Central City Cornerstones: A Thanks to Our Volunteers

Apr 20, 2018

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On Thursday, April 19, Central City Concern held its first annual Central City Cornerstone volunteer appreciation event. Click on a photo to begin the slideshow of select photos from the event.

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We’re wrapping up this year’s volunteer week with some photos from Central City Cornerstones, CCC's first annual volunteer appreciation event. While we focused this week’s blog posts on the people who had been served by our volunteers, we would be remiss if we did not also make sure to officially recognize those volunteers as well. Keep reading for a recap on last night's festivities!

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Last night, a group of CCC staff and volunteers gathered together to celebrate a year’s worth of service from our dedicated volunteers. It was great opportunity for the volunteers, who are spread out over 29 different programs and locations at CCC, to get together and learn a little bit more about what’s going on at the organization.

President and CEO Rachel Solotaroff kicked off the evening with a few words about how volunteers have shaped the agency and been drivers of change.

Kari Fiori, a staff member at the Recovery Mentor Program, also read from this week’s blog post about a Recovery Mentor volunteer’s journey from being served to service.

Lindsey Ramsey, Letty Owings Center's (LOC) milieu supervisor, also spoke. She shared about the long history of volunteerism at LOC and how their volunteers have expanded the program's ability to serve the mothers and young children living there.

And to cap the night off, we presented Presidential Service Awards in addition to some special gifts that were generously donated by Next Adventure to 13 very special volunteers who gave 100 hours of service or more in 2017. Collectively, between those 13 volunteers, their service amounted to more than a quarter of all the volunteer hours given in 2017. Those volunteers were:

Anita August
Jeff Beers
John Bishop
Loraine Decker
Helen Hernandez
Helen Hotchkiss
Malinda Moore
Annette Moreau
Jack Ramsey
Judy Sanders
Robert Stewart
Michael Taylor
Danielle Wheeler

Thanks to all our volunteers, staff, their guests, and our generous sponsor Next Adventure for helping making the evening so special! We’re already looking forward to next year!



Living Containers of Joy

Apr 19, 2018

For Thursday’s post, we’re calling back to our January volunteer spotlight, which illuminated the efforts of Rob Stewart, who leads a container gardening class at the Old Town Recovery Center Living Room.

I dropped by the Living Room on a fairly cold and wet morning, which perhaps had the Living Room a little quieter than usual. Once Rob’s class began, however, the room turned into a buzz of activity, with people gathering around to work with their plants, chatting with Rob about the plants they had already potted, and just taking in the class.

It’s clear that Rob’s class is a much appreciated and anticipated part of the schedule of classes at the Living Room. One of the members who potted a plant during the session couldn’t contain herself and exclaimed, “Wow, it look so good already” just after getting her plant situated in its new home.

I was able to tear a couple of the participants away for a quick chat about why they enjoy the class and what it has meant to them. Read on to see how a plant can be more than just a plant, but the thing that brings joy to a home, a reminder of people we love, and a companion all in one.

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Peter: Craig proudly holds up the plant he spent Rob's class tending to.How many times have you done Rob’s class?

Craig: Once before, last week.

P: What have you enjoyed about the class?

C: I just like the idea of getting some information about the plants that are out there and learning some horticulture. And just the ability to spruce up my room a little bit.

P: So you’ve taken the one plant back with you already?

C: Yes.

P: Had you done any gardening or planting prior to this?

C: I did have a garden when I owned a home back in New York—just a vegetable garden.

P: So you came in with a green thumb?

C: I wouldn’t say I had a green thumb, but my dad was really the one that taught me as he built his own greenhouse. He taught me some different tips and over time I got the knack of having a good vegetable garden.

P: Has it been nice to bring that connection with gardening back into you space?

C: Yes.

P: Anything special you’d like to say to Rob?

C: Yeah, I think it’s really generous that he donates his time and money to allow us to take advantage of what he has to offer. So, thank you.

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'I’d like to show him one of my plants that I took care of, showing him that I picked up on it and this is what I did.'Peter: Have you done Rob’s class before?

James: Yeah! [I got] my little aloe plant, Spike. A couple weeks ago I was doing a class here with Rob and I just seen it right off the bat and I was like, “I want that one.” And the name just came to me.

P: What have you liked about doing Rob’s class?

J: Well, I think he’s well educated with plants, he’s well informed, and he’s all around a pretty nice person. Easy to talk to and he’s very patient with the Living Room clients. Not all of us are herbologists and some of us don’t even have green thumbs!

