Formerly Homeless Man Building Homeless Center

When Gary Lewis moved into the Glisan Center shelter last year, he had a job, and hope for overcoming his homelessness. But like too many Oregonians, he lost that job in the midst of our current economic downturn. After a time, his unemployment ran out, but he still maintained that hope that things would turn around.

It was that optimism that helped Gary to land a job as part of the team building our new Resource Access Center, with Walsh Construction.

"We all have our ups and downs, but you get over it," says Lewis. "What I got out of my stay at Transition Projects - I got clean and sober. I used to be a heavy drinker, and today, I'm not drinking. All the things that Emily (Hutchison, case manager) told me to do - I did them, and it worked. If you do what you need to do, it works. If you want it, you have to work for it; if you need it, you have to earn it. While I was there at TPI, I prayed and prayed for a better year to come, and so far, this year's starting out pretty good for me! I will never forget Transition Projects - they turned my life around. I'm happy, I'm clean and sober, I feel good."

Lewis moved into his new apartment in late January, and started his new job at Walsh Construction at the beginning of this month.  

RAC site"Hiring from the community, and from Transition Projects, was a commitment we made before even starting this project," says Pete Bruns, project superintendant for the Resource Access Center. "The person I was looking to hire for this position would be my right hand on the site, whenever anything happens. Already I can see that when Gary's in the field, he's always at task, gets along with everyone, and is very vocal about safety, which is a big concern for us."

Lewis's experience was a big factor in his hire for Walsh, but his attitude was also a huge factor to Bruns and the rest of the hiring team.

 "All of the applicants were really good prospects, but of them all, Gary really stood out. In his interview, he was very positive; you could tell he was sincere about what he was saying, his passion for wanting to work on this job. He has a very refreshing attitude."

Lewis recalls the case he made for himself in his interview.  "Of course they looked at my resume, asked about old jobs, but at the end, I think what sealed the deal is, I told them straight up, I really want to be a part of this project. As a homeless person in the city of Portland, I want to see this happen, and I want to be a part of it. I want to be able to point out this building, years from now to my kids, my grandkids, and tell them that that's something I got to help make. It's something I'll be proud to be a part of, and it's something that the city of Portland needs."

Bruns is hoping to be able to make a second Walsh Construction hire within the next few weeks from among Transition Projects clients, for a receptionist for the project.

Save the Date - Jean's Place Luncheon only two months away!

Transition Projects is pleased to invite you to the Third Annual Jean's Place Celebration Luncheon, to be held Friday, May 21st from noon to 1:00 PM, at First Christian Church (1315 SW Broadway).

Dr. Bruce GoldbergThis year's keynote speaker is Dr. Bruce Goldberg, Director of the Oregon Department of Human Services since 2005. During his time with DHS, he has led efforts to improve access to health care, reduce hunger and food insecurity among Oregonians, and revamp mental health services.

The Jean's Place Luncheon is an opportunity for the community to show their support of this innovative program for women. Jean's Place, now in its 13th year of operation, has been home to thousands of women working to rebuild their lives and move out of homelessness.

The money raised from this luncheon will help fund the programs that enable these women to make that transition. There is no charge for the luncheon, but guests are asked to bring their checkbooks or credit cards to make a gift. Space is limited, so RSVP early at 503.823.4926, x4 or luncheon@tprojects.org.

Breaking Through Barriers

We recently added a new class to the roster of forums offered through our Like Skills program. This new class, Breaking Through Barriers, is an intense, 2-session class that helps clients identify, and find different means to overcome, the barriers that stand between them and their goals.

Joan Mershon, Life Skills Coordinator at the Clark Center since 2003, developed the curriculum for this class years ago, and this year had a chance to put her work into action.

"I was finding that a lot of our clients really had no idea how to present themselves in a positive manner -- they needed someone to help them figure out the words," explains Mershon. "Sometimes it is a matter of reframing the circumstances - truthfully, but using less value-laden words. A criminal charge of 'possession of a destructive device' sounds like bomb-making, but it was really fireworks, which sounds far less threatening."

