This week the PCEF coalition released an Executive Summary and full in-depth campaign report that details the coalition’s experiences of building trust within communities of color and with white-majority organizations; securing endorsements with unusual allies; and implementing innovative campaign strategies.
Although front-line communities led the initiative’s creation, it took strong relationships with mainstream environmental and labor organizations to create a successful campaign. These bonds will be critical in achieving the city of Portland and Multnomah County’s 2017 commitment to transition all energy sectors to 100% clean energy. It will take the unique knowledge and lived experiences of each group to ensure these funds result in projects in communities most impacted by climate change while ensuring that people of color can fully participate in the emerging green economy.
As grantmakers, we at Meyer are reflecting on what role our funding might have played in the success of this effort. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) issued a challenge to foundations to target grant dollars to address the needs of underserved communities and empower them by funding advocacy, organizing and civic engagement. Meyer joined NCRP in 2011 and began supporting communities of color in their efforts to build capacity and expand collaborative power to develop their own policy solutions.
What we’ve learned is that our support can’t stop at the policy win. Meyer has funded multiple projects since 2018 so that the coalition can continue playing a key role in the implementation of the ballot measure as it is established by the city of Portland. Without strong participation by the groups that designed the policy concept, the community values and priorities that have driven this effort are at risk of being de-emphasized or lost altogether.
The grants that Meyer has awarded since the PCEF ballot measure passed include:
$143,750 to Verde for the coalition to support early program design work by the nonprofit organizations that led the effort to establish it.
$100,000 to the Coalition of Communities of Color to pay for a dedicated staff position to organize and support partner organizations to continue playing a strong role in supporting the implementation of PCEF.
$27,000 to Resource Media to develop a communications strategy and tools to share the success of PCEF with other organizations working for a healthy environment
The bottom line is that front-line coalition-led efforts require ongoing, long-term support to ensure that the implementation of their initiatives truly leads to stronger, more resilient communities that will experience the worst of our planet’s climate crisis. You can learn more about PCEF’s efforts in my previous interview with Alan Hipólito.
I look forward to following up in another blog as the coalition's efforts prosper.
Climate justice: Front-line communities are transforming the environmental movement
It seems like not a day goes by without new information emerging about the state of our changing planet.
Reports and data, such as the evidence presented by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), continually show how increases in pollution and carbon emissions are warming our climate, causing sea level rise and affecting the earth’s water supply. Although the science is sound, arguments over climate change divide our nation and fracture relationships in the communities that call this state home.
As we look toward a flourishing and equitable future for Oregon, we’ve begun to ask ourselves who is by our side and who is missing? Where both trust and relationships are most strong? And recently, how have or haven’t we addressed mistrust?
At Meyer we use the phrase “centering front-line communities,” which is a blanket term to refer to neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of climate change because they lack things like shade, air conditioning, access to parks, nature and clean air.
In reality, these words have much more meaning.
Last summer, Momentum Fellow Denise Luk sat down with Alan Hipólito, who represents Verde — a nonprofit organization that works to secure social and economic benefits for low-income people and people of color through social enterprise, outreach and advocacy — to discuss the creation and passage of the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) and why front-line community leadership was key to building the relationships needed for success.
Below is an abridged transcript of their conversation edited for clarity.
Denise: Who developed the Portland Clean Energy Fund? Where did the idea come from?
Alan Hipólito: It started with a conversation between Jo Ann Hardesty, a civil rights, social justice advocate who was then the director of the Portland NAACP (and is a now Portland City Commissioner) and Brent Foster, an attorney and environmental advocate.
In the summer of 2016, front-line communities were already doing a lot of work together on climate policy issues, whether that was Oregon’s cap and invest proposal, The city of Portland and Multnomah County’s 100 percent renewables, or just building capacity within front-line communities around climate change issues, for example the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Verde and the Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC). The NAACP reached out to say, “Hey, do you want to come and sit and talk with us and a couple of environmental organizations, mostly 350PDX, to talk about this idea (the Portland Clean Energy Fund)?”
Denise: How did this group expand?
Alan Hipólito: Jo Ann and Lenny Dee from 350PDX, a longtime Portland activist and organizer, were out talking to different organizations, environmental, small business, social justice, environmental justice and the trade unions about the concept of PCEF, seeking endorsement or a willingness to work on the campaign. Simultaneously, those of us at Verde, APANO, NAYA and the Coalition of Communities of Color began doing our own outreach into the front-line communities.
That whole year, summer 2016 to summer 2017, was really about building relationships and trust across the core organizations — NAACP, Verde, APANO, CCC, 350PDX, Sierra Club — so that we could ultimately build a kind of collaboration and relationship that was necessary to be successful.
A key watershed moment was in the summer of 2017. We had a two-day planning retreat for the front-line community organizations, where we learned about ballot measures and what it would take to run a campaign. We set some common values about how we wanted to work together and most importantly the agreement that front-line communities were going to lead the effort. After that, things started to really pick up speed.
