Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: July 2017 Edition

Jul 28, 2017

For our latest monthly volunteer spotlight, we’re delighted to feature Jack Ramsey, who volunteers in not just one, but two, roles with Central City Concern! Read our Volunteer Manager’s interview with Jack to find out how his past professional career informs one of his volunteer roles, as well as how his second role has shaped and enriched his life today.

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Jack: Jack Ramsey and I have two roles. I volunteer over at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room and my job there is to just kind of generally help out, to chat with clients, and become part of that operation. That includes anything from washing dishes to making sandwiches. Mostly what I do is talk with folks and I’ve been doing it about nine months now I think. I feel like I’ve made friends there. If there’s a week that I can’t be there because I’m out of town, I miss them. I’ve really learned a lot from those guys. About myself, about the kinds of people that you see on the streets. People that are homeless and suffering from mental illness, addiction, they’re kind of superheroes to me, because they’re able to deal with those issues and really improve their lives.

The other is that I’m a member of the Marketing Advisory Council and what I bring to the party there is 40 years of work doing advertising and marketing.

P: I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.

J: Well, I got in to marketing because I could write. I worked for a couple of computer companies down in California, ended being an ad manager for one of them, and then I was recruited in 1976 by a small advertising agency in Silicon Valley that just happened to have as its main client a young company by the name of Intel. That was sort of my big break. During that time, a guy named Steve Jobs walked in. He had liked the Intel work we were doing and talked my boss in to helping him. About six month later we had developed all that original Apple brand and I had written the first ad for Apple.

P: What was that first ad, do you remember?

J: I just remember that it wasn’t very good. We didn’t know what a home computer was! I asked my boss, “What are they doing?” He said, “Well, it’s a home computer.” So I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “That’s what we have to figure out!”

Steve brought in a bunch of things, like a naked circuit board and a TV monitor, and he said he was going to change the world, and we were going to help him. We had to figure out what Apple would look like and what the voice should be.

When Intel moved a big part of its operations to Oregon in 1978, I moved here to open an office for my agency. My plan was to come up for a year or two and have an adventure and here I am almost 40 years later.

I almost completely retired about 3 years ago and my wife and I bought an RV and hit the road for a year. I learned for the first time in my life to live day to day and take what comes. I actually did do a couple branding projects from the road, but it was fun. I love being in the game. If I crave anything in my life, it’s solving problems.

P: Do you find that some of the skills you built in your career come in to your work at the Living Room?

J: In a lot of ways, it’s sort of the [photo] negative image of my career. I’m not selling anything, there’s no agenda with it, and I get to purely engage on a human level, with all these amazing people that are fighting the worst things you can imagine. I just get to go hang out with amazing people.

The way I ended up at the Living Room was, as I was retiring and I actually had more time to do what I wanted instead of what other people wanted me to do, I kind of wrestled with it for a while. Should I go back to school or volunteer? I couldn’t find volunteer opportunities that were meaningful to me. I met a guy one day and he says, you should get in touch with CCC. I applied on the website and I wrote a note that said that I’m happy to do anything.

I remember 30 years ago driving down Everett street and there was a guy staggering across the road and I said to my friend, “Do you ever just feel guilty, that there but for the grace of God go I?” So the opportunity to work in the living room with all these folks really appealed to me. It’s been an amazing experience and continues to be. And I’m not giving it up.

P: Any stand out experiences during your time here?

J: Yeah, there was one guy at the living room, and we would get in to these heavy philosophical conversations about human nature and science and philosophy. This is a guy who lived for ten years on a front porch. He is really a brilliant man.

P: That’s not something that we all get to do, is see the depth of people who are experiencing homelessness.

J: And what quality people they are and thoughtful and intelligent and self-aware. Even if they are in recovery from addiction or dealing with a mental illness, they’re learning how to be productive, functional people. It’s heartwarming for me to see someone’s eyes light up when they see me, because they know that I’m happy to see them too. Or when someone comes over and asks me to come talk to them. I actually feel like I’m making a difference in these people’s lives.

I’ve lead an exciting life and I’ve gotten to experience all kinds of successes and failures, but in a lot of ways, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve done. This has gone from “Oh gee, what am I going to do in my spare time?” to really one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

P: Not everyone is able to make that kind of transition.

J: I know, I feel honored that I am allowed to do this.

P: Helps keeps the skills sharp too! We haven’t talked about the Marketing Advisory Council too much, but you had said that you crave problem solving, do you get your fill of that with the MAC?

J: Well, I just came from a MAC meeting! The best thing about it is that I don’t have to do the work, but the worst thing about it is that I don’t get to do the work

At the last MAC meeting we discussed these new ads for CCC, and that we need to makes sure these ads engage people on an emotional level. This isn’t just about telling people what CCC does, it’s about making people care.

