A Celebration of Caring
Each year on the day before Thanksgiving, the clients of Transition Projects are treated to something special: a free Thanksgiving feast at Jake's Famous Crawfish. For Jake's, this is their annual Celebration of Caring event, a great chance to give back to their community, but to our clients, it means something a great deal more. For many, this day is a welcome return to normalcy, a chance to bring their families to a nice restaurant, enjoy wonderful food and service, and leave their worries at the door.
John Underhill, General Manager at Jake's, is the driving force behind this event. The tradition started long before he came to Jake's, more than twenty years ago while managing a different restaurant. One of the staff suggested that they do something to for the people in the community. John and his team arranged a free buffet for the underserved in the community that year, and was so struck by it that he's brought the tradition with him to each restaurant he's worked at since.
About ten years ago, that restaurant became Jake's. John connected with our development director, Tony Bernal, and we've partnered on this event ever since.
"We really want to be able to do something significant for the community," says Underhill. "When you look at an agency like Transition Projects, the people they're serving, there's nothing more important than giving a little hope, and maybe through this dinner at Jake's, we can bring back something of that from their past. That's what we try to do with every element of this day, from their making a reservation, being greeted, being served as anyone else - the perfect Jake's experience."
Nearly 200 Transition Projects clients were treated to the Jake's Thanksgiving experience this year. Underhill jokes that it's a great way for the staff to "get the cobwebs out" in preparation for the over 900 Thanksgiving meals they serve in the restaurant on the following day - but that's not really what it's about for Underhill, or for the Jake's staff, most of whom request to be scheduled for the Celebration of Caring each year.
"The message we take away from this day is how fortunate we really are in our lives, and how great it is to be a part of an agency like Transition Projects, who meets folks at a basic level and provides comforts of shelter and care. It's the highlight of our holiday season, getting to serve [the Transition Projects] clients."
Charlie's Holiday Bags
Charlie Wilson, who is now well into his ninth decade, is a legandary volunteer at Transition Projects. For more years than anyone can count, he's been collecting donations for our clients and bringing them down to the shelter. Years ago, Transition Projects case manager Shelley Dixon nicknamed Charlie "the Santa Claus of Old Town" because Charlie used to carry the donations down the street in a sack, on his back. Nowadays, Charlie has finally agreed to let his daughter Gloria drive him. But Gloria waits with van while Charlie starts carrying in donations, and calling for a few people from the shelter and staff to help him.
This holiday season Charlie is continuing a holiday tradition that he and Gloria began a number of years ago. They make 60 holiday bags for the women living on the streets who use our women's showers. Charlie and Gloria fill the bags with hygiene products, candy, cards, stamps and other treats that let the gift recipient known that someone cares about them. It's a beautiful little project, brought to us by someone who never stops thinking about how we can improve the lives of others.
PACE brings donations and holiday cheer to Transition Projects
Each December, the residents of the Glisan and Clark Center shelters are visited by a group of students from Parkrose High School's PACE program bearing gifts for clients, donations, and decorations to brighten the shelter areas.
This is no ordinary donation drive. Students work for more than a month to collect the busload - literally - of donations that they bring to Transition Projects' shelters. Around 30 students are working on this year's drive, divided into committees for advertising, making phone calls to former and potential donors, scheduling donation pick-ups, etc.
Teachers incorporate a learning element into the service project as well, encouraging students to think critically about homeless issues. Transition Projects case manager Shelley Dixon has been going out to speak to the PACE class for ten years now as a part of this project.
"The kids have to write a list of at least 10 questions asking about homelessness. There are a lot of stereotypes about who homeless people are. I take their lists of questions and try to dispel the myths. I think it's a good project because it gives them a better idea about who our clients are," says Dixon.
"It's a lot of work, but it's for a great cause, and we really enjoy doing it," says PACE student Clarecia Johnson, now in her third year of working on this project. "Even with the economy being pretty bad right now, we're still getting a ton of great donations."
Students collect specific items from the Transition Project wish list - items always in need, such as towels, blankets, and hygiene supplies. Businesses and individual donors contribute to the cause, and all cash donations go toward buying more.