Denise: At what point did more mainstream environmental groups get involved?
Alan Hipólito: Portland Audubon’s entry into the coalition was really important. They’re a well-respected, long-standing environmental stakeholder, have a strong membership base and influence with local policy makers and other environmental organizations.
When they came to our meeting, they said, “We want to be involved: first, because we like the initiative; and second, (and even more importantly), we want to support the movement that you’re building.” They’ve been in many campaigns where it’s solely about getting 50.1% of the vote and therefore don’t include front-line communities. They saw PCEF as a chance to change the status quo of campaigns. “Win or lose, we want to help grow a more inclusive, front-line community-centered environmental movement.” While they wanted to contribute their experience to the decision-making and bring our resources to the table, they did not need to be in charge. “We’re ready to support the leadership of front-line communities in this campaign.”
That was a really big moment.
Denise: Since this effort, have there been other types of environmental ballot initiatives led by front-line communities — in partnership with mainstream environmental groups — in other places?
Alan Hipólito: Obviously, front-line communities lead all sorts of things, all over the country, including environmental measures. But this was the first of its kind in Oregon in terms of the partnership that was formed by front-line community-led leadership and then bigger mainstream groups signing on. That was a rare thing and hopefully changing.
Denise: What was the power dynamic like within the steering committee and then within the smaller subsets of PCEF? How was the decision-making process?
Alan Hipólito: It was pretty harmonious. There were obviously points of tension and stress because none of us had ever really worked on or run a campaign like this before.
We maintain a distributed leadership structure. We didn’t have, unlike some campaigns, a bunch of paid core staff. Our field team was paid, but our campaign manager, communications colleagues, fundraiser and the point person for our political endorsements committee were all volunteers or staffed and funded by partner organizations. It didn’t make sense to have a rigorous, centralized, decision-making model. It meant that we had to free folks up to be creative and use their best judgment in the day-to-day work they were accomplishing.
Denise: What were the key takeaways from this coalition and how the partnership worked?
Alan Hipólito: A lot of folks would say there would be no way to build and hold this kind of coalition together unless it was front-line community-led. Progressive efforts that bring mainstream environmental groups together with construction, labor and trade unions don’t often happen. However, everyone understood the need to center this kind of community leadership if any kind of progressive change was going to happen.
This kind of broad coalition building can win elections, especially when it comes to addressing the more traditional arguments against such initiatives. To arguments like, “This is going to kill jobs” or “This isn’t really an environmental solution” or “How is this going to affect poor people?”
The answer simply is: Environmental organizations have been putting in a lot of work and investment to build their understanding of equity and what it means to operate from a justice framework. Audubon’s posture in coming to the initiative was a testament to the growth and diversity, equity and inclusion work that they’re doing. The trades are the same way. They know where future workers will be coming from, that things haven’t been fair and just in the past or even today. They saw that a front-line community can put together an initiative that will make a difference in the things they care about.
Another takeaway is that I would certainly want to provide to the next group that tries this sort of coalition building is to not have to nickel-and-dime-it the way that we did. That was really hard to manage from a budget standpoint. At the same time, not being well-resourced required creative energy and distributed leadership. Without having a heavily centralized staff, organizations ended up putting in their own staff time. This is critical to the success of the movement we are building. However, those organizations need to be funded, too.
Denise: What’s it been like after the measure passed and is now in place? I understand the coalition is still working together.
Alan Hipólito: That’s correct. The PCEF coalition’s work did not end on election day, it shifted from winning an election to successfully and faithfully implementing the initiative. To do that, we’ve used the same front-line community-centered practice that we’ve talked about. This has allowed us to work in strong partnership with the city of Portland on key implementation issues like staffing the program, seating the PCEF grant committee, launching communications platforms and outreach efforts as well as building front-line community capacity to develop strong applications to the PCEF grant program
So I think we can feel good about all the work that we’ve done since election day, feel good about the collaboration that we built with the city bureaus and the elected leadership … and moving forward we need to make sure that the coalition has the resources needed to not just implement this victory but to solidify the power and endurance of the coalition. Organizational-level infrastructure such as internal communications will allow us to not only defend the win, but to also figure out how to move forward and build on this initiative.
And there’s still the need to fund the nuts and bolts of the work among the many organizations who developed and led the initiative, especially the front-line community-serving organizations. One of the things that we’ve learned the hard way is that the opposition doesn’t run out of money. They see this initiative, and any future initiatives, as a threat to their control over resources and political power. They are going to keep coming after us, trying to weaken or overturn PCEF at the city and state levels. The big challenge is to have the strength and resources as a coalition to counteract that consistency.
Denise: Do you feel that sense of power-building and power-sharing is still part of the implementation piece?
