Portland, OR. Boys & Girls Aid (B&G Aid) has been helping struggling youth find foster families and support for over 135 years. According to CEO Suzan Huntington, foster parents have stepped during the pandemic more than ever. B&G Aid’s day programs are temporarily closed for public health concerns. Without the day program and without school, parents have their foster kids 24/7. But they are taking extra responsibility in stride.
“I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to their generosity of continuing to open their homes and hearts,” Huntington said. “These kids have had abuse and neglect since they were born, and that does something to our brains, and it’s hard. And not one foster parent said I won’t do that. Not one.”
Caring for the kids full time is extra work for foster families, but they say their kids are actually helping them to weather this tough time. “Foster children were born to live through a pandemic … I never thought about it like that until one of the foster parents said that these kids are actually helping us because they are used to total uncertainty and chaos,” Huntington said. “It isn’t a place where anyone thrives, but they have the skill set.”
Although the current COVID-19 situation challenging, this isn’t the first time the organization has had to face a flu pandemic.
Boys & Girls Aid has faced many challenges of its 135 years.
The Boys & Girls Aid day program is reopening because many foster parents are returning to work. Residential programs continue to be open as well. B&G Aid is proud to say it hasn’t had to lay off or furlough any of its staff during the lockdown, even though it has lost significant revenue from seven major fundraisers that were canceled.
“It is because our staff are diligent and committed to the work and the kids that we serve,” Huntington said. “Our foster parents are angels walking this earth, as are foster parents across the nation. We’re not gonna come through totally unscathed, but we’ve been able to keep everyone employed during the height of absolute chaos.”
The staff has been working hard to keep programs operating amidst limited funding.
Kids leave B & G Aid with the support they need to exit the foster care system.
In the last 7 years, B&G Aid has been relying on a trauma-informed care model, which sets it apart from other similar organizations. Huntington said this switch made the organization’s work and her job much more meaningful.
“Before [switching to this care model], we were a stop along the way. Now, we’re really meeting the kids where they’re at,” Huntington said. “We’re really diving deep into mental health, we’re making sure they have those lifelong connections, and really starting to see the trajectory of those relationships change with kids and how their growth is.”
Alongside coordination with foster families and guardians, B&G Aid works in family counseling to rebuild broken relationships to the best outcome for each client. Furthermore, they connect kids with stable figures, like an uncle or a teacher, to act as a point of guidance and support.
B&G Aid works to get kids into stable guardianships and loving homes.
“Kids do better when they have someone in their corner,” Huntington said. “We all do better when someone’s got our back.”
Huntington said she would like to see B&G Aid as a more visible part of the community. Historically, the stigma around adoption has limited the publicity for this long-standing organization.
“I would like to see in the future that Boys & Girls Aid is a more prominent figure in the community,” she said. “We could be a tremendous resource to a lot of community organizations.”
From Boys & Girls Aid:
Boys & Girls Aid is committed to ensuring children exit the foster care system to loving, stable families.
Portland, OR. Although Unite Oregon’s office has been closed since March, the nonprofit continues to strive for intercultural justice through direct aid and policy advocacy. It did so last summer with a program called Rise for Refuge seen above. The organization’s mission is to serve the community by building a unified movement of people of color, immigrants, refugees and working-class people of all backgrounds.
Communications and policy associate Andrew Riley explains that recent events prompted a critical look at police activity. “I wouldn’t say yet that we are an abolitionist organization but we are having these conversations about what is the ultimate solution to this challenge … there can sometimes be friction with folks who have been doing abolition work for a long time, but finding ways to work together and finding folks with all these different orientations and all these different tactics working together has been really encouraging.” Riley continued, “I think that that has been a big change from previous uprisings and previous protest movements.”
Differences with regard to the best strategies for organizing have also divided activists in the past, but Riley said recent protests have shown more unity.
“I think one of the things that’s really good to see is that there’s a better appreciation of a diversity of tactics, in organizing, in the sense that there’s a lot more people pushing back against the idea that there’s a good way to protest and a bad way to protest,” they said. “I’ve seen a lot of folks working really hard to deconstruct that, because that’s a dichotomy that’s gonna just ultimately serve people in power.”
The nonprofit works to create safe and equitable communities for immigrants and refugees.
The workload at Unite Oregon has increased over the past couple of months, with efforts going both to anti-racist advocacy and the needs of community members during this economic crisis. Riley hopes to sustain this level of work over the coming months.
While Unite Oregon used to rely on community meetings to discuss the current challenges people were facing and how those needs could best be met. However, large gatherings are not feasible in light of public health concerns; furthermore, many members of the communities UO serves don’t have regular access to high-speed internet or technology, so switching meetings to Zoom is not an option. The organization has opted instead to check in with people through individual calls.
Unite Oregon has been distributing aid to community members since the pandemic hit, especially focusing on a donation-based relief fund for those who are not eligible for state programs like unemployment or stimulus checks. These funds go to grocery store gift cards, rent payments, and more. One current initiative is to provide translated and linguistically accessible public health informational materials to immigrant and refugee communities.
“We’ve been really fortunate to get a lot of support for the fund from the Portland community,” Riley said. “We’ve had a call to donate and a lot of folks have given to that so it’s really enabled us to meet some communities’ needs.
From Unite Oregon:
You can help the work at https://www.uniteoregon.org/covid19_support_fund
Led by people of color, immigrants and refugees, rural communities, and people experiencing poverty, we work across Oregon to build a unified intercultural movement for justice.