I remember when I was staying at the 8x8 (CCC’s Richard Harris Building), I was lonely sometimes in my room there, so I went up to Fred Meyer one day with the intention of buying a plant. When I did Narcotics Anonymous, there’s an old cliché where they say, if you’re in recovery and you’re trying to get companions, you gotta start at the bottom and work your way up. So, you start with a plant, and then you move up to a pet, and then you go to a person. A plant is the lowest maintenance thing you have to take care of, so that’s why I went and got one.

P: Does taking plants home from Rob’s class give you that same feeling?

J: Yeah! Plants give the home some joy. It’s subtle, but it’s important. I used to sit with my spider plant a lot. It was a big one and I would watch TV and sit with it in my lap.

P: What was that plant’s name?

J: Catalina. I named her after a girl I once knew.

P: Anything special you’d like to say to Rob?

J: I’d like to show him one of my plants that I took care of, showing him that I picked up on it and this is what I did. The idea was sparked from being here and then I took it home and I developed my own thing from it. [The plants] are a companion, you know? I used to take [my spider] plant to the house meetings, cause everybody else was [bringing] their dog. And my spider plant got so many compliments, because people saw she was healthy.

P: People saw that it was cared for?

J: Yeah, plants are alive too. Everything needs love, y’know?



Healing Ourselves in Order to Heal Others

Apr 18, 2018

For today’s blog post, we’re throwing it all the way back to last year’s Volunteer Appreciation Week, where we featured our partnership with Living Yoga and their volunteers.

One of our volunteer instructors, Diane, shared last year that, “this was [her] first real experience of volunteering,” but that her “weekly yoga volunteer hour is the best hour of [the] whole week.” Then-Director of Detoxification Services Steve Mattsson also shared that Living Yoga had not only been a fulfilling opportunity for our clients, but also that it had reduced the number of clients leaving care against professional advice.

There’s no doubt that engaging in a yoga practice can be transformative, even if the transformation is just into a hot, sweaty mess. For Chelsey, a former client of Central City Concern's Recovery Mentor Program, having access to yoga was not only an important part of her recovery journey, but also in taking the strength she gained in that process and offering it to others in her own volunteership. Read on to see how volunteers, volunteering, and, of course, yoga have been a part of her transformation.

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I was getting ready to leave rehab with nowhere to go. I couldn’t go back to where I had been and didn’t have options or resources for a home of any kind in front of me. All I had was a few months clean time and some newly found hope.

Early in her recovery, Chelsey found the gift of yoga through CCC volunteers. Now she's volunteering to pass it on to others new to their recovery.Central City Concern’s Recovery Mentor Program came into my life and set up housing for me to move from inpatient treatment into sober transitional living with a mentor to guide me through the basics of recovery, alongside intensive outpatient treatment with CCC. My dark path got lighter.

I took my first yoga class at the Old Town Clinic in the free wellness classes offered throughout the week. I don’t remember much except for looking to the teacher again and again to see if I was doing it right. Later, in the basement of the Estate Building, I took a yoga class with a volunteer teacher named Megan. Once she moved on, yoga was no longer an available option for the Mentor Program participants, so I sought out other places to practice.

While the practice itself was difficult I undeniably felt better afterwards—less anxious, less depressed, more motivated, and over time more aware of my thinking and cravings. I was able to step away from the constant mental chatter and start to have a new relationship with myself, my body, and even question my identity as I started to become a “healthy” person. Yoga has helped me work through chronic pain, build confidence through seeing myself grow and doing something difficult, and feel more in control and comfortable being present in my body. I started changing my self-destructive behavior and making amends to myself in this simple way.

It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program.... Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering.

Now, every Tuesday at 4:30, I volunteer as a yoga instructor to share with others what was freely given to me. It has been such a great opportunity to volunteer with CCC and give back to the Mentor Program. They helped me so much when I needed it; it feels good to be able to offer resources to those working to change their lives. Being of service has been a big part of feeling connected to my community and I am able to do so through volunteering. Some people come in still detoxing, newly out of Hooper. Some people have been coming back week after week and it is amazing to see the growth happening so quickly. Coming in from the chaotic busy streets to holding space for reflection and inner awareness feels like the change that could heal ourselves and downtown.