Alan Hipólito: Absolutely. This coalition, if it’s viable and enduring in the way that we want it to be, will inevitably decide or be asked to get involved in other things. How are those decisions going to be made? Who makes them? On what criteria, if any, are they made? How do new groups come to the table? All of these questions are where the extension of power sharing and practice of front-line community leadership is going to grow.
The story of the PCEF coalition demonstrates the unique position of front-line communities in the environmental justice movement and illustrates the way lived experiences of the communities most impacted offer solutions and innovative strategies — across interests — that transform campaigns and accomplish wins. In this way, front-line communities are transforming the environmental movement and allowing more people to see it as relevant to their lives.
Mainstream conservation organizations are important partners in this work. With established credibility and influence with local officials and the broader community, their endorsement can activate many and shift perspectives. As new approaches to climate justice emerge from the front line, it will be important for mainstream groups to explore new and innovative ways to contribute their resources, time and established reputation.
This doesn’t always mean taking a visible lead, but instead backing the proposals of those whose voices are new to the movement and allowing for new possibilities in our shared future in the face of climate change.
A conversation on housing and employment systems darionFri, 09/27/2019 - 14:05
Housing stability is inextricably linked with other systems of care – health care, criminal justice, child welfare and education, to name a few. We were intrigued to see a proposal in 2017 from a collaborative working at the intersection of affordable housing and workforce development. Worksystems, Inc. was leading a collaborative effort to link employment and housing services for formerly homeless families in Portland, giving low-income residents community-based career coaching and supports to achieve family-supporting employment.
We saw the project as an opportunity for systems to coordinate in intentional, equity-informed ways that could produce better outcomes for both employment and housing stability. Now, over a year into the work, we are following up with Stacey Triplett, community programs manager at Worksystems, to hear more about the collaborative’s progress.
Theresa: How is Worksystems’ project aligning with the homeless services system?
Stacey: The Worksystems’ Aligned Partners Network (APN) is a flexible set of community-based employment service providers who are experienced in a customer-centered approach. This network approach creates success in making relevant services available in our community for folks experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.
Today, APN career coaches are a vital part of homeless services, working one on one with customers getting jobs, getting scholarships for occupational training and getting better jobs, all of which serves to stabilize their housing. High-demand, family-wage careers are open to those with a need for housing support if, and only if, they are able to set career goals and layer supports that are needed. Supports are timed to make progress possible; customers both gain skills and access employment opportunities.
The model for systems alignment is a “housing hub” approach where dedicated rent assistance coordinators bring housing market knowledge to customers in need of rapid rehousing or eviction prevention services alongside the work of the employment service providers of the APN. The same customers are shared across systems. The new normal is for career coaches to engage with their customers before, during and after they receive rent assistance in a manner that demonstrates that both housing AND employment stability are goals around which they engage their customers. This was a result of career coaches coordinating closely with and experiencing great support from the housing hub and its specialty knowledge to address short-term rent assistance needs.
Theresa: Can you share an example of a household that has benefitted from your work?
Stacey: Sure. Khalid had a master’s degree in electrical engineering and eight years of experience before he arrived in Portland as a refugee. To be recognized as a professional engineer in this country, his career coach helped with his resume and requesting the recommendations he needed in order to get approval to take the engineer licensing exam. He also had to take an English exam to qualify for the test.
At first, Khalid stayed with friends, and it was very crowded and noisy. He had difficulty studying for the English exam, but with only $300 a month in refugee assistance, landlords would not approve him for a unit. His career coach referred Khalid for rent assistance, and he was able to secure a unit quickly. His new home provides a safe and quiet space to study in order to pass the English exams and the professional engineering exam that he will be required to take in order to regain his certifications.
Once he had his own place, Khalid said, “I was able to focus on getting a job.” He found work as an electrical engineer at a construction firm and is working full time. Khalid has been approved to take the professional engineering exam in October and continues to study for it. His career coach will use support service funds to pay the costs and fees associated with taking the exam. At the same time, Khalid is already giving back to the community by helping others learn English and translating for them.
Theresa: Impressive work by Khalid and the team! How long have you been doing this collaborative work?
Stacey: This has been a journey of over five years. Meyer Memorial Trust supported work that brought all the relevant organizations together in these efforts. Human Solutions, as the housing hub, learned to share customers with IRCO, SE Works, Oregon Tradeswomen, Constructing Hope, Central City Concern and Human Solution’s own employment department. In more recent years, the network has grown to include Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, Latino Network, the Urban League of Portland and Black Parent Initiative. Our project also prioritized production of data on how efforts that career coaches and rent assistance coordinators make on behalf of their shared customers increase their success by orders of magnitude compared to prior disconnected approaches. Specifically, in 2017 we measured greater income increases (almost double the rate of increase) for customers in the shared approach compared to those who were not. And they were also 53% more likely to leave the program employed.
Theresa: What special role do the collaborative partners play in the project?
Stacey: They are the absolute champions of this effort. All the day-to-day changes to accommodate this new model have been made in a very consensus-oriented manner with good participation and communication amongst and between career coaches and rent assistance coordinators.