To help class participants get the hang of this "reframing," we have volunteer class leaders, both at the Clark Center and Jean's Place. Long time computer resource center volunteer Crystal Maddix was looking for a way to get more involved in helping clients overcome their homelessness, and jumped at the chance to start leading classes. Larry Hermens, also an existing volunteer providing resume and paperwork help to Clark Center clients, and Nancy Sayles have since joined the team to lead classes with the women at Jean's Place.

Overcoming barriers is a challenging, yet central part of helping our clients secure and maintain employment and housing. Whether clients have an extensive criminal history, have been living with a disability, or have not held steady employment for a number of years, most clients experience barriers that could hinder them from securing and maintaining employment or housing and advancing in their lives. The objective of this class is to help clients identify any potential barriers to their goals, and determine effective ways of overcoming these barriers.  

"The class is a great avenue to help people so they look at things in a different light," says Hermens.  "By being able to think about barriers from the employer or landlord's perspective, the participant is able to form solid answers. If they use this same format, they will be better prepared to answer questions during an interview process, and that is a great tool to have."

 One of the most important elements of the class is working with clients to acknowledge their successes, as well as their barriers, and learn how to highlight these at the same time.

"Explaining the problem is only a small part of the equation," says Mershon. "Eighty percent is learning how to say you are the best applicant, with or without barriers."

Class participants try to see their barriers from a landlord or employer's point of view, and brainstorm some of the difficult questions they may have to face. They then work through an exercise to hone their answers to these tough questions, whether related to an eviction, termination from a previous job, a felony record. This "three minute speech" is then practiced in class, for feedback from class leaders and peers.

"The most rewarding part is listening to some of the participants who are so motivated and very positive. They grab the concept and run with it. They're a great example to the rest of the class," says Hermens. "Another success is getting to the three-minute speech, which seems very scary and intimidating to everyone. There is a lot of resistance to it, but then when someone stands up and presents what they have, it touches my heart to hear them speak to their barriers, and why they're not that same person anymore."

Hands-On Fun at Jean's Place

Once a week at Jean's Place, there's a thrill in the air as the residents anticipate our newest weekly tradition - Dinner and Bingo with Hands On Greater Portland volunteers.

Hands On Greater Portland is an agency dedicated to matching individuals with meaningful volunteer projects across the city. Among the projects listed on their site, you'll find this one: serving dinner and leading bingo at Jean's Place. Volunteers each bring a portion of the night's dinner, prepare and serve it, and then the real fun begins as everyone engages in a fast-paced and competitive game of bingo.

"Of course we love the food, and we really appreciate all of their time," said one Jean's Place resident. "The Bingo games are so high-energy and fun - we just wish it lasted longer!"

Two of Hands On Greater Portland's amazing volunteer leaders, Aaron Sleeper and Kim Livesay, alternate leading these projects.

Sleeper has been leading this project for a year now, and looks forward to these projects almost as much as the ladies at Jean's Place do.  

Pizza Night"Who doesn't like getting catered to every so often?" he says of his motivation for leading this project. "In the particularly challenging lives of the homeless, it's nice for them to feel like they don't have to lift a finger for a good meal and some good bingo prizes. I enjoy helping underserved populations have fun and forget about the challenges of their own lives for a bit."

After Sleeper's year with this project, he's got a routine down - known to Jean's Place residents as "The Pizza Man," he leads his team of volunteers in fixing homemade pizzas twice a month.

Livesay started leading this project in September of last year. She has since become a Hands On Greater Portland staff member, but was so committed to this project she's stayed on as one of their volunteer leaders for her twice monthly Jean's Place projects.

"I started doing this because I wanted to volunteer on a project that focused on issues women face in our community. I also love to cook, so being able to combine those two aspects into one project at Jean's Place was ideal," says Livesay, who mixes up her menu, making something different each time.   

 "My favorite part of leading these projects is being able to interact with the women at Jean's place," says Livesay. "They inspire me, challenge me, and make me laugh out loud."

Jean's Place residents share that sentiment.

"They're really sweet people, all of the volunteers," said one resident. "There's such a spirit of camaraderie when they're here - we look forward to it every week."

To get involved in this project, visit www.handsonportland.org to register as a volunteer and sign up.