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August 27, 2013
Video from Cully Park

By Laura Koch

Yesterday Ken and I caught up with the folks at Verde to hear about the progress on the Let Us Build Cully Park! project. In little over a year since we got involved as a funder, they have made incredible progress and have continued to strengthen their partnerships with community members and groups to realize the vision for this recovered landfill site.

With support from Pretty Good Productions, they have put together a beautiful video to help tell their story. 

August 6, 2013
Tiffiny Hager helps Alder Elementary families stay put so students can dream big
by Susan Goracke
“How can I get my landlord to remove the disgusting mold growing in our apartment?”
“We’ve asked our landlord to fix the broken stairs in our building, but nothing ever happens. What can we do to get his attention?”
These are among the many questions that Alder Elementary School parents were asking during four Renters Rights workshops held at this Rockwood neighborhood school in East Portland last spring.
At the May 30 workshop, about a dozen Latino families shared a pizza dinner and learned about their responsibilities and rights as renters. They discussed Fair Housing issues and learned about discrimination based on color, country of origin or family status. To facilitate understanding, workshop presenters spoke to them in their native Spanish. Parents could concentrate during the PowerPoint presentation because their children were being cared for in another room.
“Many of these vulnerable Latino families are living in substandard housing built with substandard materials,” says Tiffiny Hager, “I Have a Dream” Oregon’s Mobility Reduction Resource Coordinator, who set up the workshops and met with families beforehand to encourage them to attend. “They feel they are at the mercy of their landlords, who, in many cases, aren’t providing safe, livable conditions and often aren’t fixing problems such as mold.”
Jensi Albright, who helped coordinate Alder’s four Renters Rights workshops, is the Community Engagement Director for Community Alliance of Tenants, a Portland nonprofit agency. She believes Hager’s organizing and outreach skills were important to the workshops’ success.
“It’s a big challenge to get attendance from these parents, who have to juggle their work schedules and multiple children,” Albright points out. “Having Tiffiny establish relationships of trust with these families first, made a difference in having so many parents show up at the workshops.”
Renters workshops are just one of a number of projects Hager juggles in her position with “I Have a Dream” Oregon, a nonprofit agency that gives students from disadvantaged neighborhoods the skills and motivation to both graduate from high school and pursue further education at a college or technical school.
A two-year, $120,000 grant from Vibrant Village Foundation is funding Hager’s position through mid-2014. The foundation also provides Hager with office space in its Northeast Alberta Street location. Her job is to help keep families from moving out of Alder’s district so that students can continue to benefit from “I Have a Dream’s” Dreamer School program at Alder.
“Our research on why Alder families leave the Alder catchment area was very clear. At least 80 percent of Alder families left for what we labeled ‘undesired’ reasons,” explains “I Have a Dream” Executive Director Mark Langseth. “These reasons include rent increases, landlord-tenant issues, and several types of family changes and challenges.”
Langseth sees Hager’s position as crucial to helping provide family stability in the Alder area.
As a coordinator, Hager brings together resources from local agencies to help prevent vulnerable families from moving away. “Tiffiny and other staff have spent significant time this year creating partnerships between Alder families and neighborhood leaders, including the new Rockwood Community Development Corporation, which has created tremendous neighborhood revitalization energy in less than a year of its founding,” Langseth adds.
Using some funds from Vibrant Village Foundation’s grant, Hager helps coordinate the Alder Housing Assistance Program, a partnership with Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland), Human Solutions (which provides family advocates and case management), the Reynolds School District and Multnomah County. That program has provided 70 families with targeted housing stability assistance, which allowed them to avoid eviction and remain in Alder’s catchment area.
Once Alder parents graduate from housing assistance, they are eligible to be mentored by a group of neighborhood volunteers, called navigators, who are trained by the Rockwood CDC. Navigators help Alder parents make connections to social services that offer housing, job and entrepreneurship opportunities.

These are the kinds of connections that will help them reverse the cycle of poverty,” Hager says. 
In addition to making connections, Hager helps families integrate into the school system. For example, she helped design an ESL (English as a second language) program for families, with explanations of how to enroll children in school and what a parent-teacher conference is.
“We have many Pacific Islander families, and they don’t have a history of coming into their children’s schools, due to their cultural norms,” she explains. “We’re encouraging them to get involved in their children’s education.”
Hager also collaborates with two other “I Have a Dream” Portland employees —Shyvonne Williams, the Alder Dreamer School Manager, and Vanessa Brooks, the Middle School Dreamer Program Manager — to help students achieve their greatest potential in school, college and career. They partner with more than 60 organizations to support students and to help create stable environments so students can thrive at school, at home and in the community.
Hager’s job presents a multitude of challenges. For one thing, 32 different languages are spoken within the Alder community. Also, limited access to public transportation within the Rockwood neighborhood complicates Hager’s ability to refer families without a car to visit government or social service agencies located miles away.
In May, the Reynolds School District redrew the Alder boundaries, which reassigned some Alder students to other schools. This means they will lose their access to sought-after “I Have a Dream” Oregon services at Alder, including housing assistance, mentoring, tutoring and college visits.  
But if anyone is up for these challenges, it’s Hager, a Portland native and mother of two. She has more than 15 years of experience coordinating and implementing programs in low-income schools to stabilize families and support student success. She worked for 10 years as a family intervention specialist for Multnomah County, and recently spent a year in Honduras, where she helped nonprofit organizations support educational opportunities.
Although Hager’s current 30-hour-a-week position is funded for just one more year, she is determined to ensure that programs such as the Renters Rights workshops that she helped set up at Alder become self-sustaining after she leaves.
Mark Langseth, CEO at “I Have a Dream” Oregon adds, “All of this tremendous progress toward increasing family stability and breaking the cycle of poverty has been enabled by Vibrant Village Foundation’s forward-thinking grant aimed at decreasing the high rate of undesired mobility among Alder families.”
April 15, 2013
Catching up with Maxwell Faulk, Playwrite graduate
By Susan Goracke
In 2012, Vibrant Village Foundation awarded PlayWrite Inc. of Portland a $10,000 grant to fund several of its workshops. This feature story describes the important work PlayWrite does and the positive impact it has on the young people it serves.
At 27, Maxwell Faulk already is a veteran playwright, poet and stand-up comic. He’s also a Portland Community College honor student with a 4.0 grade point average and a dream to work for either Oregon Public Broadcasting or Saturday Night Live. For now, he’s hoping to earn a scholarship to attend Lewis & Clark or another local four-year college in the fall.
Faulk co-wrote his most recent play, “I Voted for Obama,” in the style of Theater of the Oppressed. The play invites audience members to interact with actors as they explore overt and subtle issues of racism that affect African-American students today.
“The title came from the idea that a lot of people in America think that since we now have an African-American president, racism is something that existed in the past,” Faulk says. In fact, he adds, each of the racist interactions depicted in the play actually happened to black students.
“I Voted for Obama” was presented a half-dozen times in front of several hundred PCC students during February, as part of the PCC Women’s Resource Center’s Illuminations Project.