Theresa: What kind of challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
Stacey: We’ve found that systems alignment challenges can best be overcome with frequent and clear communications. With our system alignment work with the housing system, understanding each other’s performance metrics can be difficult, but the deeper we dig the more that we understand the intricacies of each other’s work with participants and how our decisions impact participant lives and performance outcomes for both systems.
Theresa: What do you hope happens going forward?
Stacey: I hope how career coaches and rent assistance coordinators work together will be sustained by the benefits that both colleagues create for customers’ outcomes. It took time for each area to learn one another’s strengths, procedures and how to best stabilize customers experiencing housing instability while pursuing employment goals. Now there’s a natural alliance where housing and employment are “everyone’s business.”
There are many ways the network has embraced the customer-centered teaming that happens when career coaches appreciate the intricacies of operating the housing hub and rent assistance coordinators take cues from training timeframes and employment activities to make sure customers can achieve their goals.
Theresa: Are you able to share the results of your work to a broader audience?
Stacey: There has been interest in this work by many national bodies. Currently, Portland is featured in the 2018 Systems Work Better Together: Strengthening Public Workforce & Homeless Service Systems Collaboration report by the Heartland Alliance. Also, this work has been featured to inspire states outside Oregon to consider utilizing public resources such as are utilized here to fund “SNAP to Skills” efforts that the USDA supports nationwide. An Oregon Housing and Community Services webinar was held with participation from housing professionals, workforce development staff and local funders around the country.
Theresa: Congratulations! Anything else you would like us to know?
Stacey: This goal of systems aligning for customer benefit is that everyone comes to see the connections as the most logical, natural and smooth way of working and doubts that it was ever any other way.
Theresa: That’s a great ending thought. Thank you so much, Stacey, for sharing the progress on this collaborative work to align systems.
The Willamette River Initiative is in the midst of a transformation.
As we enter the final year of our 10-year commitment to support efforts to achieve meaningful, measurable improvements in the health of the Willamette River and its tributaries, our grantees and partners have accomplished much. But as a recent article in the Corvallis Gazette-Times underscored, our collective quest for a healthy river isn't complete.
Summertime water temperatures throughout the basin are still dangerously warm for native coldwater fish. Toxic pollutants leach into our waterways at unacceptable levels, while invasive plants threaten to alter our native ecosystems. Floodplain habitats, while more abundant than when we began this work, remain too rare. Meanwhile, population growth and climate change are affecting our watershed in ways we don't yet fully understand.
Tackling those challenges will take sustained investment and coordination well beyond March 2019, when the Willamette River Initiative ends.
So, together with our partners, we're planning how best to support the next phase of the Willamette restoration and protection movement. We envision a stronger, more inclusive, nimble and community-driven alliance of Willamette River stakeholders, connected by an entity that provides coordination, technical assistance, and other services while advocating on members' behalf for actions that support river health.
Our community has laid the foundation for this planning process over many years and many conversations. You'll find some of that backstory in this grounding document, and also in this memo detailing our initiative's past, present, and hopes for the future.
While our vision for this new entity is still taking shape, based on our experience and the feedback we've received so far, there are certain traits we know it must have. You can find a full list here.
Conversations with our community have also given us a solid starting sense of the functions this entity could perform and support services it could provide for the field. We've outlined them here.
We have convened an advisory group to help us make this vision a reality. Group members, who are listed here, have a wealth of experience in river health and related issues. Some are longtime members of the Willamette restoration community. Others bring deep expertise in related fields. All are passionate about building a river movement that is effective, equitable and sustainable.
The advisory group will meet several times in the coming months. We're also planning opportunities for the broader Willamette community to help shape this new era in Willamette restoration, during spring and summer 2018. View our planning timeline to learn about opportunities to engage as we move forward.
We'll post periodic updates on the planning process on WRI's website, and share them in our newsletter. Subscribe to stay in the loop.
At first glance, Oregon’s Willamette River and the Río Laja in the Mexican state of Guanajuato look starkly different.
The two rivers’ mouths are 2,600 miles apart. And while the Willamette Valley is verdant and rainy, the Laja runs through semi-arid lands with few trees. Salmon, so central to the Oregonian ethos, aren’t found there.
Though their climate and ecology may differ, six restoration experts from Guanajuato visited Oregon this month to explore a commonality between two places: Water and the communities it connects.
“Water is the base element for all ecosystems,” said Mario Hernández Peña, director of the botanical garden and nature preserve El Charco del Ingenio, who traveled to Oregon as part of the June 2017 exchange. “No matter where in the world you are, it’s a common resource.”
The visit was the latest highlight of an international partnership the two basins launched in 2015 as part of the Willamette community’s receipt of the 2012 Thiess International Riverprize. The award, which recognizes exemplary efforts in river protection and restoration, includes an opportunity to collaborate with a watershed outside the prize winner's home country in an exchange program known as Twinning. Meyer's Willamette River Initiative stewards the project on behalf of the basin's restoration community.
