Portland, OR. Unlike many nonprofits, online operations are no new challenge for BACKBONES. This organization provides support and education for people with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D). In-person meetups like that pictured above have been replaced by monthly peer-to-peer chats. The BACKBONES team already worked remotely, according to Executive Director Reveca Torres. They have successfully continued their online-based leadership program and boosted attendance for their monthly virtual meet-up group PeerConnect.
PeerConnect provides a space for people with SCI/D to take their minds off their worries and build relationships. Program Coordinator Shannon Kelly chooses conversational topics and activities for the group. Lately, numbers have grown. “At first, it was just a few people, and now we’ve had a consistent number of attendees,” says Torres. On September 19th, PeerConnect will host a discussion on managing mental health during COVID.
The BACKBONES Leaders Program also took place over video call pre-pandemic. As a result, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders were not major obstacles. The Leaders Program prepares individuals with SCI/D to advocate for others, be civically aware, and serve as role models. On October 22nd, BACKBONES will host a virtual celebration of this year’s participants and discuss plans for next year.
Before the pandemic, backbones created events and experiences that promote awareness and engage people of all abilities.
Despite BACKBONES’s preparedness, COVID did introduce new challenges for the organization. Many have turned to BACKBONES for help managing their healthcare mid-pandemic: for example, providing protective equipment for in-home caregivers. The nonprofit’s board had to cancel some in-person events. Economic hardships have made donations slow down. Also, some in the SCI/D community also feel an added layer of anxiety due to talks of ‘medical rationing.’ “Society doesn’t see disabled lives as valuable often,” Torres explains. “There’s this fear that, if it comes to rationing medical care, that people with disabilities would be at the bottom of that.”
Discussions of bias in medicine and disability rights intertwine with subjects like racism and policing. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to shed light on these topics and encourage solidarity between marginalized groups. “It’s been nice to see that disabled voices have been included. A large number of people with disabilities are victims of police brutality,” says Torres, citing officers’ frequent inability to communicate with autistic, deaf, and mentally ill people.
However, the intersection between racial justice and disabled rights gives Torres hope. According to her: “Everything that’s going on — with COVID, with BLM, with all the issues really — it’s bringing to the surface different issues we all face at the same time and if we work together we can make change in a more efficient way.”
From BACKBONES’s website: BACKBONES exists to help people with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D) and their families connect with their communities. We do that by creating events and experiences that promote awareness and engage people of all abilities.
BACKBONES was born when friends and family of Reveca Torres started a fundraising campaign in order to help pay for medical expenses after a spinal cord injury. Surrounded by great people, Reveca realized the importance of a support system to help reach one’s goals after an injury and the impact others with similar injuries had — they provided motivation and confidence that couldn’t be found elsewhere.
With the support and guidance of so many, Reveca Torres and co-founders Veronica Gott, Patricia Mikicic and Annie Gonzalez put a long-time goal into motion and transformed BACKBONES into what it is today: a place to connect with others with the purpose of learning, teaching, and sharing.
Portland, OR. The NW Dance Project, a Portland-based contemporary dance company, had to make significant COVID-19 adjustments since it went fully virtual on March 13th. The nonprofit’s phased reopening began on August 3rd, with the renewal of some in-person classes and continued reliance on video communication platforms. Jeff George (pictured above) is one of the instructors for the limited in-person classes that take place with strict safety protocols.
The initial shutdown of NW Dance Project meant all events, classes, and training programs were canceled, as well as the furloughing of all company dancers and some staff. Like many arts organizations, NW Dance Project is currently unable to generate income with performances, so outreach to supporters has become vital.
NW Dance Project members pose for a fundraising promo shot
Social distancing guidelines have posed a challenge for everyone, but perhaps no one is more affected than dancers. Executive Director Scott Lewis points out how, unlike other performing arts such as theater or music, maintaining social distance removes a core element of what constitutes this art form. For example, the pas de deux, which Lewis describes as an intense duet, is now entirely off the table.
“There’s so much in dance that relies on the electricity in the air when humans are experiencing something simultaneously,” says Lewis. “At some point, it just hit me that everything we do is not bringing people together.”
The dancers’ response to these challenges highlights their pragmatism and flexibility. “They quickly saw the dance world embracing technology and accepted that this is the reality,” Scott Lewis explains. Company members have shifted their focus toward individual projects and sharing their skills over social media. In addition to individual enterprises, dancers now attend classes via video call — streamed either from NWDP’s studio or from the instructors’ homes — and students served by North Portland’s Aspire Project (closed as of June 7th, 2020) were invited to join NWDP’s virtual summer session.
These virtual classes will continue even as NWDP’s studios have reopened for limited in-person classes. Safety protocols are strictly enforced: for example, tape outlines on the studio floor mark out 100 square feet of space per person. In September, youth classes are scheduled to begin in-person with similar restrictions. Next month also brings an outdoor performance and a film-based project that unites NW Dance Project company dancers and special guest choreographers.
Lewis encourages readers to keep an eye on these upcoming projects or even attend a few classes if they are so inclined. Those with skills they are willing to share can seek out volunteer opportunities with the company or even serve as board members if they are willing to accept the time commitment.