"After all the work collecting and making decorations, it's exciting to go to the shelters, even though it can also be sad in a way," says Clarecia. "Everyone there has a story, how they became homeless, and that's always sad, but to maybe make them smile with our gifts and decorations - that helps. It's warming to think that what we do might make their Christmas a little better."
Transition Projects Holiday Gifts
At a time when our economy is just beginning to turn itself around, and so many people are still struggling, you can give holiday gifts that will provide hope and help for the homeless, and a truly meaningful gift to your loved ones.
Donation card. Give a gift of $10 or more on behalf of a friend or loved one and we will send them a card and agency brochure. It sends a powerful message, and your gift will be put to use helping people move from homelessness to housing. After making your online gift, simply email email@example.com to tell us where you would like the card and brochure sent, and any special instructions. (Please give us four working days before the holiday of your choice to get the card to your gift recipient.)
Where I Slept. Transition Projects' recently published book, Where I Slept, is a popular holiday gift. Some people are buying 3, 4, and 10 at a time to give this holiday season. The book asks a simple question to formerly homeless people-Where did you sleep? The responses, in this book of photographs and essays, are profound. With contributions by top policy makers, activists, and concerned citizens, Where I Slept is a book that you will want to share with others. The book was recently featured in the Oregonian. The cost is $20 per copy, shipping included.
Bonus: We have a Where I Slept book group discussion guide available free of charge by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schedule a shelter meal with your friends. Providing and serving a meal is by far our most popular volunteer activity. Groups of generally 5 to 8 people plan, provide, prepare and serve dinners at our 90-bed shelters. As of the writing of this text (11/24), we still have a openings on December 16th at the Glisan Center and December 25th at the Clark Center. We also have many openings in January and throughout the new year. This is a terrific opportunity to do something positive and needed with your family and friends. To learn more, please visit our meal provider page. For more information, or to schedule a meal, please contact email@example.com.
Do not lose heart. We were made for these times. -Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The need this year is profound. Oregon currently has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in the country. On any given day, there are as many as 400 people on our shelter waiting lists. We saw a thirteen percent increase in street homelessness this year. And Portland saw an almost 22 percent increase in the number of employed homeless persons over the past year. You may have seen these and other troubling statistics already. But this is not a message of alarm, but of hope.
Transition Projects is here, at a most challenging time in our national life, because people dared to hope that together we could create better society for everyone. Forty years ago, in fact, a group of volunteers hoped that they could do something more for the then-rising tide of homelessness. And over forty years the agency has helped literally tens of thousands of people. That is a profound accomplishment that happened because someone dared to hope.
In this, our fortieth year, Transition Projects once again looked outward to the kind of future that we want for our community. With our partners at the City of Portland and the Housing Authority of Portland, we broke ground on the Resource Access Center. With an extraordinary access center, new shelter, and 130 housing units, all in an environmentally sustainable building, it will surely be a model for the nation in how to offer homeless services. And at a time when other agencies were forced to make cuts in services, we were able to maintain our level of service, and even increase it, to homeless and low income people. We were able to do that because of your support.
We are asking you to act hopefully once more and support Transition Projects with a donation this winter. We can continue offering services that move people from homelessness to housing only with your support. Please give what you can.
In Their Own Words
Transition Projects Clients Speak Out
We receive many letters from the people that we assist. The following letter came in on the day of the Resource Access Center groundbreaking ceremony.
To TPI Staff -
I would like to take this time to thank all of you for the work you all do to provide services to all of the residents here at Transition Projects, Inc. Since coming to Portland from Washington State as a victim of our country's economic downfall and becoming a homeless veteran for the first time, I have found a true example of what good minded Americans are doing to help all those less fortuate with professionalism, respect, and a whole lot of patience.
I have to relay that I have seen many tense situations which were handled with just and equal care to both parties, no matter who was right and who might have been wrong.
Today is the groundbreaking of the new TPI location, and it is a great moment for all of Portland and your organization. May all of you continue to make a difference in the lives of others and improve their quality of life.