“It’s so valuable to be able to talk, to connect, and to learn from our international peers about how they approach similar watershed conservation challenges in a different social and environmental context,” said Tara Davis, coordinator of the Twinning project.
Many of the Willamette’s biggest watershed health challenges are also present in the Laja. Restoration practitioners in both basins are working to improve water quality, increase migratory bird habitat, foster community engagement and restore ecological function to former gravel mines. And both basins face competing priorities for how water is managed and allocated.
The Twinning project is designed to encourage dialogue about how to tackle those challenges through repeated visits to one another’s home turf. But just as importantly, the project has yielded fruitful relationships between people with a common interest in protecting water in the Willamette Basin and Mexico, a country with strong connections to Oregon.
One-in-eight Oregonians identify as Latino, many of them with Mexican heritage. The Willamette Basin includes some of Oregon’s largest and fastest-growing Latino communities.
“At a time when the public relationship with Mexico is framed in terms of division and exclusion, a project that focuses on building collaborative relationships between conservation professionals from both countries is particularly meaningful,” said Allison Hensey, director of the Willamette River Initiative.
Already, the Twinning partnership has revealed promising collaboration opportunities.
Recognizing that some migratory bird species spend time in both watersheds, partners from the Willamette and Laja have teamed up to explore opportunities to monitor bird populations and use the data to prioritize habitat restoration.
Participants in the June exchange hoped to take the Twinning partnership a step further, leaving with inspiration for increased collaboration in the Rio Laja watershed and an idea for a future project the two basins could tackle together. It didn’t take long for a theme to emerge.
As exchange partners traveled up and down the Willamette River touring projects and meeting with partners, the conversation always came back to people.
“How do you get the public to care about restoration when you’re working in such an urban environment?” Laja partner Javier Vega Ruiz asked as the group toured Talking Water Gardens, a wetland restoration and water treatment project in Albany.
Willamette partners shared a number of techniques, such as hosting school students for on-site science lessons and designing public spaces into restoration plans, but acknowledged community engagement is a challenge in the Willamette, too.
Vega Ruiz’s question spurred others as the two sides sought to learn from one another.
How can conservation workers be better advocates for the communities hit hardest by environmental threats, particularly low-income people and racial minorities? What are the best examples of restoration work that improves ecological conditions while creating beautiful, useful community spaces? And what can we do now to shape the next generation of environmental stewards?
For Heather Medina Sauceda, a board member for the Calapooia Watershed Council who often works within Oregon’s Latino community, the exchange trip itself became an exercise in the power of human connection. Medina worked with Mario Magaña Álvarez, an Oregon State University 4-H outreach specialist to underserved communities, to bring several of Magaña Álvarez’s Latino students along for a day of the exchange.
The pair, who are both Latino, hoped exposure to Mexican leaders in science and conservation would help the teens imagine themselves in a career field that, in America, is still predominantly white.
“It’s powerful to see leaders who look like you,” Medina Sauceda said.
The exchange also held personal significance for Medina Sauceda. Born in Michigan, she grew up with a love for the outdoors that led to a career in agricultural conservation. She had never associated her career choice with the farming culture of her heritage, but interacting with the Laja visitors revealed a profound link between the two.
“I might not have realized in college why I was drawn” to conservation work, she said. “To have that tie with this group coming up from Guanajuato made me feel like it’s something deep down inside; that it has to do with that cultural connection.”
By week’s end, representatives from the two basins saw a partnership opportunity in their shared ambition to connect people through the rivers that sustain them. The migratory bird group has begun discussing ways to involve the community in its bird monitoring efforts. Other Willamette and Laja partners hope to work together on youth engagement initiatives. They are exploring the possibility of sharing environmental curriculum for students in Mexico and Oregon or launching an exchange program that pairs students from each watershed on a scientific project.
The conversation is just getting started, Medina Sauceda said, but “there’s a lot of potential for the future.”
Organizers raised the voices and issues of those most impacted by environmental hazards — people of color, low income Oregonians, rural communities and tribal people — at the People’s Climate March on April 29.
Following a blessing from Native Elder Ed Edmo (Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Pierce, Yakima) at Dawson Park in Northeast Portland, a crowd of nearly 3,000 set off for Buckman Field in Southeast Portland. Marchers repeated a familiar chant, first in English, then in Spanish, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”
Intersectionality reigned at the event organized by Oregon Just Transition Alliance. Zen monks demonstrated alongside marchers protesting immigration sweeps and no-cause evictions. Vegans waved “no more meat” signs and youths wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts chanted alongside youths supporting farmworker rights and children holding “Kiddos for Climate Justice” signs and marchers for social justice.
