Guide Dogs for the Blind Builds Community

Guide Dogs for the Blind Builds Community

Boring, Oregon. Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) celebrated its annual Oregon Fun Day event in a new way this year, with a virtual Fun Week for members of the nonprofit’s community of volunteers, clients, and employees. In past years, the event was a single, themed day of robust activities on its Boring, Oregon campus. However, because of social distancing protocols, the event was expanded into a week-long occasion in late July, occurring remotely for its puppy-raising community to enjoy. Attendees were able to virtually attend activities and events with GDB staff, bringing their dogs to the Zoom sessions, as seen above.

This year’s Oregon Fun Week theme was retro video games, resulting in creative puppy costumes. GBD’s volunteer puppy raisers were able to virtually interact and bond with the community. GDB team members created a video session titled “Canine Campus Life” to share what happens when guide dogs-in-training return to campus after living with their volunteer puppy raisers. Other activities included a “How To” video on drawing a guide dog and a healthy recipe for making treats for your dog created by GDB’s Canine Welfare Neonatal Department.

GDB’s 2020 Fun Week event theme was retro video games, complete with a Zoom background for participants to use while attending with their GDB puppy-in-training.

Another highlight of GDB’s Fun Week was the “Pack” Man Challenge. The activity gave participants the chance to venture on a scavenger hunt with their dogs to identify common obstacles a guide dog team may encounter. To conclude the week, GDB community members shared an image of themselves and their GDB guide dog, which was compiled into a mosaic art piece.

GDB puppy raiser, Cory Erickson participated in the GDB Fun Week “Pack” Man Challenge which involves an outdoor scavenger hunt for puppies-in-training to identify obstacles that a guide dog team may encounter such as traffic cones.

With Camp GDB being held virtually this year, GDB sent each camper supplies for the week, including some campfire snacks and a stuffed GDB guide dog toy.

GDB’s virtual Fun Week celebration was one of many virtual events the nonprofit held since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, GDB also hosted its annual Camp GDB virtually, which is a special summer camp for teens ages 14-17 who are blind or visually impaired. The virtual camp included an opening campfire, a meet and greet with one of GDB’s veterinarians, Zoom bingo, and a discussion on the value and logistics of having a guide dog in a high school or college setting. Each camper was also sent a special camping kit in the mail to add the virtual Camp GDB experience. GDB remains committed to providing support for its clients during COVID-19.

Over 375 photos were submitted by GDB volunteer puppy raisers and leaders during Fun Week to create a virtual mosaic of members of the GDB community.

From Guide Dogs for the Blind:

We are more than an industry-leading guide dog school; we are a passionate community serving people who are blind or low vision. All of the services for our clients are provided free of charge, including personalized training and extensive post-graduation support, plus financial assistance for veterinary care, if needed. Our work is made possible by the generous support of our donors and volunteers; we receive no government funding.

Literary Arts Responds to Time of Change With New Offerings

Literary Arts Responds to Time of Change With New Offerings

Portland, OR. With quarantine keeping people at homeLiterary Arts was forced to rethink how to best support the literary community of Oregon. A month ago, the organization released the winners of its annual Oregon Book Awards. Unlike previous years, where writers like Samiya Bashir (pictured above) accepted their awards in person, for the 2020 event, writers stayed home and tuned into a radio broadcast. After being rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic from April to JuneLiterary Arts partnered with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) to make the event happen. The winners of this year’s Oregon Book Awards were Beth Alvarado, Cathy Camper, Kesha Ajọsẹ Fisher, Deborah Hopkinson, Greg Means, MK Reed, Julian Smith, Ashley Toliver, and David Wolman. Winners would typically tour Oregon later in the yearreading from their works at various schools, bookstores, workshops, and libraries, but plans for this are yet to be determined due to the pandemic. Such tours help promote public knowledge of the authors and their diverse works, creating a significant influence on the success of their career.  

The works of the Oregon Book Awards winners

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, Literary Arts decided to grant funds to writers and artists in need. The Board of Directors unanimously agreed on turning a portion of the Brian Booth Writers’ Fund into the Literary Arts Booth Emergency Fund for Writers. Literary Arts received applications for the firsts round of grants beginning at the end of AprilOne-hundred lucky applicants received grant of $1,000. The second rounof grant applications is currently underway.  

In giving to the community, Literary Arts put special focus on providing for people of color. Surveys found that 45% of first-round grant winners identified as people of color. Literary Art’s website states: COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color. Literary Arts is prioritizing funding for writers identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who meet the eligibility criteria.” 

Associate Director of Communications Jyoti Roy expressed the organization’s intentions to work with the community to create space for people of color, whether through specialized workshops, funds, or other means. 

Literary Arts also works to inspire youth and help them develop their own voices. Back in April, Literary Arts adapted their slam poetry competition for teens known as Verselandia! Youth Poetry SlamAlthough the competition itself did not occur, Literary Arts created an alternative event geared toward the same audience 

Authors Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Rion Amilcar Scott, and Lesley Nneka Arimah discussed the art of short-form on a virtual panel moderated by Dantiel Moniz.

Roy described their thought process as: “How do we serve the students who benefit from this event in a different way?” 

Local poets led a virtual slam poetry workshop at the time the event was to occur. Participants were then invited to share their creations with Literary Arts, which are still being collected, to create a video featuring the youth’s talent. 

