the residents of the Highlands neighborhood. More photographs can be found here.
Appendix: 2010 Census Statistics for the Highlands Neighborhood of Longview, (Cowlitz County) Washington:
- Population: 4,858
- Housing Units: 1,778
- % City Population: 13%
- % Youth under age 18: 33% (City’s highest)
- % Elderly Persons: 6% (City’s lowest)
- % Latino Population: 21% (City’s highest - up from 12.7% in 2000) (City’s highest)
- % Family Households w/ children: 47% (City’s highest)
- % Single Parent Households: 24% (City’s highest)
- Poverty Rate: 44% (City’s highest)
- Median Household Income $24,000 (City’s lowest)
- % Public Assistance: 20% (City’s highest)
- Unemployment Rate: 18% (City’s highest)
- 25+ years old without h.s. diploma: 36.60% (City’s highest)
- 25+ years old with Bachelors: 3% (City’s lowest)
When the sun is out, the children of Portland’s Cully neighborhood transform parking lots into soccer fields. The neighborhood, which shines with cultural flare and ethnic diversity, still has concentrated poverty, and an overall lack of access to nature. In fact, Cully, in outer Northeast Portland, has the lowest income per capita in the City. Many of the streets are without sidewalks and streetlights, and many more aren’t even paved.
While the regional average for residents per acre of public land is about 780 Cully has over 2,780 per acre of public land. Most people in Cully agree that they need – and deserve – a park in their neighborhood.
“The story I keep hearing from parents and kids is that that they don’t have a safe place to play. Soccer balls fly right into Killingsworth St.,” said Tony DeFalco, project coordinator for “Let Us Build Cully Park!”
“We have heard very clearly,” he says, “‘I want a place to play soccer and I shouldn’t have to walk on streets that are dangerous to get there.’”
Responding to the community’s need, Portland Parks Bureau purchased a 25 acre landfill in the Cully neighborhood in 2002 with the intention of turning it into a park. After years of open houses and design meetings, the City Council finally agreed on a master plan, featuring sports fields, walking trails and an estimated price tag of up to $18 million. Although the plans were approved, funding was not.
In 2010, a $150,000 Northwest Health Foundation / Convergence Partnership grant enabled Verde to develop the first stages of transforming the landfill into a flourishing community space called Thomas Cully Park. Verde works to build environmental wealth through social enterprise, outreach and advocacy.
“This funding builds on existing enthusiasm and transforms it from public will to the actual construction of the park,” said Defalco. “We will develop the ability to design and build the park, and have that be our community asset to transform the needs we have around health, and a place to gather as a community.”
The development of Cully Park’s master plan has been a collaborative effort between community members and a coalition of local groups. The planning committee has involved the community in all aspects of the development and construction, through surveys and other methods of engagement.
Seventeen organizations are currently part of the planning coalition, including Hacienda CDC, Native American Youth and Family Center, Rigler and Scott Schools, Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oregon Health Authority.
“We want to bring the community voice into all the design elements,” DeFalco says. “We want to draw from the community to find workers, to educate young people about the technologies that going into building a park, and to train people in the kinds of environmental technologies we’re going to have in this park.”
Phase One will include a community garden, walking trails, restoration of the north slope of the park to make it habitable for wildlife, a native plant gathering area, an off-leash dog area, a nature play area, a youth soccer field and basketball court, and a 40 car parking area.
“This is all a part of a larger Cully Ecodistrict called Living Cully,” Defalco says. The idea is to bring environmental investments to the neighborhood and build environmental wealth.”
“This is a replicable model for how to engage a community so the community is in charge,” he says.
The first phases of the park are scheduled to begin in 2012, with subsequent activities occurring in 2013. To follow the progress of the park, visit the “Let Us Build Cully Park!” website.