Multnomah County commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson addressed the diverse crowd at Dawson Park: “Listen to front-line communities. Show up for racial justice, economic justice, worker justice and climate justice. Our fates are tied. Everyone has a role to play.”
“This is a demonstration of front-line activism,” said Huy Ong, executive director of OPAL, a recent Meyer grantee and a member of the Oregon Just Transition Alliance along with APANO, Beyond Toxics, Environmental Justice Oregon, PCUN, Unite Oregon and Rural Organizing Project. “The community is here demanding action to stop and reverse climate change and to grow our collective power.”
Carrying a sign that read “System Change, Not Climate Change,” People’s Climate March participant Charlie Graham said he was marching because the world is in crisis.
“The system is the problem,” said Graham, a retired elementary school teacher from Hillsboro. “It’s not just the environment over here or politics over there. Housing, climate change: we’re not on a sustainable path.”
All along the route, one of Tiffany Johnson’s hands gripped the palm of her 9-year-old daughter, Ona. The other hand held a sign that touched on many of the issues on demonstrators’ minds: “This is All Native Land: Love is Love, Immigrants Rights, Science is Real, Environmental Justice, Black Lives Matters, Women’s Rights and Feminism.”
“We go to all the social justice, police reform and environmental marches,” Johnson said. “But we don’t often see ourselves (Ona is Native American and black; her mom, Native American) reflected in the leadership or messages. Native people are commonly left out. It’s really important that Ona see the connections, that she claim her place and her voice.”
Rinzan Pechovnik, a priest from the No-Rank Zendo, a Zen Buddhist temple in Southeast Portland, scanned the crowd of thousands.
“This is the fundamental march,” he said. “We have to throw our bodies in to let the world know we care.”
Cary Watters (Tlingit), a Community Engagement Manager at NAYA, banged a hand drum leading marchers past the convention center.
“Ecological and social justice is really key,” she said. “You don’t have one without the other.”
Mary Phillips recently relocated to North Portland joined the march with her daughter-in-law, Erin, and son Mike, a program associate on Meyer’s Healthy Environment portfolio.
“We have to stay vigilant,” Phillips said. “Climate change affects everything — jobs, health care, housing — and this march shows how intersectional it gets. We’re all together in this.”
Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions has formed a new partnership with Neighbors for Clean Air and Lewis & Clark Law School’s Northwest Environmental Defense Center to pursue cleaner, healthier air for all Oregonians.
The partnership, BREATHE Oregon, will provide clear scientific data, legal analysis and community outreach so residents and policy makers have the information they need to make decisions that improve air quality in Portland and throughout Oregon.
BREATHE Oregon builds on a research partnership launched last spring between the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, the City of Portland and Multnomah County to assess heavy metal pollution in Portland-metro neighborhoods in response to community concerns about elevated levels of toxins found in the area.
“The BREATHE Oregon partnership helps ensure that meaningful scientific research about local air pollution moves from PSU labs into the hands of community advocates and policymakers,” said Robert Liberty, director of the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions.
Linda George, PSU professor of environmental science and fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions is leading PSU’s research efforts. “It’s our hope that our research will engage local residents and inform future air quality oversight in our state,” George said.
A $250,000 Meyer Memorial Trust grant funds the partnership. In addition to scientific and legal analysis of air quality data and impacts, the award supports a series of community symposiums and a fleet of student interns who will work with local organizations to expand outreach about air quality issues.
“The path toward cleaner air is complex, and informed community involvement is essential,” said Mary Peveto, the co-founder and president of Neighbors for Clean Air. “Through BREATHE Oregon, we’ll work with communities most affected by air pollution to ensure they have access to accurate and relevant information and a seat at the table. We’re excited about collaborating with our neighbors, our university, and our state regulatory offices for healthier air.”
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority are in the process of overhauling industrial air toxic regulations to align them with public health, as directed by Gov. Kate Brown’s Cleaner Air Oregon initiative. The Cleaner Air Oregon advisory committee includes representatives from each of the BREATHE Oregon partner organizations, providing a direct connection between academic research, community advocacy, legal analysis and policy recommendations.
“State health experts and regulators depend on accurate, scientifically sound data and engaged, well-informed communities to protect the health of Oregonians,” said Lynne Saxton, director of the Oregon Health Authority. “We welcome the partnership of Meyer Memorial Trust and the grantees to achieve cleaner air in our state.”
- Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Cultivating a New Generation of Rural Housing Talent
Meyer’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is reflected across all its portfolios. In this batch of Housing Opportunities grants, we are pleased to support an effort cultivating a new generation of talent by placing culturally diverse paid interns in rural Oregon housing and community development organizations over the next three years.
The California Coalition for Rural Housing launched the Rural West Internship Program in 1998 and, over the years, has placed over 140 interns. Over half of those continue to serve rural housing and development agencies — as staff, Directors and board members.
