Monthly Volunteer Spotlight: August 2017 Edition

Aug 30, 2017

For this month's volunteer spotlight, we are turning to another volunteer who has multiple roles at Central City Concern. While Michael initially got started with Central City Concern as a volunteer at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room program, much like last month’s spotlighted volunteer, his interest in the behind the scenes work for nonprofit organizations led to him expanding his role to include a variety of work in the Public Affairs department. Both roles are well-served by Michael’s ample ability to be an open ear to others. Hayden Buell, who supervises Michael at the Living Room, summed it up, saying, “Michael stands out as a volunteer in his ability to listen to our members and get to know them and their stories in a way that really honors their individuality. He’ll just sit down and give them space to share themselves.”

Michael was so generous in turn as to share himself with us for this month’s spotlight!

• • •

Peter: What is your name and volunteer position?

Michael: My name is Michael Thomas Taylor, and I volunteer with CCC in two places. I’ve been at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room since February and I’ve been helping in the Public Affairs department as well. I actually came in to talk to Susan [CCC’s Marketing and Communications Director] just because I wanted to do an informational interview, as I’m interested in moving into nonprofit work. Then Matt [CCC’s Grants Manager] said, “Hey, if you’re looking for an opportunity to help out and get some experience, you can help me with grants.” I’ve written a lot of grants as a professor, so that seemed like something that made sense. Then Susan had some projects, doing interviews with CCC clients, and blog posts.

P: So, you got most of your grant writing experience from your time as a professor?

M: Yeah, that’s one of the things you do as a professor – research, and if you want to do research you have to pay for it, and if you want to pay for it you have to write grants.

P: How did you get in to that line of work?

M: Short answer? I ran away to Europe. I grew up in the States, but I wanted to see more of the world pretty quickly. I spent a year abroad in Hungary as a foreign exchange student in high school. I wanted to stay connected with that, so in college, I started out as a music major and ended up as a German major, which worked because it got me back to Europe. I spent a year in Austria and a year and a half Germany, and then one thing led to another and I ended up doing a PhD in German. [A PhD in German] is an in-depth study of language and literature, but for me it also became a study of cultural history. A lot of my published research is in queer history or the history of sexuality, with a focus on Germany, and I branched out to do some work in curating exhibitions and communicating queer history to the public. That gave me some pretty awesome experiences and a fairly international background. I had some post-docs in Germany, and I was in France for a summer. Then my first job was in Canada, so I’ve kind of lived in lots of different places.

“Recovery can’t happen if you’re alone, that’s the first step is getting help. That’s why the connection is so crucial.”

P: What was that job in Canada?

M: I was an assistant professor of German. I was there for five years before I came to Reed College. We loved Canada – and even took Canadian citizenship! – but frankly it was too cold. I kind of thought [Reed] would be the next step in my career, but things have turned out differently and I’ve decided to make a career change.

P: And I guess part of that change and interest in nonprofit work is your time here! What initially drew you to CCC?

M: Being in recovery myself, but I also knew lots of people who’d been helped through CCC programs. I feel really strongly about the mission, and I have friends who work at CCC. [One of those friends and I] were actually snowshoeing on Mt. Hood, and we were just talking about this career change and what goals do I have. I mentioned I was interested in learning more about social service work. He was just like, “If you want to get a sense of what that might look like, you could come volunteer in the Living Room!” We had talked about what that space looks like and the community model they have there. What I love about the Living Room is that it’s not necessarily about clinical services. It’s really about a safe space, it’s about a community in which everybody is a member and everybody participates.

P: So there’s no barriers in between people there.

M: Yeah, the hierarchy is flattened out and everyone participates equally. A lot of the spiritual tools I’ve learned from being a Radical Faerie, about holding space and community, are happening at the Living Room and I just thought that was something I would love to be a part of.

P: Any experiences that have stuck out?

M: Well, getting to know some of the people. Everybody has their own story, and some people are more open about that or not. You need to build trust and sometimes you just need to be there and be present for people, so they see that you’re there, and you’re safe, and you’re interested in them and their success.

Sometimes we color, we just sit down and color and you just kind of talk with people and see what’s going on in their lives. There’s mental illness in my family and I don’t think my family had the tools that it needed to deal with that. You know, pills were often the solution, and that doesn’t always work without some sort of community support and skills model.

It was super powerful for me to come in to a room and see people, some of whom have very severe mental illness, just have a place to be to be understood, to be accepted, to be safe, to fit in, to connect in their own particular way. That has been really powerful and meaningful. It just puts a human face to people that we all live with. We all live in the same space together. That’s important, just to recognize that.

