Faith communities give DHS offices an ‘extreme makeover’

Find out why – just in time for the Holidays – dozens of volunteers from six outer East Portland churches completely redecorated the Child Welfare office complex in Powellhurst-Gilbert …

Inside the Oregon Department Human Services (DHS) Child Welfare offices, dozens of volunteers work to spruce up every corner.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Most people haven’t even noticed the sprawling Oregon Department Human Services (DHS) Child Welfare East office complex that’s set back in the shopping center at 3618 SE 122nd Avenue and SE Powell Boulevard.

But, every year, hundreds of children whose parents can no longer properly take care of them go through those doors. Inside, workers place these kids with foster parents, counsel birth parents, and arrange for supervised visitations – all with the hope of someday reuniting families.

Holding an adoptive child, Foster Parent and volunteer leader Jillana Goble spends a moment with DHS “Foster Care and Adoption Program East Multnomah Supervisor” Norene Owens, in a “toy sorting room”.

Looking around the lobby, newly painted and redecorated by City Bible Church volunteers, DHS Foster Care and Adoption Program East Multnomah Supervisor Norene Owens remarked, “This feels like Christmas in November!”

Every room – and there are many offices, meeting rooms and other spaces – was at that moment in the process of being repainted, cleaned, and refurbished, Owens told East Portland News.

Working together, DHS “Foster Home Certifier” Thu To, Branch Manager Cheryl Baldomaro-Lucas, “Foster Home Certifier” Emily Hendrix, and foster parent Kelly Brandolf, gather to prepare lunch for the volunteers.

“It started with our foster parents,” Owens explained. “They were coming in, and noticed that things looked a little bit shabby. They told us, ‘Gosh, your rooms should reflect how you feel about the families who come here.’ Those kinds of statements gave us a ‘gut check’, as we looked around our building.”

The project started small, when a pastor’s group took a tour of the facility in late summer, said Foster Parent Jillana Goble, acknowledged for spearheading the effort.

“When volunteers come in and saw the need, they couldn’t forget this space – and that it needed to be beautified. Spaces communicate messages. Believing this to be true, we wondered what messages are being communicated to our families – and our society – if they’re visiting shabby rooms.”

Jason Nolan, a volunteer from the Imago Dei Community, cleans and sanitizes toys.

At first, volunteers helped by cleaning and sanitizing toys in the visitation rooms, where children from foster homes come to visit their mom and dad, Goble said.
“Hundreds of kids a week visit in these rooms. They, and their parents, deserve to be in an environment that reflects how we feel about them; that they are loved, and cared about.”

Ansley Howard of The Gathering, and Imago Dei Community volunteers Mitra Motlagh and Lindsay Bryant paint a visitation room.

As a foster parent, and an adoptive parent, her own children have been in this building’s visitation rooms, Goble told East Portland News.

“Just seeing the need, and as a member of a church community, Imago Dei Community, it just felt that partnering with Child Welfare would be a very tangible way to bring Christ’s love and compassion into these rooms,” Goble added.

“This loving compassion for vulnerable children in our City is what united all of the churches who came forward to spend their time and effort scraping wallpaper, painting, hauling out old furniture, and assembling new furniture.”

Neatness counts” is the motto of Imago Dei Community volunteer Evan Siroky, as he cuts a paint line.

Members of six church communities rolled up their sleeves and pitched in, Goble said, also including those from:

Owens said that their DHS staff undertook redecorating the offices several years ago. But, with an ever-increasing client load, the staff members haven’t had the resources to do a recent update.

But, Goble pointed out, “The Child Welfare staff who work so hard, often have ‘secondary trauma’ from being on the ‘front lines’ of the ugliest family situations.”

With that in mind, their volunteers also painted their break room and installed new furniture. “Now they have nice place where they can gather together for a much-needed break.”

About the outcome of the projects, Owens said, “It’s become a revolutionary and revitalizing partnership among foster parents, our local faith communities, and DHS.”

To say their combined efforts is a “gift” is insufficient, Owens added.

“The morale here has skyrocketed among the staff members, as has that of our clients – from the moment they walk in the newly redecorated lobby!” Owens exclaimed. “These volunteers understand that their gift brings dignity to all the people who walk in the door – both clients and staff.”

Ross Yocum with Imago Dei and Compassion Connect Director Milan Homola assemble furniture during the day-long DHS makeover blitz.

Goble responded, “It has been a total joy coming in here. This is a way to bring in Christ’s love. We come in for no other reason other than to be openhearted – and openhanded. The staff here are delightfully-willing partners.”

Now that the paint has dried, and the furniture has been installed, they’re not walking away, Goble said.

“The beautification is just part of it. We hope that through this, we can create long-term partnerships developing – like people willing to commit and sanitize the toys, organize the Clothing Closet, and do more things to help.”

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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