Being aware and taking advantage of resources was the difference between remaining addicted and creating a change in my life. When I moved into housing I asked who to thank and how to I could repay them. I was told that this “isn’t a hand out but a hand up.” Sometimes we just need help and to be shown the way and given an opportunity until we are fully able to heal, help ourselves, and in time, help others.

Through yoga I have learned I am capable of being stronger mentally and physically. I am able to do so much more than I have ever given myself credit for in the past. I am so grateful I get to share such an empowering and mindful practice. Through recovery we can heal ourselves and in turn heal those around us. Much like recovery, in yoga and through volunteering I am able to accept the benefits in order to offer them away.



More than Just Coffee and Conversation

Apr 17, 2018

For our first National Volunteer Week post, we’re calling back to this past February’s Volunteer Spotlight, where we singled out the work of some of the volunteers who give their time to the Letty Owings Center (LOC). June Hensala, one of the volunteers featured, spoke about how much it has meant to her to be able to take some of the LOC mothers out for coffee and conversation when they first arrive at LOC. While she said that she felt like, “the gain is really more on [her] part,” it’s clear that the benefit is not so one-sided.

A couple weeks ago, we had the chance to sit down with a current LOC client, Carly*, to talk with her about what it has meant to her to interact with volunteers like June and why it matters so much that they keep coming back.

*name changed to protect privacy

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Carly, a Letty Owings Center client, shares what it means to her to have volunteers spend Saturday mornings with her over coffee and conversation.Peter: So you’ve gotten to go out for coffee with some volunteers before?

Carly: Probably like three or four times now.

P: Are you a coffee drinker? Or do you prefer lattes or cappuccinos?

C: Yeah, I’m a coffee drinker for sure, and they usually give us a pastry also. And a lot of good conversation. It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us. They take us out and get us whatever we want and they just talk to us. They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental. They’re very, very sweet ladies.

P: How is it different or more special to have volunteer do that, rather than a staff member?

C: Just knowing that somebody cares. To see that from a stranger is really cool. Like, they want to know about your background, they want to give you advice. I remember one time I went, they asked me if I know who the “M and M presidents” were and I didn’t at the time, but it’s Madison and Monroe and it’s stuck with me ever since.

P: Were they back-to-back, is that why they’re the M and M presidents?

C: Yeah, fourth and fifth, I believe. And they came again so many months later and I told them I remembered and that just warmed their hearts that we pay attention.

P: You mentioned talking about your background with the volunteers. I wonder if you would mind sharing what that is?

C: I come from a life of basically prostitution and drugs; most of my family used drugs. I had a son about a year ago and I moved to Arizona to have him and under some pretty horrible circumstances I came back [to Portland] and he was taken from me. So, I really only had one option, which was to come to treatment [at Letty Owings Center].

When I first started here it was mainly for him, but then the longer I stayed the longer I realized that there’s more to life and it’s worth it.

"It makes you feel really nice that somebody wants to take the time out of their day, because they drive a ways to come over here to do this for us.... They ask us about our lives and they’re not judgmental."

P: Has having things like people taking you out for coffee been a part of that experience? Having something extra?

C: Yeah, it makes me want to lend a hand where help is needed, because that’s typically what it is here. It’s not about the coffee, it’s not about the treats. A lot of it is supposed to be for the newer girls since you don’t get to do very much at all when you first come in to treatment [editor’s note: LOC clients spend the first few weeks at LOC focusing on recovery activities]. They take you out for a nice treat and they take you out for a decent amount of time and they make you feel good.

P: And when I spoke to those volunteers, what they really liked was that they get to talk with younger people. Has it been nice on your side to sit down with someone who is different from you in that way?

C: Absolutely! They offer so much knowledge! Their stories about when they were our age, it’s just great.

P: Do you have a favorite story that you remember one of them telling you?

C: There’s a lady, her name is Phyllis, and she’s just the funniest woman ever. She said when she was younger, she had this job filling Easter baskets and she ended up stuffing every third candy bar up her skirt. When she got on the bus to go home they all melted and they ended up firing her from the job on her second day because she was eating all the candy bars.

P: And would there be anything that you want to say to the volunteers about what it has meant to have them come?

C: Yeah. Thank you dearly, and keep coming back. Keep coming back because it gives the new girls something to look forward to and it means a lot to us that people have experienced our presence and keep coming back.

P: That they weren’t scared away?

C: Yeah, exactly.