Every morning we sit down for an hour and do a group. There’s an icebreaking question like, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” Or sometimes something more intense, like, “What does recovery mean for you?” Everyone gets to speak, we have a stuffed bunny we pass around to indicate it’s your turn to speak. It’s often a lot of practice in holding community norms and values, letting other people speak, not interrupting, balancing “I have a lot to say” against “everybody needs to speak.” So slowing things down, and just learning how, practicing, being a community together.

“I guess it’s a recovery cliché, but the stories are so different, and they are all the same. To really recognize that sameness as a source of strength and community, I think is really powerful.”

P: With the client stories that you have been writing, have there been any stand out moments from the interviews?

M: You know, I am just consistently amazed at the resilience of people. That’s really powerful. I guess it’s a recovery cliché, but the stories are so different, and they are all the same. To really recognize that sameness as a source of strength and community, I think, is really powerful.

P: Being able to identify with others or see models for success?

M: And normalizing the struggles that people have gone though. So much about mental illness and addiction is about isolation, and I think breaking that sense of isolation is crucial to recovery.

P: Big or small, I think we’ve all felt that sense of relief when someone says, “No, I feel the same way, I’ve been through the same thing.”

M: I think recovery needs that. Recovery can’t happen if you’re alone; that’s why the first step is getting help. That’s why the connection is so crucial.

P: So, what keeps you volunteering at CCC?

M: I feel deeply committed to the work CCC is doing, and I’m getting some great experience. And I love the people. It’s just fun to be here and I’m genuinely excited about the work I am doing.

P: What would you say to someone who is on the fence about volunteering?

M: Try it out! What do you have to lose?

• • •

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.



"A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love."

Jun 23, 2017

By all accounts, the Imani Center mahafali graduation was a celebratory, joyous affair, but there were pockets of immense beauty and reflection to be found, as well. One of the day's more poignant moments came when Malcolm, an Imani Center graduate, shared a poem he had originally written for his cousin and his son that he felt was appropriate for the day. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by the poem, which served to remind his fellow graduates of their worth, their path, and their promise,  We're grateful to Malcolm that he gave us permission to share his poem here.

• • •

A poem for Khabral Muhammad, Aaron Sadiq and many other Black men I love.

You my brother,

 are strong beyond your own knowing.

Even when you lay here,

heaving,

broken,

hurting.

You are strong.

Listen to me.

Your strength lies not in your right

or left hand.

Not in your thighs or back

or feet.

But in a place beyond you,

not to be touched,

or doubted,

only held here

when you need.

You will be unbreakable stone.

You will be the heat that burns the dross and waste.

You will be the solid earth on which they stand.

You will be the vine that pulls down the walls.

But for now, be like water. Be easy, flow over and around these obstacles. Seek your own level.

You, my brother cannot be conquered or defeated.

You will push on and over and past, like water.

You will overcome.

The truth is, you are a King among men.

But you have hidden yourself in the mundane, in the badlands.

You walk the badlands among shadows and bad men.

You do not belong chasing these shadows but you love it here.

And here you gleam.

The shadows are attracted to your shine.

You, are no mundane.

The water in you calls for release

It rushes back and forth in your veins.

The clash of tides is in you.

In your ears and toes and fingers it surges and thunders.

This dance you do-this up and down

This back and forth.

Aren’t you tired?

Isn’t this burden heavy?

Don’t you want to rise?

And join your people?

Don’t you want to rise?

It is all there for you. Yours to claim.

All of it.

You only have to release this weight.

Let go,

Let it go.

Let it go, ascend.

Malcolm Shabazz Hoover
Portland, 2017



Empowerment by Design: CCC Celebrates Black History Month & the Imani Center

Feb 23, 2017

Happy Black History Month from Central City Concern!

We are thankful for occasions like Black History Month to intentionally set aside time to celebrate and reflect on the richness and depth of Black history and culture.

As an agency, we also aim to daily honor the strength, resilience, creativity, and joy that are core to the African American experience. A primary way we do that is through CCC’s Imani Center program, which offers culturally specific and responsive outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services, peer support, and case management.

Based out of the historic Golden West Hotel building—itself a significant part of Portland’s Black history—the Imani Center is a prime example of a community using knowledge of its members’ histories and needs to help its own.

According to Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services, Black clients of mainstream mental health and addiction treatment programs often face unique barriers to their recovery success. “When African American clients come in with different experiences and different perspectives and they try to fit the client into that [mainstream treatment] curriculum, there’s often some tension there.”