“The program provides a critical pathway for students to pursue professional positions in the affordable housing field while simultaneously developing qualified candidates for the field, “ says Gisela Salgado, director of leadership and programs for California Coalition for Rural Housing. “As a graduate of the program, I feel proud and honored to work with current interns and fellow alumni in the field — people I respect and admire — who care deeply about creating a more equitable society and making a difference in people's lives.”
After running the program in California for over a dozen years, CCRH expanded in 2010 to Washington, Oregon and, most recently, Arizona. Six interns have successfully completed the intern program in Oregon. Meyer support will enable six more interns to be placed in Oregon, one per year at two different agencies, CASA of Oregon and Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services.
The program is an important step for recruiting, training and retaining students who may not otherwise know about the housing field.
“Our diverse interns reflect the diverse cultural and linguistic demographics in Oregon and the West,” says Salgado.
With leadership of many rural housing organizations approaching retirement, the time is ripe for building a more diverse pipeline of new professionals. “We see future opportunity for expansion in Oregon and welcome discussion with interested rural housing and development partners.”
Sleek, remodeled Earl Boyles Elementary — full of natural light, bright yellow walls, state-of-the-art courtyard play structures and technology-rich classrooms — stands at the corner of Southeast 112th Avenue and Bush Street, in one of the poorest and most diverse sections of Portland.
Five years ago, median household income was $29,457 in the Earl Boyles enrollment zone, just 60 percent of the county median income of $49,049. More than a quarter of families primarily spoke a non-English language at home, and 24 percent of adults had not completed high school.
So, how did one of Oregon’s most-challenged elementary schools become a beacon of transformation?
The school’s statewide test ranking has skyrocketed from 8.3 percent in 2009 to 48.2 percent today. Attendance rates hover just below 100 percent. Students pour outside at the end of the school day, giggling excitedly to see Principal Ericka Guynes, Oregon’s 2013 Elementary Principal of the Year.
School district leaders, staff, volunteers, county programs and nonprofits connected with parents early and are sticking with them for the long haul. That recipe of partnership, especially programming designed around a community vision, is the secret of Earl Boyles’ success, and it offers hope for schools across the country.
As one Earl Boyles parent put it: “I never thought my children would have access to an education like this.”
Many people saw potential in Earl Boyles Elementary, including Swati Adarkar, president and co-founder of Portland’s Children’s Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for young children in Oregon. Adarkar has built a national reputation as a champion for early child care and education between birth and age 8. To Adarkar, the focus has real urgency because research shows that when kids — especially children from low-income families — don’t read at grade level by the third grade, their chances of graduating from high school plummet.
In 2008, only 65 percent of Oregon’s third-graders were reading at grade level, with much lower rates in poorer areas. And high school graduation rates place Oregon third from the bottom in national rankings.
Adarkar has spent the past few decades crisscrossing the country in search of successful early-engagement models that might work in Oregon.
It was on one trip to Chicago that she found true inspiration. There she met the leaders of Educare, which used funds from the Ounce of Prevention Fund to create a state-of-the-art school on Chicago’s South Side for low-income infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families. Educare’s programs focus on literacy, language, early math and social-emotional skills, and staffers join with parents to help them become champions for their children’s education and achieve their education goals.
Adarkar called up then-David Douglas School District superintendent Don Grotting, a future Oregon superintendent of the year and student of early-intervention research. The superintendent immediately tapped Principal Guynes, who was making a name for herself as a then-new principal by translating forms into Spanish (a dominant language at Earl Boyles) and arranging caregiver get-togethers that transformed the school’s booster “club” of just one person into a thriving group.
Together, the team raised money, studied and planned for two years before hatching Early Works, a 10-year initiative at Earl Boyles with a focus on children ages 3-5. In 2012, the team took a big step forward by hiring a former migrant education recruiter, Andreina Velasco, as their first Early Works Parent & Community Engagement Coordinator based at Earl Boyles. A bilingual native of Venezuela, Reed College alum and young mother, Velasco had learned the hard way as a Portland Public Schools teacher that children often aren’t socially and emotionally prepared for school. For Velasco, Portland’s K-12 system wasn’t set up to help every child succeed. Early Works was a personal, direct approach to address the gap.
Velasco partnered with the SUN program and Portland State University to find names, phone numbers and addresses of families who might one day send students to Earl Boyles. She talked to children at the school about young siblings still at home. She went door to door, visiting their families so they knew her. Her work was especially important when the Early Works team embraced a bigger, tougher ambition: reaching families of newborns and toddlers. New brain and social science research showed that the earlier educators reached children and parents, the sooner children would be ready to learn — even before they were born. Soon, Early Works enrollment began to double, then triple, as engagement with families became deeper and more committed.
An onsite staffer, known as a Family Resource Navigator, began connecting families to various services, including Portland’s housing agency, Home Forward. Padres Unidos, which translates into Parents United, the school’s parent leadership group, is fully facilitated, managed and promoted by parent leaders. The group reviews Early Works evaluation data, and numerous caregivers have overcome English-language challenges to advocate for early learning by giving speeches and providing testimony across the state.
