Multnomah County Presents 2022 Volunteer Awards as Council Celebrates National Volunteer Week

April 22, 2022

As a literacy tutor, Maria Baker met her student, who goes by the name ‘J’, at the library at the height of the pandemic 11 months ago. English is Jay’s first language, but he suffers from dyslexia. As dyslexia herself, Baker knows firsthand the experience of living with a reading disability.

“He didn’t know there was a ‘t’ in the word ‘nutmeg’ for 66 years,” Baker said. “What I can relate to, having dyslexia, myself.”

Dyslexia runs in Baker’s family. His father had it and one of his three teenagers had it. Growing up, she never saw her father holding a book or diary. She never saw him vote. His son, meanwhile, is graduating from high school at the top of his class.

Early intervention ensured Baker’s son got the help he needed to reach his full potential. Seeing the huge difference between her father’s life and her son’s life inspired Maria become a literacy tutor. She was matched with J when she contacted Lisa Regimbal, adult literacy coordinator for the Multnomah County Library.

Since they started working together, J has been booming. “When you learn to read and write, words take on new meaning and better pronunciation,” Baker said. “It’s life changing, and I love giving her that gift.”

Baker was an invited guest at the board meeting on Thursday, April 21 as the board proclaimed April 17-April 23, 2022 as Volunteer Week in Multnomah County. The event, sponsored by the Office of Community Involvement, honors and recognizes county volunteers and recognizes their outstanding contributions to county programs and services.

“We take great pleasure in honoring all volunteers with gratitude and appreciation for their selfless efforts,” said Dani Bernstein, who directs the Office of Community Involvement.

The proclamation also served as the 2022 Volunteer Awards ceremony. This year, county departments and offices were invited to nominate volunteers who have made a significant contribution to their work. Forty-three individuals received certificates in recognition of their service to Multnomah County and the community.

Volunteer awards span nearly every county department. The awards recognize volunteers who have contributed in multiple ways, from those who walk dogs for animal services on Saturdays at 6 a.m. to those who study the county charter and recommend changes to voters for approval.

“Volunteering is not just about helping others,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “It’s also a way to build connections and relationships within the community.”

See the 2022 Volunteer Awards recipients

Library literacy programs run by volunteers serve youth and adults

Volunteers provide a significant amount of library services, said Liza Dyer, volunteer engagement specialist for the library. Volunteers also provide behind-the-scenes work that isn’t always visible, both online and in person.

The library’s adult literacy team works with over 70 volunteers who provide exercises for English learners. The program also offers one-on-one tutoring for GED students and adults learning to read. Most of their programs are virtual and the goal is to transition to a hybrid program.

The library also has a program dedicated to youth literacy. The service started in March 2021 in response to the challenges families faced with online schooling. Caregivers were asking for academic support and the library listened, said Jen May, librarian for Youth and Family Services.

Following in the footsteps of the adult literacy program, the library recruited volunteers ready to work with K-12 youth covering language arts, math, social studies and science.

The first term had six volunteer tutors serving 12 students. Since then, it has grown to 22 tutors helping 66. As of March 1, 2022, the program has hosted over 1,000 tutoring sessions. “It would be absolutely impossible without our volunteers, who vary in age, background and experience, and even geography,” May said.

Volunteers help youth involved in justice to ‘explore their dreams for the future’

Volunteers also play a role in helping young people involved in the juvenile justice system with healing, hope and resilience, said Stephanie Bolson, the volunteer and intern program manager at the Department of Community Justice.

One example is Portland State University’s Capstone program, which gives young people involved in justice a voice and a means to express themselves. As part of the program, PSU students hold weekly creative workshops in which DCJ youth produce art and prose.

The highlight of the program is a zine, similar to a literary magazine. Throughout the year, students work with young people to produce a printed publication featuring their writings and works. Students, faculty, and family members see the work of young people reflected in the pages.

“I love zines and poetry and the ability of young people to express who they are, their feelings and their creativity,” said curator Sharon Meieran.

Each capstone project has a theme. A recent theme was “What I wish people knew about me”. Through each theme, young people in detention can express and process meaningful experiences.

“This whole process of coming in, meeting students every week and working with them gives our young people the ability to express their feelings,” said Karie Will, DCJ’s evidence-based practice manager. “It gives them the opportunity to explore their dreams for the future.”

Will then shared an excerpt from one of the youths in custody:

I understand that everything happens for a reason. I say I’m fine. I dream of being outside. I try to stay calm. I hope everything is okay. I am strong and caring.

“It’s really about witnessing someone’s trauma and acknowledging their pain, their journey and their future,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann.

Capstone projects are equally meaningful for PSU students, said Dr. Matt Ross, an adjunct professor at PSU who coordinates the program. Many students who volunteer for the program decide to pursue careers working with youth in custody.

“It’s not a one-sided relationship,” Dr. Ross said. “It’s a two-sided thing, and we can all learn and grow, and become better people in society through it.”

Ross says another benefit of the project is that it builds empathy and rapport between the students and the young people they mentor. Many young people in detention have been marginalized, Dr Ross said. By working with them, he says, his students become allies.

“The work you do individually, the work you lead for students, and the impact you have shared in the lives of the people we serve in Multnomah County is truly amazing,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.

At the end of the presentation, Bernstein read the proclamation aloud. Council members expressed their gratitude to all volunteers in the county for their service to the community.

President Deborah Kafoury highlighted the commitment of those who volunteered their time and services, especially in light of the challenges and barriers the community has faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just want to say how much I appreciate you,” President Deborah Kafoury told the presenters. “I really love hearing your personal stories – it makes the job so much more real.”

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