“Any support possible will be helpful,” says Lewis. “It doesn’t need to be said how destabilizing the confluence of events has been for artists. We’re still in the first act, stay with us, stay in touch, stay supportive. This is going to be a long crawl.”
NW Dance Project was founded in Portland in 2004 by acclaimed dancer, mentor, and choreographer Sarah Slipper. NW Dance Project is dedicated to the creation and performance of innovative, new contemporary dance works from established and emerging dance makers created in an open and artistically stimulating environment.
NW Dance Project has fostered the creation and Portland premiere of nearly 300 original contemporary dance works to date. Our dedication to providing dancers and dance-makers the resources and creative room needed to realize new inspired dance works led Dance International Magazine to proclaim that we are “changing the way dance is created” and that NW Dance Project has become “a laboratory, factory, and repository for risk-taking new works from the next generation of choreographers from Europe and North America.”
Portland, OR. In the midst of a global pandemic, the Portland Youth Philharmonic is finding new ways to connect musicians with each other as well as the community at large. Following the cancellation of its 96th concert season, musicians and directors have replaced in-person practices, concerts and lectures with Zoom calls, YouTube videos and Facebook live streams.
As the PYP continues to adapt to COVID-related changes, the public can engage with the nonprofit via Facebook and YouTube, where PYP posts live streams and a series of video talks entitled “Conversations with the Conductor.” Young musicians interested in joining the PYP may submit virtual auditions in preparation for next year’s season. You can see an example below:
Society Page interviewed four young musicians and composers — 14-year-old violinist Francie Lenhart, 11-year-old double bassist Rowan Lenhart, 13-year-old violinist Haruka Sakiyama, and 15-year-old violinist Koharu Sakiyama — to learn their perspectives on the changes they have had to make.
In general, these musicians find virtual practices challenging. “You don’t actually get to hear your teachers or your actual sounds,” Haruka Sakiyama, explains. The musicians also point to technical glitches as a major setback: Rowan explains that the audio sometimes takes on a metallic quality or sounds as if the teacher is underwater.
Nevertheless, the musicians offer positives to the situation, all while keeping their good humor. “We don’t have to do the long car ride to practice,” says violinist Francie Lenhart, laughing. Haruka cites increased family time as a positive, while Koharu states: “In some ways, things are less chaotic. We have more time to just concentrate on practicing.”
From the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s website: In 1924, a group of visionary citizens established the Portland Junior Symphony Association (later renamed the Portland Youth Philharmonic Association or PYP for short). Building on the pioneering work of Mary V. Dodge, whose Irvington School Orchestra was the nucleus of the first Junior Symphony, the Association engaged Russian émigré Jacques Gershkovitch as conductor. PYP is the oldest youth orchestra in the United States. The structure and standards that it established for training young musicians in the 1920s became the prototype for youth orchestras across the country.
Over the years, thousands of young musicians have played in one or more of PYP’s ensembles. Some have gone on to professional careers in orchestras across the country, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, as well as Juilliard and American String Quartets. Others have achieved great success in teaching music or exploring non-musical fields, while continuing to be accomplished amateur musicians and active supporters of the arts in their communities. Alumni often attribute much of their success in life to the discipline and teamwork they experienced as members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.
Portland, OR. Impact NW, an organization that fights homelessness by supporting struggling families, continues to operate despite going fully remote as of March 13th, 2020. Their staff now provides rental and energy assistance online and conducts home visits via video call.
Development Director Ada Dortch explains that Impact NW’s academic support programs have had to do the most adaptation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dortch explains that, due to school closures, staff members have had to shift their focus away from general community support work towards individual case management. Each family is affected differently: school closures, mass layoffs, and pay cuts have raised new challenges for people trying to keep a roof over their heads. “We work with each family to meet their needs,” Dortch explains. “Everyone has been impacted in some way [by COVID-19].”
Soon, kids will be able to participate in in-person school workshops like this!
Despite these obstacles, Impact NW has had a surge of support from individuals as well as larger corporate donors. “We are only as strong as our community and our supporters,” says Dortch. She also points to the creativity and dedication of staff members as a major factor in the organization’s success in these tumultuous times.
For those looking to make themselves a part of this wave of contributions, Dortch suggests donating to the No Place Like Home drive for household supplies, which she cites as a major cause for concern among families who are struggling during the pandemic. In addition, Impact NW will hold a virtual fundraiser this September. Readers can expect to hear more about this event once the details are fully hammered out.
Impact NW has always responded to our community’s most pressing needs.
Formed in 1966 by neighbors in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood, community members came together to combat poverty and deteriorating conditions in Southeast Portland. The agency was originally named Portland Action Communities Together, Inc. (PACT).
Early Impact NW initiatives included employment programs, family counseling, food buying clubs, and a tool lending library. We helped develop Southeast Portland’s first Senior Center, Youth Service Center, and free health clinic. In the 1990s, we piloted Multnomah County’s first Parent-Child Development Services program and the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program. Throughout our organizational history we have always aimed to help people thrive and remain safely housed.
The organization was renamed Portland Impact in the 1980s, and later Impact NW as we expanded our services outside the Portland Metropolitan area.
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