P: If you could sum it up, what keeps you coming back to volunteer?

J: The people. They’re just wonderful. The clients are wonderful people that impress me, that touch my heart, that amaze me. The people that work here and the other volunteers are here for all the right reasons. We’re here to help people. It’s a much more rewarding mission than trying to make money or make somebody a star. It’s honest.

P: What would want someone to know who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?

J: Take the plunge! The water is great. You’ll never know yourself as well as you will when you’re doing this, when you’re working completely selflessly.

• • •

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at peter.russell@ccconcern.org or visit our volunteer webpage.



"My battle with addiction and ADHD"

Jul 25, 2017

Babs, a patient of Central City Concern's Old Town Recovery Center (OTRC), approached us earlier this year with a story to tell. Her story to tell.  And with the help of Dr. Brent Beenders, a former OHSU psychiatry resident at OTRC, she wrote it out. We're grateful that Babs is a part of our CCC community and honored that she asked us to help share her journey.

• • •

My name is Babs. This is my story about battling addiction.

I've been an addict of methamphetamines and heroin for many years. I’ve experienced numerous periods of sobriety and relapse. NA meetings, SMART Recovery meetings, and various types of therapy provided me some, but not sustained, relief.

To fully appreciate my story we need to begin with my birth. I was born in 1960. I had various injuries during my birth. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and my hand was pressed into my skull causing a compressed skull fracture. I am convinced that I was trying to get the cord from around my neck, thus causing my brain injury.

Not that this was enough, but my mother was addicted to alcohol, heroin, and barbiturates before and during her pregnancy with me. My mother’s attempted suicide while I was in the womb also may have been significant in my early development. I had seizures starting from birth. This combination of traumatic brain injury, seizures, and being born addicted to heroin and barbiturates set me up for a lifetime of frustration, fits of anger, anxiety, depression, cognitive difficulties, and severe attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Eventually I developed addictions to substances.

I had severe ADHD from a very young age which caused me difficulty in school; I was unable to sit still and could not concentrate on my work or comprehend what was taught. My symptoms were severe enough that I had to repeat the second grade; this was disruptive in that I lost my first group of friends. Finally, I was treated for my ADHD. This improved my hyperactivity, attention, and ability to focus. Despite learning disabilities, finally I was able to progress through several grades. Unfortunately, my doctors at the time thought that ADHD would resolve with puberty, so my medication was discontinued at age 12. I was able to struggle only through the first half of my sophomore year of high school after which I dropped out.

Three months after discontinuing my ADHD medicine was my first experience with street drugs. With the exception of a few brief periods of sobriety, I used illegal drugs daily for many years. I primarily used methamphetamine, but I also used heroin. My brain and body did not seem to know the difference between these different drugs. Without my ADHD medications, I found it near-impossible to use basic survival or coping tools. What the drugs did for me was provide brief relief from the chaos I was experiencing inside.

From the beginning of these years of drug use, I experienced numerous, deep physical and emotional traumas. The resulting PTSD further deepened my addictions and resulted in further personal turmoil. While there were many reasons for my turn to drugs, one important reason that I’ve come to realize is my untreated ADHD. With untreated ADHD, impulsivity ran rampant. ADHD, coupled with a naïve young adolescent brain, contributed to my drug use and other choices that resulted in years of intense victimization and abuse.

The key to breaking free from this cycle of drug abuse and trauma was getting adequate treatment for my ADHD. Given years of amphetamine abuse and sporadic use, finding a provider that would treat this disorder adequately was difficult—almost impossible—despite such an extensive record of my historical diagnosis and past treatment. I tried various treatment strategies recommended by various doctors over the years to address mood and anxiety, which were decidedly dysregulated. These included various antidepressants and antipsychotic medications; this treatment left me with even more severe depression and prone to fits of anger.

Though I had been a patient of Central City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center years ago, I was getting increasingly desperate for help with my ADHD and how chaotic it made my life, so I decided to reestablish myself as a patient. Working with a psychiatric doctor, we found a medication that could be of immense help and would balance the chemicals in my brain, helping me focus, stay calm, regulate my emotions, and regain control of my life. But there was a big catch: I needed to show that I could be alcohol and drug free in order be given a prescription.

The doctor at Old Town Recovery Center—who, thankfully, understood how brain injuries, trauma, and addiction all affect each other—told me that if I could get alcohol and drug free, we could get started on medication. Ironically, without the right medication, sobriety sounded impossible. And given my current condition and my history of substance use, I was terrified that this was just turning out to be another dead end.

But something special happened: my doctor told me that she believed in me and my ability to get and stay in recovery. She saw that I needed it and that I wanted to regain control of my life. She not only saw the strength inside me, but the supports I could get outside myself.

