Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giving Thanks... and Blankets

by Colleen Sinsky

After the below-freezing temperatures last week, I realized how thankful I am for some small things in life that so many of our JOIN friends go without. Our outreach team, as well as our executive director Marc were out every night passing out blankets, hot chocolate, and letting people know about the emergency warming shelters. Outreach has become more of an emotional challenge for me as the temperatures continue to drop and it’s tough for me to build a connection with folks sleeping outside and then go back home to my warm and safe bed. It’s especially tough for me to talk to young women my age who are experiencing homelessness, but I’m so fortunate to be part of an organization that can help individuals make incredible changes in their lives. I was so thrilled to get to go back to my hometown in sunny San Diego and spend the Thanksgiving weekend with my family. I’ve never felt more thankful for my support network and where I am in my life than when it’s contrasted with that of homeless folks who have slipped through the cracks in society. For so many people, their support network consists of a few friends in a situation similar to their own, and JOIN. I feel a strange mix of guilt, responsibility and pride being on the one side of that equation, and I am thankful every day to have the resources and ability to do the work we’re doing at JOIN. The coming weeks will be busy as we push to get families and individuals inside for the holiday season. We would love for you to be involved!

And on NPR this morning I heard a feature about a student in Detroit who reminds me that we're not the only ones making strides to help homeless people. Check out the Element Survival Coat!

Monday, November 22, 2010

JOIN Thanksgiving by Renae Blake

Eight turkeys. Six hams. 13 trays of stuffing. 12 vegetarian dishes. 10 bowls of mashed potatoes. 3 pots gravy. 13 dozen dinner rolls. 32 pies. 2 cheesecakes. More than one hundred bottles of Tazo Tea, juice and water. Everything donated by volunteers.

It is an incredibly empowering experience to see a conceptual idea become memories as did Friday's Thanksgiving Dinner. When I arrived at Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 11am on Friday to set up tables and chairs for the evening's event, I thought most of the work was done. Since the end of October, I've been returning calls and emails, answering questions, and making requests for donations fairly steadily almost every day. I received as many phone calls the day of the event as I did in that entire three week time span prior. I thought the tough stuff was in the past: I was wrong, of course. But that is something that does with the territory of being a planner: I think, "I plan therefore it shall be:

Lesson One: Even the best plans hold less precedence over the present than you might wish them to.

I was exceedingly fortunate to have not only the help of JOIN volunteers, board members, and staff, but also my own network of classmates from Portland State. A requirement of the University Studies system at PSU is one six credit senior capstone class, which is designed to expand the University Studies goals--critical thinking, communication, diversity, and social responsibility--by applying them to work with a community partner. My particular capstone, Effective Change Agent, varies from the other capstone options. Each student must receive consent to register for the class because the class was created for the students who have established connections with community partners. Most other capstones have one community partner for all 12-14 students enrolled in the class; there are 14 community partners between my classmates and I in our capstone class. Because the work we do with each of our individual community partners is so different--one student teaches the Brazilian martial arts from Capoeira, another plays games with young cancer patients at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, two are coaches at high schools in the Portland Metro Area for basketball and football--an important opportunity for everyone to come together with one purpose is the group project assignment. Several students, myself included, presented group project ideas, and we decided together, unanimously, to put our combined energy toward JOIN's Thanksgiving Dinner.

Lesson two: accept all the help you can get, because no matter how organized you may be, you need the support of others.

Friday morning, set up went flawlessly with the help of several classmates and two JOIN staff members. Within an hour, the empty hall looked festive and welcoming with three long lines of tables wrapped in gold plastic tablecloth, accompanying chairs, and streamers and balloons strung along the walls. With two Vikings (that's our mascot at Portland State!) in the kitchen preparing various dishes of food from several boxes of produce volunteer Jessica received as a donation, I left for home to do the last bit or organizing I possibly could before there could be no more planning. Back to the church at 3:30, this truly was the time of calm before the (wonderfully cheerful holiday-like) storm. Food donations and volunteers began arriving at 4pm. All of the dishes of stuffing, pies, and potatoes I had meticulously marked down in my little excel spreadsheet began appearing in hands and on counter tops. Names from voice messages and email sender lines were matched with kind faces as I met the volunteers I'd communicated with online and by telephone for the past few weeks. Every volunteer came prepared to work. Some volunteers began with the 20 pies we were given by Shari's, a few ran to QFC and Trader Joe's for last minute needs and additions, and a beverage brigade outfitted the drink table with tea donated by Tazo and an assortment of bottled drinks contributed by Pepsi. Down the hallway from the kitchen, were I spent the majority of the night, members of the JOIN community eagerly awaited the feast in the snack room. Along with the large amounts of pretzels and nuts donated for pre-meal snacking, several volunteers prepared coffee for the dozens of people entering from the cold, rainy weather outside.

Lesson three: Coffee is the beverage of happiness (but I think I knew this one already).