Portland, OR. The nonprofit Our House provides services to people with HIV including healthcare, housing, occupational therapy, and other vital resources like a food pantry. Now during the pandemic, the Our House food pantry called Esther’s Pantry is helping the larger community. With Esther’s Pantry lifting its usual HIV positive requirement, it has been able to serve 200 community members per week; four times the usual number.
Volunteers at Esther’s Pantry serving the entire community on Wednesdays.
The Portland residential facility serving HIV affected people has continued to operate during COVID even without the support of its 230 volunteers. Director of Development and Communication Dana Kinney said that COVID has been a “great pause,” in which Our House has looked more deeply at its position in the community. The organization typically partners with local restaurants and wineries in its fundraising Dinner Series but realizes it cannot ask for support from these businesses when they are financially struggling.
“Moving forward, I see more of a multi-beneficial kind of relationship with our community, more than just our community supporting us, but flipping the narrative a little bit and supporting the community,” Kinney said. “We’ve been able to take this situation, this really unknowing situation, and create all these new innovative ways to connect.”
“The community out at Esther’s Pantry has been phenomenal. We have all these great new community partners, stores and shops that are donating to us, community members that have stepped up,” Kinney said. “Our granters and funders have stepped up, and we’re seeing two to three times the amount of people.”
While the residential facility cannot accept volunteers due to the vulnerability of its residents, Esther’s Pantry still needs community members to help keep it functioning. Additionally, in light of recent Black Lives Matter activism, Our House is interrogating its racial composition and asking how it can better serve the broader community.
“When over 90% of the clients we serve are self-identifying as white people, we are missing something,” Kinney said. “Especially since we know people of color, especially Black people, are disproportionately impacted by HIV.”
Our House has also employed new technology to keep its Neighborhood Housing and Care program functioning. This program helps people living with HIV live independently and usually relies on social workers going into clients’ homes. Now, devices similar to iPads, but far simpler, are keeping caregivers, clients, and families connected via phone trees and Zoom calls.
Kinney said that despite the physical distance, she feels more connected than ever to her coworkers. Now they talk about topics beyond work and do personal check-ins to see how everyone is doing.
“I don’t know what the future of Our House is, but it’ll be here because there’s a need,” Kinney said. “That’s what social service programs do: the government isn’t able to fulfill a need so we step up and do it.”
From Our House:
Our House inspires people with HIV to LIVE WELL. Our House provides integrated health and housing services to people with HIV/AIDS. Guided by compassion, collaboration, and respect, we provide 24-hour specialized care, supportive services, and independent housing with support services.
Portland, OR. The Black United Fund (BUF) is working under pandemic limitations but has found a way to increase outreach. Spearheading new programs is the Executive Director/CEO of the nonprofit, Dr. LM Alaiyo Foster, Ed.D. She has an impressive list of degrees and certifications but is called “Dr. A” for short. The CEO believes a societal shift for COVID-19 prevention measures prompted her to ramp-up plans making more programs available online.
Additionally, Dr. A says due to the national spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement, people are paying more attention to Black-led organizations like BUF. The nonprofit has already surpassed a $75,000 goal for its Juneteenth & Justice fundraiser. While BUF, as a 501(c)(3), doesn’t take a political stance on any issues, it does stand for community discussion and student safety.
The Black United Fund (BUF) is a Black-led, female-led organization with a 37-year legacy of helping the Black community’s youth explore college and post-secondary options. Every year, the foundation awards scholarships to send aspiring students to college. It also hosts scholarship writing workshops, a mentorship program, leadership opportunities, and more. As the organization in Oregon certified to teach this particular scholarship writing curriculum, BUF is uniquely positioned to uplift Black youth.
Recently, Dr. A has been working on making the workshops and programs more accessible by taking them online. This move is part of a preexisting endeavor to expand BUF’s geographical reach.
“When I came on in 2018, I was very clear in my interview that I had a vision,” Dr. A said. “We want to move things online, we are making them modular, we are increasing accessibility, statewide, in a way that doesn’t require a student to travel; we are attacking the digital divide. COVID, in essence, has just really ramped up the mental timeline that I had.” Dr. A sees this as an opportunity: now that the status quo is not an option, others are more willing to consider her ideas.
“If you’re like me, you’re worried that maybe people thought you were just ‘out there,’ like ‘she’s too ahead of her time,’” she said. “Now it’s like, this is the time! This is the moment, let’s do it, let’s be as out of the box as possible, let’s blow the box up … COVID has allowed a lot more openness around that discussion. What we’ve always done is obsolete now … I think this has been quite liberating, as a leader.”
Alongside creating more virtual programming, one new objective for BUF recently is breaking down the digital divide. By providing free computers and WiFi access onsite, as well as a burgeoning laptop checkout system, BUF gives youth who might not otherwise have access to these resources equity in opportunities to research colleges, scholarships, and jobs.
“What we can do, and often do, is create space for those different sides to come together and have that conversation for communities,” Dr. A said. “Whether it’s defunding the police or not, I’m more concerned about the children that are in the crosshairs of it in an educational institution.”
Dr. A describes herself as a “silver lining person.” So even while COVID has been devastating for businesses and individuals alike, she is motivated and inspired in her work.
“This work is a calling in terms of education and social service, and it’s just where my heart is,” she said. “It’s undeniable.”
From Black United Fund:
The mission of the Black United Fund of Oregon is to assist in the social and economic development of Oregon’s underserved communities and to contribute to a broader understanding of ethnic and culturally diverse groups.