During the time that I had to show I could get into and stay in recovery, I leaned heavily on the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room program, where a group of peers—each managing their own addiction and mental illness each day—helped me stay on the path of recovery. I learned how to sit in my discomfort and doubts, to embrace them.

Finally, in June 2015, we started the medication. It immediately calmed my thoughts and motor behavior. This allowed me to relearn how to focus on tasks, it provided me with motivation to accomplish tasks, and it allowed for me to sleep more regularly and soundly.

Most importantly it has allowed for me to remain in recovery. For so many years I was utilizing amphetamines and other drugs to try to help regulate my emotions, soothe my anxiety, and even allow me to sleep. With adequate treatment and continued recovery, I feel like I have now been able to finally “grow up.”

Even my interests have shifted. I’ve been on the board of a community health center and was able to help initiate a needle depository program for the City of Portland; among the many benefits of this, important to me is maintaining a clean public environment. I was also able to get some health issues addressed. I needed surgery on my neck and no surgeon was willing to operate on me because of my addictions. After my surgery, the sensations, strength, and dexterity in my hands all improved. I have been able to complete classes to become a certified peer support specialist. Now I can help others who are struggling with similar issues.

Recovery is a unique process for each individual, and I could not hope to elaborate on every step along the way. Here, I hope to have provided a sufficient overview to understand my recovery and the importance of treatment for ADHD.

Acknowledgments: In order to accomplish writing this article I utilized the help of Brent Beenders, MD, a psychiatry resident to help focus my thoughts and polish my prose. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me in my recovery.

I dedicate this to all the addicts out there who are still struggling.



"I can’t believe I get to move in here..."

Jul 13, 2017

On a perfect sunny July afternoon in Southwest Portland’s Lair Hill neighborhood, several dozen people gathered in the parking lot of Hill Park Apartments to drink iced coffee and celebrate the new building’s grand opening.

Soon-to-be resident Kellie Knight cut the ceremonial ribbon after sharing her story. “I don’t even have words right now,” she told the crowd. “I can’t believe I get to move in here and have some place that I can call home.” Kellie was addicted to drugs and in and out of prison for most of her life until she came to Central City Concern (CCC) in 2015. She now has full-time permanent employment and, for the first time, her own apartment.

CCC, Portland’s nonprofit serving people impacted by homelessness, poverty and addictions since 1979, opened the 39-unit housing building on July 11. It’s a three-story building on the edge of Portland’s southwest downtown area, close to transportation, parks and shopping. It will include supportive services for the residents of eight units that will be home to people living with mental illness. The apartments are spacious with ceiling fans and natural wood accents. The Earth Advantage-certified building is energy efficient with solar panels.

“We understand that downtown belongs to everybody. If we’re going to have a healthy downtown, we need it to reflect a certain set of values. Those values turn into people and those people turn into a diverse city that we can be proud of,” said Ed Blackburn, CCC’s president and CEO. “This building is adding to that.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler was there as well. “This is a community effort, one that we can all be proud of,” he said. “In my opinion, this represents one of the great ways this city comes together to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community get back on their feet.”

Commissioner Dan Saltzman shared that his family had moved into the Lair Hill neighborhood in the 1920s when it was predominantly occupied by Italian and Jewish immigrants. “This has always been a vibrant neighborhood,” Saltzman said. “I hope that these Hill Park Apartments will be as good to its residents as this area has been to my family.”

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury explained how the eight residents managing mental illness are receiving and will continue to receive appropriate support from CCC’s behavioral health staff. These residents are engaged with Central City Concern’s outpatient behavioral health program—the Old Town Recovery Center—where they receive many services and will have access to CCC’s proven integrated care models. They will also be empowered and supported in carving their path to self-sufficiency. “We know that by connecting people to the resources that they need they can overcome barriers and truly change their lives,” she said. “However, without housing there is no healing. Housing is indeed health care.”

Other speakers at the grand opening included Sean Hubert, CCC’s chief housing and employment officer; Rachel Solotaroff, CCC’s chief medical officer; Jeri Young from US Bank and Margaret Salazar from Oregon Housing and Community Services.

     

Hill Park Apartments has 39 units: 17 studio and 22 one-bedroom. Major contributors include US Bank, Portland Housing Bureau, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Oregon Health Authority, Home Forward, Providence Health & Services, and Energy Trust of Oregon. Further, Steven Stone and Elana Stone Anderson of BedMart teamed up with Tempur-Pedic Mattresses to donate 30 mattresses for the incoming residents; the donation was facilitated by CCC's longtime partner, Community Warehouse.

The architect is Carleton Hart Architecture and the general contractor is Colas Construction, Inc.