We Can Count on Our Volunteers: 2017 Service Report

Apr 16, 2018

While this week’s volunteer stories will center on the qualitative impact our volunteers have, when we total up the numbers, they too tell a clear story. Our volunteers are dedicated, diverse of skill, and donate more than just time to Central City Concern.

As they say, many hands make light work (or to be more specific, 922 hands). So with these kind of numbers, it’s no wonder that CCC’s volunteers are able to do so many amazing things.

If you’re interested in becoming CCC’s 268th volunteer, visit our volunteer page!

(Click on the image to download a PDF version of the infographic.)




Central City Concern Celebrates National Volunteer Week 2018!

Apr 16, 2018

It’s that time again (arguably the best time of the year), National Volunteer Week! This is always an exciting time for us at Central City Concern, as we have so many people who give their time in so many different, but equally wonderful ways. Even a week doesn’t feel long enough to begin to illuminate all the amazing things our volunteer base helps us do, but we’re excited to share this year’s stories.

For the first blog post of the Volunteer Week series, Volunteer Manager Peter Russell shares some thoughts about how we can give back to our communities and how we are highlighting our volunteers’ work this year by focusing on the people they serve.

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CCC Volunteer Manager Peter Russell shares that every volunteer role plays a part in improving our community.“I’d like to help, but I don’t know how!”

This is something I hear often when sitting down with prospective volunteers or talking with people about volunteership in general. For some people, that comes from not knowing what the available roles are, or not having had the time to volunteer previously, but I think part of it comes from the feeling that the need is so large that one person couldn’t possibly make a difference.

It’s so easy to imagine service to be something grand or dramatic. A group of fifty people banding together to go out and help finish a large project in a day or working to create a new program that will address an unmet need in our community. To be certain, this kind of work can be hugely important and necessary, but I want to challenge the idea that this is the ultimate way to give back.

In honor of this year’s National Volunteer Week, we’re calling back to some of the volunteer spotlights from the past year and showing the other side of the story. The people who have been touched by the work of those dedicated volunteers. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day—whether you’re volunteering to advocate for policy change or to hold space for others—the end result is lifting people, and thereby our community, up.

Our volunteers bring in anything from a special skill that they want to pass along to others or just a warm presence. And from a quantifiable standpoint, the fact that the average volunteer at CCC stays for almost twice as long our minimum service requirement shows that the work is just as meaningful for them as it is for us.

...at the end of the day—whether you’re volunteering to advocate for policy change or to hold space for others—the end result is lifting people, and thereby our community, up.

Most of the volunteers that we have featured in our Monthly Volunteer Spotlights give, on average, a couple shifts a month of volunteer service, but what is clear is that they have all had a tremendous impact on the people we serve. They have inspired in those they serve a sense of hope, a path toward recovery and strength, and a way for people to feel like they have a home of their own. And they have done it all one day at a time, one person at a time.

So, if in reading this week’s blogs you find yourself thinking, “I’d like to give back, but I don’t know how,” consider whether you have four hours a month or a week that you could give to a cause that matters to you. Your presence will make a difference. As one of our interview subjects said, what matters most to her is that people keep coming back.



A View from the Edge of the Mat

Apr 28, 2017

As you’ve seen by this week’s previous pieces, Living Yoga has truly ingrained themselves in Central City Concern programming. Luckily, it sounds like our class participants have endeared themselves to their teachers, as well.

“This was my first real experience of volunteering and I am so grateful for the opportunity that Living Yoga and CCC gave me to teach yoga to some of the most engaging and committed class participants,” shared a volunteer instructor, Diane, who teaches classes at Old Town Clinic. On several occasions, she’s shared that her “weekly yoga volunteer hour is the best hour of my whole week.”

With that warmth and positivity, and in the spirit of collaboration, volunteerism, and serving those who have so much to share, we wanted to finish our National Volunteer Week celebration with a piece from Laura Walsh. One of the very first Living Yoga volunteer instructors to give her time to Central City Concern—she started at Old Town Clinic some nine years ago!—Laura’s experience, wisdom, and beautiful writing seemed like the perfect way to conclude an amazing week.

Thank you, volunteers, for helping Central City Concern do more and do better with compassion, kindness, and an inspirational sense of service.