While the play gave Faulk a chance to stretch his playwriting skills, it was writing his first play, “A Rock and a Hard Place,” in 2005 that became a life-changing experience. Faulk was 19 and had been living on his own for three years, preferring to spend nights couch-surfing at friends’ homes rather than live with his own dysfunctional family.
“Both my parents were drug addicts. My father was an alcoholic, and both were abusive,” Faulk explains matter-of-factly. “I was 16 when my parents divorced and my father moved out. My older brother turned our home into a meth den. That’s when I moved out of the house.”
Faulk was working toward his diploma at Portland Night School in the basement of Grant High School when he got the chance to participate in a program called PlayWrite, which was offering playwriting workshops for teens living “on the edge.”
“I’ve always considered myself a writer,” he says. “From the time I was in grade school, I always got positive responses from writing.”
But the PlayWrite Program turned out to be more than just putting pen to paper and coming up with an interesting story. It required Faulk and other students to work one-on-one with specially trained theater professionals who helped them examine their own deep and gut-wrenching insecurities in order to develop their play’s non-human characters that interact with each other like humans.
“Between a Rock and a Hard Place” featured a 15,000-year-old boulder named Roland and a manatee named Hugo.
“They’re on their way someplace on a shoreline, and they begin to share their secret issues with each other,” Faulk explains. “Hugo had struggled with weight issues. He was suicidal and was afraid. Roland was afraid of success.” Faulk describes the play he came up with as funny, but sad. At the end, the two characters reach a resolution and decide to join each other on their journey.
Once it was written, Faulk’s play, along with other workshop participants’ efforts, were performed before a live audience with professional actors playing the parts.
“I put a lot of my own fears and flaws into those two characters,” Faulk remembers. “Before PlayWrite, I had never been in a place where those levels of truth were required of me — or even encouraged. It was almost like therapy. Because of my upbringing, I had gotten really good at protecting myself, not letting other people see the real me. Having these two characters on stage talking about my issues felt really good. It was illuminating.” 
Article about Maxwell's play featured in the Oregonian in 2005
Helping teens successfully cope with the tough life they’ve been dealt is among PlayWrite Inc.’s goals. Executive Director Bruce Livingston helped start the nonprofit group back in 2003. The Haven Project, who Livingston worked for at the time, contracted with a theater professional to bring his framework to Portland, from which the PlayWrite model later emerged. 
“We deal with kids who have been bullied, ostracized or who have economic insecurity,” Livingston says, adding that some are homeless and some have mental illness. “These are kids at the edge. They’re not part of the mainstream.”
A third of the 600 teens PlayWrite works with over the past 10 years have been in locked treatment facilities. Physically and emotionally abused, they have committed crimes that got them into trouble with the law. Some teens have been severely sexually abused and are either pregnant or already have had children. This year PlayWrite will work with approximately 75 youth for the first time and another 12-15 who will be involved in follow-on programming, like the Tuesday Writers Group of which Maxwell is a member.
“We believe that through the process of creating dramatic art, of creating a narrative, it changes the way their brains are wired,” says Livingston, who points to research done on people who spend time writing about emotionally significant incidents in their lives. “People who have experienced trauma usually have a difficult time creating a narrative about that trauma. We think that the process of doing the writing in the workshop helps these teens unscramble events and reassemble them into a narrative so that they can begin to heal.”
To graduate from a workshop, teens must commit to spending 30 hours with a writing coach to produce an original play. The work is often emotionally draining, but in many cases, has become a turning point in the lives of these young people. 
In 2011-12, a research project was designed and carried out by three scientists at the University of Oregon and OHSU: Rosemary Bernstein, Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon, Jennifer Ablow, PhD., Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, and Joel Nigg, PhD., Director, Division of Psychology and Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Behavioral Neuroscience at OHSU. The study showed that PlayWrite workshop graduates improved their ability to manage anger and were less hyperactive.
Livingston considers Maxwell Faulk to be among a number of PlayWrite “success stories.”
After graduating from PlayWrite’s workshop eight years ago, Faulk has continued to attend weekly PlayWrite writing workshops and is a member of the organization’s graduate council. He enjoys doing stand-up comedy and his poetry has been published in several literary magazines. Today, Faulk describes himself as “funny, intelligent and capable.”
“I want to positively impact the planet while I’m here,” Faulk says.