But at the Imani Center, we provide Afrocentric services. All mental health and addiction counselors, as well as the peer support specialists, identify as African American; several have longstanding ties to the Portland area. Clients can feel like they are in a safe place. Here, they can talk about the impact of racism and discrimination knowing the staff understand firsthand what they’re talking about because of the staff’s collective experience.

“We know how it goes and we know how it feels,” Linda says. “We the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are. We can share with clients how they might be able to navigate [their recovery] and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.” There is an understanding that the Imani Center's services explore the meaning of being Black in America and how it impacts one’s recovery. There is also an understanding that the Black self is deeply entrenched with the collective experience. (Bassey, 2007)

During the listening and planning process that preceded the Imani Center, CCC heard the African American community say that they valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Today, between Imani Center’s eight-person staff, there are three Masters of Social Work degrees, three Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling credentials, three Certified Recovery Mentor credentials, and three Qualified Mental Health Professional designations. While those qualifications are impressive, Linda says that they send a message. “We need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving.”

So while innovative counseling approaches and a full slate of group sessions drive much of the change that Imani Center clients see in themselves, much of their success comes from seeing themselves reflected in the make-up of the staff. This empowerment is by design. Addiction and mental health recovery, as well as educational and professional achievements, seem so much more possible when one can readily picture themselves in the shoes of an Imani staff member who has walked that path ahead of them.

Each day, the Imani staff reaches back to pull other members of the Portland African American community up with them. They understand what their clients are experiencing; now, they’re committed to helping their clients experience the empowering freedom that comes along with recovery.

• • •

The Imani Center is accepting new clients. If you know someone who may benefit from talking with a counselor who will listen on a regular basis and offer compassionate support, please pass on this information about the Imani Center.

Anyone can schedule an eligibility screening by contacting the Imani Center at 503-226-4060 or Imanicenter@ccconcern.org.



Black History Month: Hear from the Peers at Imani

Feb 18, 2016

In last week’s two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1, Part 2), CCC’s Director of African American Services, emphasized the importance of Imani’s three peer support specialists and the special relationship they foster with clients in need of guidance in their recovery from addiction and behavioral health challenges. In today’s Black History Month blog post, we hear directly from the three Imani Center peer support specialists—Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson—about how they view their work.

• • •

Walter: For me, being a Peer Service Specialist at Imani means that I have an opportunity to help my people rebuild their lives from the ground up, and give them hope and encouragement to achieve a better life.

I think that I have a plethora of things I bring to this position, but mainly my experience of once being a hopeless dope fiend. Thankfully, over time I realized I was lost and broken and I finally asked for help. Since I surrendered to getting help, I’ve been recreated into a dope-less hope fiend!

I joined Imani because I wanted a challenge to bring my skill set to a new program that I know can be an impact in the Portland community. I love seeing people change lives and find success. We meet clients where they’re at in life. We won’t give up on people and our team at the Imani Center takes great pride in providing the best care, services and support networks that we can to help clients realize they can feel safe, and they can feel supported and cared for.

Bonnie: Being a peer Support Specialist at Imani means so much to me. Being in recovery now for 25 years myself, I feel that I have so much life experience when it come to this kind of work. I totally understand the many challenges clients struggle with even when they get clean.

I have spent many years working in and around recovery; I started doing this work in 1992! I'm a certified alcohol and drug addiction counselor and I always knew I wanted to do this work.

But I really wanted to come from behind the desk as a counselor and be on the front line helping people, meeting people where they were at. I was a Family Involvement Team (FIT) Case Manager for six years and remember how rewarding the work was watching people and families heal. So I recently got certified as Peer Mentor, and here I am.

I think Imani is special because we are a culturally specific program and we understand our clients’ many struggles as it relates to being misunderstood for so long. A recent client told me, “I’ve never seen a program like this. This is what we needed: someone to listen and to support us." Since the word has been out about Imani, we’ve been swamped with clients trying to get in. Imani means faith, and they sure have faith in us.

Richie: I feel fortunate and blessed with this opportunity to be a peer service specialist at the Imani Center and to serve people doing something that I love. We work together with a common goal and with our clients in mind.

I’m in the second term of my drug and alcohol addiction counseling certification cohort and will be starting my practicum soon. I’ve got my Certified Recovery Mentor certification and firsthand experience in the field. All that while also being in recovery myself gives me a unique perspective to support our clients’ needs and help them learn new tools for their own recovery.

I wanted to be a part of Imani because it has a great foundation in Central City Concern and the great work CCC does in the community. Between the clinicians and the peer service specialists, and with [Director of African American Services] Linda Hudson leading us, Imani has extraordinary staff with great credentials. I feel confident Imani will be provide successful outpatient services.