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There’s a little story about some yogis sitting at the edge of a lake in meditation. All of a sudden, one of them jumps up and runs across the lake and comes back with a shawl, puts it on, and resumes a sitting posture. A little while later, another one of the group runs across the lake and whispers she needed to check on the soup for dinner. Well, after a bit more time goes by, a more recent member stands up and says, “Ahem… seems I forgot my mala beads.” He heads out to edge of the lake, takes a running start, and quickly becomes completely wet—splashing and struggling for footing before making his way to shore again. This scenario was repeated a couple of more times before the first yogi turns to the second and asks, “Do you suppose we might tell him where the rocks are in the lake?”

A chuckle, maybe? Some recognition of one time or another continuing to use the same unskillful ways to “reach” or gain solid ground—getting a proverbial “soaking” in the process? While there are several images or metaphors to illustrate “the way” or “path,” it essentially does come back to “the journey,” yes?

In this little vignette there is the sense that each person’s intention is to travel to the other side. The teaching rests in each person finding his or her own way. For one, it may mean paying attention to how others negotiate an obstacle and what skills are needed; another may ask questions and explore the conditions of the lake; someone might walk around while another could build a raft; one possibly could find a friend with a boat or even begin an active swimming regimen. Could a map, compass, or even a guide be of help?

The yoga of “IT” is in discovering how to honor one’s circumstances and nature with a practice to live in the “ground” of life’s circumstances—the union of all in and around “the lake.” A quote from Carl Rogers, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change,” brings us again to the image of the lake.

What I have experienced in my years sharing yoga at Old Town Clinic is that there is a readiness of participants to begin the sitting and the process of travel. There is a place for each person to symbolically look into the surface of the water for a reflection of how things are at that present time. There is a quality of movement within a contained landscape. Old Town Clinic continues to provide the opportunity for offering an environment where people are supported to engage in their proverbial lakeside experience—yoga is one of the elements that assist in safe and also challenging passage.

That there is a willingness to roll out the mat and take one’s seat is one of the most courageous and affirming acts in yoga. When we begin class, yogis are reminded of the principle, ahimsa, which translates as “non-harming.” One is reminded to offer kindness and respect and to bring a gentleness to the current state of body and mind. When we link breath awareness to movement or into stillness there is a space to notice what may be present and alive and asking for attention in that moment—to do or not do…. to sit at the edge of the “lake” or to enter into the “flow” of movement.

I am ever so grateful to be a part of this community and value the time spent with the ever-positive, present, and insightful Old Town Clinic staff ally, Moira. Over the years there have been people coming to yoga as part of a treatment program or a wellness regimen, to explore calming and regulating practices, or even for a place to rest. There has been a consistent member of our yoga collective who I offer deep gratitude for his brilliance, wisdom, discernment, and generosity of spirit. He gives expression to how yoga aligns one in well-being off the mat and into the world.

To those new to the practice, to those who are curious, and to some who find it not useful or of interest… thanks for showing up and for “getting the toes wet.” Maybe some will come back or may find interest in another discipline which offers healthful benefits… or maybe not, too. All who have come to my classes, however, have been such good sports!

For your trust and good-natured spirits to try, to modify, to be patient or curious, to stay with, to be with, and to allow for or to witness—I celebrate you. I thank you. I feel touched by the quality of intimate space created by sharing breath, time, and effort together.

So, at the edge of the lake… sharing a few lines from a noted author and activist, Wendell Berry, and then “jumping” in!

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though
you have considered all the facts.

Namaste



Catching—and Finding—Breath

Apr 28, 2017

Volunteer Manager Eric Reynolds visited a Living Yoga session at Central City Concern's Letty Owings Center, our residential addiction treatment program for pregnant or parenting young women. What he saw was an opportunity for the mothers to reflect and rest in the midst of their intensive work to build better futures for themselves and their blossoming families—an opportunity they wouldn't have if not for Living Yoga's volunteer instructors. Learn more in our latest National Volunteer Week blog below!

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The class began with introductions that included each participant’s name, their reason for wanting to try yoga, and their sobriety date. In a true embodiment of the “inherent honesty in communication” that serves as a Guiding Value for Living Yoga’s practice, the instructor initiated this introduction with each subsequent participant. With the most formal portion of the class out of the way, the next hour was filled with smiles, laughter, and a few well-timed groans as seven new “yogis” planked, scorpioned, downward dogged, and child posed their way to reconnecting their mind and bodies.