From Literary Arts:
Literary Arts is a community-based nonprofit with a mission to engage readers, support writers, and inspire the next generation with great literature. For the past 35 years, Literary Arts has built community around literature, books, and storytelling, and the essential ideas and issues they raise. Literary Arts is committed to remaining a dynamic and responsive organization that will continue to evolve with our community’s needs and deepen our equity work across all our programs. 

Friends of Trees Plants Hope for Community

Friends of Trees Plants Hope for Community

Portland, OR. Despite shelter-in-place, Friends of Trees (FOT) managed to finish its planting season in neighborhoods and urban green spaces in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Staffers like Tyler Rise (pictured above) are keeping things moving, but o
perations are quite different than usual because the typical neighborhood volunteers are not allowed to work.  

A pod from the Northwest Youth Corp, a roving group that does summer maintenance, helped plant trees in Forest Park. The planting season lasts from November to April, so thankfully the COVID-19 pandemic did not hit until near the end of the season.

Friends of Trees relied heavily on staff and trained crew-lead volunteers to finish projects by themselves. Trained individuals are continuing typical summer operations by surveying trees that were planted earlier in the year. These volunteers mulch and prune the trees as needed.

Friends of Trees’ impact in 2019

The benefits of trees

Future operations will look much different than normal. Interim Executive Director Whitney Dorer predicts that more plantings with fewer people will take place in order to prevent larger groups from congregating. The attendance of past planting events has reached over 250 people. Unfortunately, the traditional post-planting potlucks will be put on hold. Friends of Trees focuses not just on the environment but also on the community. 

“It will take a lot of creativity on the part of our team of our supports and volunteers to find new ways to engage community while we are still planting trees throughout the city and in natural areas,” said Dorer. “We are just going to have to work with whatever is given in terms of social distancing guidelines.” 

A volunteer shows her love for nature during a winter planting session pre-COVID

Friends of Trees is remaining active on social media. Short, educational videos on different trees have been put together by various FOT staff. In the spirit of community, every Thursday, a staff member is introduced on the FOT Instagram. Introductions include name, pronouns, position, favorite tree(s), favorite potluck food, and hobbies. Corporate and Business Relations Specialist Sam Erman even included his favorite hummus recipe. 

In this time of isolation, Friends of Trees recognizes the growing importance of community building while remaining safe.  

From Friends of Trees:
We bring people together. Inspiring our community members to plant, care for, and learn about trees is key to our mission. We welcome individuals, families, and businesses throughout western Oregon and SW Washington to help restore and beautify our region. Friends of Trees recognizes that not everyone has equal access to the benefits of trees. As we work to remedy that, we strive to be a welcoming and safe place for everyone, regardless of age, ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political views, or economic status. Without our volunteers, we are nothing. But together, we do amazing things. 

Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors… and at Home

Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors… and at Home

Portland, OR. When shelter-in-place went into effect in March, Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors’ (ECO’s) programs shut down immediately. Classes and service trips, like the planting pictured above, were canceled (photo credit, Wasim Muklashy Photography). ECO is a nonprofit focused on educating the younger generation about the environment through hands-on experiences. Coincidentally, ECO was already exploring online programming. 

In order to reach more rural areas of Oregon, ECO began developing and implementing online learning materials prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Known as Place-Based Units (PBUs), these programs are customized for different schools. Where ECO Educators would typically go to learning sites, this allows programs to reach areas that were not as easily accessible. Free resources can be found on the ECO website to continue environmental education from home. 

Before facing the effects of COVID-19, students search for frog and salamander eggs while monitoring the wetlands.

One child’s response to ECO’s “Dear Nature” reflection activity

Children who are under-privileged are of special focus to ECO. It has been found that people of color and those with lower income are more affected by environmental injustice. For example, according to the National Conference for Community and Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11.2% of African American children and 4% of Mexican American children suffer from lead poisoning, where only 2.3% of white children are affected. 

ECO was founded in 2005 by two women, Sarah Woods and Bethany Shetterly Thomas. All ECO educators happen to also be female, providing role models for young girls interested in STEM. 

In February 2020, ECO received the Impact Award in Environment & Sustainability from Ninety-Nine Girlfriends. The mission of Ninety-Nine Girlfriends is as follows: “We are an inclusive women’s collective giving organization that provides opportunities for learning and grant-making to engage local women in our community. We strive for impact by making significant grants and becoming more informed and engaged philanthropists.” The impact award came with a $100,000 grant. 

Students use movement to learn about leaf arrangement pre-pandemic.

A portion of this grant went to creating a new initiative known as Climate Action Education. According to Operations Manager Reade Weber, such a program was requested by students and teachers alike who wanted to know what they could do to fight the environmental issues they were learning about. Made of actionable steps the youth can take, the Climate Action Education program is made up of three lessons: Climate Science and Solutions, Green Jobs, and Consumption and Waste. 

Directed toward all grades K-12, ECO hopes to relate to youth in a way they can understand, empowering students to create change. 

From Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors: 

ECO inspires students to care for nature through innovative, hands-on science education. All our content is developed in-house by our team of outstanding educators, who draw from their STEM degrees and experiences as field scientists, park rangers, and environmental educators around the country. For over 15 years, ECO has implemented these lessons in classrooms and on trails, and empowered thousands of students to become the scientists and change-makers of the future. ECO prioritizes reaching low-income and minority students at under-resourced schools as these students are most impacted by environmental injustice.  Together with Ninety-Nine Girlfriends, ECO is working to equitably integrate ecology education into science curriculum in Oregon. 

Portland Youth Philharmonic Musicians Adapt to Virtual Practices and Performances

Portland Youth Philharmonic Musicians Adapt to Virtual Practices and Performances

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.