 



Black History Month: Q&A With Linda Hudson (Part 2)

Feb 11, 2016

Today we share Part 2 of our Q&A session with Linda Hudson, Director of African American Services. The conversation touches on the paramount important of peer services, her personal connection to the word “imani,” and the feeling of history in the Golden West Hotel where the Imani Center is based. You can read Part 1 here. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ÿ• • •

What services are offered at the Imani Center to African American clients?
The Imani Center offers outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol addiction treatment services through both group and individual counseling. We do facilitated groups for cultural healing and criminality, or relapse prevention, groups just for women, and so on. We provide case management and help people develop life skills. We engage with patients at Hooper Detox and bring them into the fold of services.

We also have peer services, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of our program.

Why are peer services so important? What do peer services at the Imani Center look like?
Traditionally in treatment you come in, you go to group or you do an individual session with your counselor, and that’s pretty much it. After that, you go out in the world and you’re pretty much on your own to navigate and find resources. Trying to come out of a life of addiction and drugs and crime and all those things, and perhaps living with behavioral health issues on top of that, and just trying to figure out how to do this clean and sober life and all you’re expected to do along with it—that’s incredibly hard.

But with a peer attached to you when you walk out the door of the Imani Center, the client has someone saying things to them like “I’ll meet you at the meeting” or “I’ll come and get you to help you move” or “I’ll take you to the clothes closet.” That’s what our peers do.

The work of our three Peer Service Specialists is largely done outside the clinic setting. They wrap around the client in both mental health matters and addictions and support them in navigating the scary world of trying to stay in recovery and trying to change their lives. When a client walks daily with someone who they can call when they’re in a crisis or can meet them at a meeting or they can take you to the grocery store in the afternoon, it just makes all the difference. Our clients really benefit from it.

The three Imani peer specialists also have similar life experiences. They’ve earned the right to say, “I get it. I understand. I know what you’re saying.” Because of that, the clients almost listen to them more compared to a counselor may not have that firsthand experience of addictions or mental health difficulties.

Aside from the peer mentors, what other ways does the Imani Center emphasize relationships?
African Americans are relational people. We have family that isn’t blood. We’ve grown up taking other people into our homes. What makes family is acceptance and respect. Sitting around, breaking bread together…

If you sat here [in our lobby] for an hour, you’d see clients come in and the peers interact with them like family. It comes down to I see you, I hear you, I honor you. That’s how it is.

And we speak to them with respect. Looking them in the face and shaking their hand and hugging when we can. We strive to create an atmosphere like a family but with boundaries, of course. And because of that relationship, we can often say things to them that others can’t, and they hear it. Because of the cultural connection that we have, we have an understanding, and we can hear each other better.

What does it mean to you to be based in the historic Golden West Hotel ?
It wasn’t the plan originally! When we were looking for a place to put Imani, I knew we couldn’t be in a place where we couldn’t be ourselves. So off-handedly I suggested the Golden West and that idea gained support quickly!

The building itself makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. It means a lot for people to know that this is where African Americans stayed in the 20s and 30s. People who worked on the railroads stayed here, this was the only place they had. There was a thriving Black community here. There were businesses and barbershops here.

Right in this hotel, right down there, that was the gambling area, it was one of the largest gambling halls around. And they had music recitals here. I love the history.

It still needs some work, but thankfully renovations are coming soon. 

I heard that you really pushed for this program to be named the “Imani Center.” Why?
It’s personal. When we were trying to figure out a name for this program, I had several ideas. But I wanted the name to, numbers one, mean something. Two, I didn’t want an acronym. [laughs] But I wanted it to mean something to not just me, but also the clients—something they could relate to.

So you know that “imani” means “faith” in Swahili. Without faith, our people would not still be around… striving, thriving, trying to get better, and holding on. Faith was a thing that was ingrained in us as children growing up. We saw our parents and grandparents worshipping in the church and such, always talking about having faith. “Have faith in God. Have faith in this, have faith in that.”

It’s one of those words that feels like a foundation for me. Faith is the foundation of all things we hope for and wish for. So when we had about two or three options, the staff—they helped me choose— they all liked the word “Imani” because it was about faith.

I want the clients to have something to remind them to have faith in themselves first. We speak a lot about higher powers in here, in a power greater than yourself. Having faith that things are going to turn out right. So if they have faith in themselves, and faith in us as clinicians and as people who care about them, that means there’s faith in Central City Concern, too. So that’s why Imani came about.

And I wanted it to be Imani Center instead of Program because I want our people to have access to the same things other people do within all of CCC. The center can be a hub for a lot more of those services for African Americans and people of color in the future. If it’s the center, that means we’re a hub, and we want to be on the hook for doing a lot more.