The young women who begin substance use disorder treatment at Letty Owings Center have a lot on their plate. They are pregnant or parenting a young child, fairly new to a recovery-oriented lifestyle, and adjusting to unfamiliar guidelines, procedures, and regulations that will best aid in her treatment. They attend groups with their peers and meetings with counselors; they take classes to fill their life-skills toolbox with budgeting, meal planning, and parenting knowledge. The attention and effort that goes into this adjusted life, while worthwhile, can be exhausting.

Do these young women ever have a moment to simply catch their breath you might ask?

Thanks to Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors who visit Letty Owings Center twice a week, they can now stretch muscles that might have previously gone ignored, unwind themselves, and find respite. With some combination of heavy substance use, homelessness or poverty, and pregnancy and/or recent childbirth, LOC participants have experienced serious stressors over the years. The patient trauma-informed yoga Living Yoga volunteers bring to Letty Owings Center is an ideal avenue through which to aid the women’s mental, physical, and even spiritual recovery.

“I have bad anxiety so I feel like this will help a lot,” stated Danielle after completing her first-ever yoga session. “I don’t really pay attention to my breathing very often but it was relaxing with the breathing techniques. It helps.”

In conjunction with the mental gains of her foray into yoga, Danielle appreciated the physical benefits as well. “The stretching piece felt really good. I honestly don’t remember the last time I stretched like that.”

Through their volunteer instructors, Living Yoga’s goal is to “create a safe environment in which the practitioner can learn to befriend bodily sensations, to increase self-knowledge, to improve self-regulation, and to create a place of refuge within oneself.” Learning how to create a bank account, budget for a trip to the grocery store, or repair a torn pair of jeans with a sewing kit make life a little bit easier once a participant graduates from the Letty Owings Center. With a little help from Living Yoga we can now add destress through breathing, strengthen through stretching, and finding inner peace to that list as well.



Detox & Yoga: An Unlikely, but Beneficial, Pair

Apr 27, 2017

Oftentimes a first step for those who are looking to make a serious change in their lives, Hooper Detoxification & Stabilization Center is, as the program’s mission states, “a place where hope is constantly reborn.” Many are surprised to hear that our medical detoxification center incorporates the practice of yoga into the program, but it has become a vital tool in helping patients finish the treatment protocol, improving their chances of better health and recovery. We sat down with Steve Mattsson, CCC’s Director of Detoxification Services, to have a National Volunteer Week chat about the unique way in which Living Yoga’s volunteer instructors have helped patients at Hooper not only find comfort but also helped Hooper improve its outcomes.

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Can you tell me the basics? What prompted Hooper to bring Living Yoga on board?
Hooper is approximately a week-long program where people are medically detoxed. The first few days they’re not feeling very well but after that they start getting up and walking around and wanting to do stuff.

We didn’t really have a lot of activities for them, especially anything at all physical, so unfortunately we occasionally lost people who left against medical advice. We explored various things that they could do that were more physical to keep them engaged and we’d heard that—I believe it was Old Town Clinic—had some experience with Living Yoga and said great things about them. So we brought them in and initially did a pilot program with just the men and when that worked out well we expanded it to both men and women.

What kind of feedback were you wanting to hear in order to decide whether you wanted to move on with the pilot project or not?
Really the bottom line was, did the APA (Against Professional Advice) rate come down? Clients saying, “Hey, I really like this. Thank you for offering it.” is really important and we want to improve their experience here. But we also had to really assess if fewer people were leaving against medical advice now than before.

Did you see objective evidence that this worked?
Yes. We added several things during the same year as ways to bring the APA rate down. Overall our APA rates are down this year, and we believe that the Living Yoga instructors have something to do with that.

From what you see, besides the fact that it is some sort of physical activity, what about yoga is beneficial to the people who are here?
Central City Concern—and Hooper especially—have had a long partnership with acupuncturists. I think we’ve been doing it for close to 40 years, acupuncture in conjunction with the detox. And both the yoga and acupuncture really come together for these patients who aren’t feeling well. They are not at peace. Their body chemistry is out of whack and they are uncomfortable. And anything that gets them to calm down, slow their roll—yoga, acupuncture—it really helps.

With western-style medicine the nurses have to get vital signs and assess withdrawal levels and it’s all done confidentially with only one or two patients at a time. With both the acupuncture and the yoga you can work on the whole group at once and help reduce those withdrawal symptoms and that stress level and anxiety.

We have 30 to 45 patients at any time who are all detoxing and by and large not feeling well; they’re cranky. We want them to stay as calm as possible. The yoga and the acupuncture really help us keep the whole floor calm.