A $7 million voter-approved construction bond gave Early Works and Principal Guynes what they truly needed: More space for preschool and kindergarten classrooms and services at Earl Boyles. It also gave parents something they never expected: a beautiful place to connect in their own backyard.
The bond paid for half the expansion, while Multnomah County foundations, including Meyer Memorial Trust, and individuals provided the rest. Today, the Richard C. Alexander Early Learning Wing at Earl Boyles serves 90 3- and 4-year-olds in the Earl Boyles catchment area.
Connected to the Early Learning Wing is the Earl Boyles Neighborhood Center, which includes a lending library, family food pantry, meeting rooms for partner agencies and families, an infant-toddler room, and an adult learning classroom that provides parent education.
During his first months, she simply wanted him to go into the community, to better understand local residents and their culture and to learn their fears and dreams. The approach reinforced the most important lesson Christoffersen had learned from years of rural economic development work in southern Africa: You may think you’re well-trained and educated, but people on the ground know more about their place, culture and landscape than you do.
Enterprise, a cattle and farming town set amid prime logging country, was a long shot to remake itself as a hotbed of sustainable economic development. The era of big timber was on its last gasps. All three county sawmills were closed. The days of clear-cutting massive, old trees were long past. One-in-five locals had lost their jobs, and longtime residents were moving away.
After leaving Africa, Christoffersen had been on the hunt for a rural U.S. community that was using sustainability and a commitment to land stewardship to remake itself and assert leadership in ways that he had seen overseas. That’s when he learned about then-Wallowa County Commissioner Ben Boswell’s unusual step of co-founding Wallowa Resources as a nongovernmental economic innovation and experimentation engine. From the ashes of the big timber era, Boswell and his peers envisioned a new restoration-based economy.
Helming a nonprofit situated squarely in the radical-middle could sometimes make Christoffersen the enemy of the two extremes. But Wallowa Resources had a determined board of directors, support from the Wallowa County commission, funding from the USDA’s Rural Development program and an initial strategic plan for the organization. Most important, there was a core group of local stakeholders who believed they could reinvent themselves.
Wallowa Resources launched a large sustainable ecosystem management program, including an effort to manage weeds on 1 million acres of private and public canyonlands that generated $480,000 in payroll and local contracts. A few years later, Wallowa Resources brokered the Arroz Stewardship Contract, a plan for the management of U.S. Forest Service land with buy-in from 20 organizations, resulting in the county’s largest successful commercial timber sale in years. More than a dozen local investors joined Wallowa Resources in their new for-profit subsidiary, Community Smallwood Solutions, to create a small-diameter log processing business.
By 2009, two years after Christoffersen had assumed the executive director role, Wallowa Resources had recruited Integrated Biomass Resources to co-locate with Community Smallwood Solutions to produce chips, hog fuel and pest-free certified firewood. In 2012, Integrated Biomass Resources took over Community Smallwood Solutions and established a 70-acre campus on the site of what was once the county’s largest mill. That same year at the request of Baker, Union and Wallowa counties, Wallowa Resources organized a forest collaborative to advance forest and community resilience across northeast Oregon; the effort serves as a model for federal forest management in Oregon and across the country. Wallowa Resources produced a draft watershed restoration plan for 100,000-acre Lower Joseph Creek in 2014.
Perhaps Wallowa Resources’ greatest accomplishment is its role in helping to evolve the region’s culture toward a new, can-do economy based on sustainability principles. Local cattle ranches have evolved toward grass-fed beef and other niche markets, while large river restoration projects there are seen as national models. Wallowa County even gave the former hospital to Wallowa Resources to become a hub for 13 mission-driven organizations and agencies. Afterschool and summer programs, high school internships, and hands-on work experiences spurred by Wallowa Resources reach nearly half of Wallowa County’s students, giving practical hope to a new generation.
Christoffersen believes the community-benefit approach that worked for Wallowa County can work for other rural regions.
At the heart of Wallowa Resources’ work is organizing: identifying leaders, listening to them and getting out of the way to let leaders lead. Christoffersen seeks authentic connections with people that sustain the natural resource base of the economy in ways that align with the law, local culture, markets, broader public values and ecosystem management best practices.
Seventeen years on, Christoffersen is still listening.
What he hears often: The legacy of past management activity — heavy logging, overgrazing and mismanagement of water, combined with the current drought cycle and declines in federal funding — begs a new social contract between rural communities and urban and suburban populations. We are all, as they say, in it together. But building a complicated mosaic of trust, innovative finance and long-term investments balanced with the practical needs of culture, food, water, environment and jobs will require innovation, commitment and daring.
In towns such as Enterprise, revival can feel tenuous when rural neighbors still struggle. Putting communities back together, and being given the social license to do it, remains the work of one organizer, one weaver, one catalyst and one sustaining organization at a time.