Once the doors opened at five minutes past the 5:30 start time, plates were taken up and serving spoons were hardly set down at the buffet table for nearly an hour. The hardworking kitchen crew, lead by volunteer Jessica, heated food consistently to refill dishes as they emptied. Every seat, both at tables and the pews lining one side of the hall, was occupied in the moments I surveyed the room while running from the kitchen to the drink table to the kids room back to the kitchen in search of one thing or another. More than two hundred people attended Thanksgiving Dinner. And we didn't run out of food. Though I am unforgivably biased, I would plainly state that the meal was a success by any measure I can think of. Much of this victory I would attribute to the space, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, which so graciously donated the space for the evening. I could not have asked for a better location to work with. I was privileged enough to correspond with Solveig, Bethlehem's pastor, who is quite simply wonderful to interact with. She was beyond helpful and made herself accessible for the many questions I always find myself inevitably coming up with. And having Solveig at the dinner with her husband and two sons as a safety net for whatever problems I might (but thankfully did not) come across was a godsend. Speaking of safety nets, my mom was truly a saving grace for me. Acting as both reliable parent to me and JOIN board member, she arrived at the church at 3:45 with a dozen beautifully handmade table decorations, a ham, and a giant bag of snack food which a co-worker had given her as a donation for the feast. I don't know how to express how comforting it was to have someone there was not only as invested in my vision of the event as I was, but who believed in me as an implementer of such a plan just as much. Whatever needed doing, she was there for. And as much as my mom is a constant source of support and encouragement for me, so is she devoted to JOIN. She believes in JOIN and its inspiring, life-changing work, more deeply than I could hope to relay. It's my mom's commitment and dedication to JOIN that brought me to this remarkable organization, though it's the people I've met here that consistently affirm my desire to stay. My mom represents the goodness in people that JOIN stands for. At the end of the night, it was Courtenay, my mom, my aunt, and myself stuffing the last of the trash bags and twisted mess of balloons and streamers into the JOIN van. And it was my mom who bought me a cup of tea as congratulations for a joy-filled holiday event for more than 200 members of the JOIN community.

Lesson four: moms are awesome.

When I was little, I used to end my prayers with blessing "everybody else in the whole wide world," as to not leave anyone out. There are so many people who deserve thanks for their contributions to the Thanksgiving Dinner. My class was an extraordinary asset for all the help and support they lent me and JOIN by setting up the hall, preparing food, gathering donations, and working during the meal. So many volunteers provided food and help; their willingness to donate whatever was needed for the meal overwhelmed me. The JOIN board and staff members jumped in at the last minute to foll in the few needs I had in the days before the feast. And the use of Bethlehem Lutheran, as well as the kind monetary donation from last year's partners at Sunset Presbyterian Church, ensured the meal was a triumph.

Lesson Five: gratitude is everything.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Busy, busy, busy...

As the temperature is dropping, activity at JOIN is increasing. On Wednesday we celebrated our “kitchen shower” to open our brand new kitchen space in the building. We’re excited to have the ability for Daniel, our immersion coordinator to cook family style meals for our immersion groups, as well as a place to prepare food boxes and have the opportunity to share and prepare food as a community. I also got to tag along with our Greek cooking class, Cuisina, generously hosted by Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. We’ve partnered with the Greeks for years to put on this class, and it’s been a successful and popular part of JOIN’s outreach efforts. I was floored by how positive and friendly the space was, and it was incredible to get to see some of our folks so proud of the meal they’d created. We made some really great lemon herb chicken, and Greek style green beans, potatoes and salad and then shared a family style dinner. Lots of fun! Here’s Annie with some friends.

We’re all excited for next Tuesday’s Day of Homelessness Awareness in downtown Portland and our annual Thanksgiving dinner next Friday! Busy weeks ahead and we’d love for everyone to get involved! Have a great weekend :)
by Colleen Sinsky

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day of Homelessness Awareness

Press Advisory
For Immediate Release
Contact: J. Paul Davis, Minister of Outreach at St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish
503-449-4969, jpauldavis@prodigy.net

On November 16, 2010, civic and religious leaders and congregations throughout Portland and Multnomah County will observe the first annual "Day of Homelessness Awareness." The Day of Homelessness Awareness is intended to make the challenge of homelessness in our community visible, and to engage more faith communities in the effort to end homelessness.

A "Walk of Awareness" begins at 7am on November 16 for members of local religious communities with their pastors or other religious leaders to see how a single church, synagogue, or mosque can make a direct impact in the effort to end homelessness.

In concert with the event, organizers are asking the public to forgo one day's splurge (e.g. a coffee drink or snack) and donate the proceeds to local shelters in advance of the coming winter, or to bring coats, blankets, non-perishable food and other needed items to the walk.

Event organizer: JOIN's New City Initiative (www.joinpdx.com)

Event Co-Sponsors
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
Oregon Board of Rabbis
Oregon Area Jewish Committee
Muslim Educational Trust
Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Street Roots
United Way
City of Portland
Multnomah County

Event Participants:
David Leslie, Executive Director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
Rabbi Michael Cahana, President of the Oregon Board of Rabbis
City Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz
Multnomah County Commissioners Deborah Kafoury and Barbara Willer

Walkers will assemble at Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish (6th and West Burnside, known as the "Red Doors") and walk from there to the new 13 Salmon Family Day Center at First Unitarian Church for a light reception.

Participants are invited to bring coats, blankets, non-perishable food and other needed items to the walk. Participants will also have the opportunity to make a financial contribution to support the Family Warming Center at Easminster Presbyterian Church.

The Day of Homelessness Awareness will also provide opportunities for people to learn more about what faith communities are already doing about homelessness, and how they and their congregation can become involved.

According to the most recent One Night Street Count (2009) and One Night Shelter Count (2010), more than 2,500 people experience homelessness on any given night, 13% of whom are homeless families. Of this number, 1,509 people were actually sleeping on the street, while 950 were sleeping in shelters or other emergency accommodations. Although such figures are daunting, the good news is that there are over 500 congregations in Portland. If every congregation were to commit to building relationships with just 10 people, we could literally touch the life of every person without a home in our city.

For more information about the Day of Homelessness Awareness, contact J. Paul Davis, Minister of Outreach at St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish at 503-449-4969 or jpauldavis@prodigy.net