I know that a lot of Living Yoga volunteers have gotten some sort of trauma-informed care training. Is that something you would say is applicable to Hooper?
Absolutely. As an agency, and as a program here at Hooper, we’re all moving in a much more trauma-informed direction. Partnering with agencies like Living Yoga that are familiar with trauma-informed terminology and know what our clients have been through is wonderful. It’s excellent.

Has there been anything especially beneficial to having Living Yoga here as opposed to just any kind of yoga volunteer off the street?
Living Yoga is really sympathetic with our mission. Obviously they’ve been partners with CCC for a while and they really are about calming people down, grounding them, and showing them different ways to relax. We’ve really appreciated it. And they’re all volunteers, so they have to want to be here. They feel like they are—and they are—performing a service and giving back because otherwise they wouldn’t keep on coming. That tells us that they’re getting the kind of response from our patients that makes them want to come back again.



"Let all beings everywhere be happy and free"

Apr 26, 2017

Moira Ryan, Central City Concern Old Town Clinic’s Wellness Services Coordinator, works with a number of volunteers, and she witnesses firsthand what Living Yoga volunteer instructors bring to the patients of our community health clinic. In this latest National Volunteer Week blog post, Moira reflects on the many ways our Living Yoga volunteers meet our diverse patients where they are and embody the compassion, empathy, and kindness that we see across all CCC volunteers.

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Starting any movement or exercise practice can be so intimidating, especially for folks dealing with limited mobility, social anxiety, chronic pain, body shame, or an institutionalized mind-set. Walking into a practice like yoga can be even more stressful—“I don’t know the right words, I’ve seen yogis on TV and I know I can’t do yoga the right way,” etc.

One of the many things that I love about Living Yoga (LY) instructors is their gentle encouragement. The teachers don’t single folks out or shame modifications, but instead take the temperature of the room and offer safe options for every body. Just as important, LY teachers don’t assume that people in wheelchairs can’t test themselves, and don’t fragilize folks out of trying new postures. This mix of gentleness and encouragement the volunteers practice allows our clients to feel they have permission to try as well as permission to let themselves guide their practice. Having permission to practice being yourself in this way, and in a room full of people, is so important.

After Gentle Yoga groups, people report feeling stronger, clearer, and better about themselves. Some do leave frustrated with themselves, but many come back to try again. I’ve seen one client practice twice a week for the last year move gradually out of her wheelchair and onto the mat. She uses a chair when she needs one, and more and more, she doesn’t. Two months ago, she successfully worked her body into a beautiful Downward Dog and held that pose for over a minute. She was so happy, so pleased with herself. When new people come in and talk about “not doing it right,” she often interrupts the instructor to let the new person know that that’s ok: “We do what we can. And we’re doing it. You’re doing great.”

LY teachers typically let our classes know how yoga has worked for themselves. They talk about their own anxiety, injuries, or recovery stories, and I think this transparency makes our groups feel less didactic and more individualized and exploratory. Group members often tell me how much they enjoy the different kinds of yoga practice they learn from various teachers. One brings in harmoniums and teaches us chants ("Let all beings everywhere be happy and free" is a favorite). One offers a quieter, more internal practice. One laughs a lot, and makes us work our hamstrings like crazy. One focuses more on balance and talks about aging. One always helps us with some really yummy neck stretches. All are unique models of some different ways to practice, helping clients move away from “shoulds" and toward finding their own yoga.

Aside from the physical practice, I know that offering folks a safe, routine, short practice of meditation has been hugely helpful. It can be really tough to walk into a 30-90 minute meditation group, but not so hard to try meditation for a few minutes at the end of a yoga group. People talk about feeling more open and more peaceful because of the minutes we spend in our final relaxation pose.

Gentle Yoga has been for years one of our most successful offerings. We’ve tried other movement modalities—gentle dance, walking, etc.—but none have caught on like the classes Living Yoga offers.

I really want to thank the behinds-the-scenes team for supporting the instructors and managing the schedules and coordinating with all the programs you serve. This includes Eric Reynolds, CCC's fabulous volunteer manager, who's been instrumental in connecting Living Yoga with the Wellness Program and continues to offer ongoing support. I’d also like to thank those who donate to Living Yoga on behalf of OTC clients, for helping us provide yoga to folks who can’t afford or access studio classes.