Giving Back to the City

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In an effort to revitalize Portland’s Old Town Chinatown, the neighborhood’s community association called for volunteers to help landscape over a hundred tree wells and flowerbeds between Burnside and Glisan Street.

“We’re trying to turn this neighborhood into something that everyone who lives here will enjoy, as well as people who come [to visit],” Association Vice Chair Helen Ying says. “The purpose is to make the neighborhood look happy, presentable, and visually pleasing – so we can attract more people.”

Our Burnside Shelter is located in the heart of Old Town. In response to the call for volunteers, about 15 members of Portland Rescue Mission’s Link program stepped up to help. Our Link ministry helps homeless men transition into work and independent housing in a relatively short time span. The men stay at our Burnside Shelter while they look for work and save money; in exchange, they work several hours a week alongside our staff to help keep our facilities working smoothly.

Last Friday morning, the team arrived ready to do some serious yard work.

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“We’re cleaning up the gardens and everything,” says Oscar, a member of the Link program. “It’s cool that we’re volunteering. I like it.”

From morning till afternoon, the team pulled weeds, trimmed bushes, and laid mulch over several city blocks.

As Link member Robin puts it, “It’s a good thing to give back to the city and help beautify the streets.”

The Old Town Chinatown community association couldn’t have been more excited. “Volunteers are coming from all over,” Helen says. “I am just so stunned, not only by the number of volunteers that showed up, but by the number of organizations that have come forward to say, ‘We want to be a part of this.'”

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Tim Desper, guest services manager at our Burnside Shelter, helped organize the Link team for the event. “Taking the opportunity to be part of the Chinatown community and give back to our neighborhood partners was wholly celebrated by the men in our Link program,” Tim says. “It’s a privilege to be part of the history of such an old neighborhood, and we look forward to being a part of this community in the future and continuing to serve the needs of the individuals who make this neighborhood their home.”

The service project was highly effective not only in beautifying Chinatown, but also for establishing a standard of teamwork and unity for the members of the Link program.

“Modeling what being part of a neighborhood community is like is of great importance to us as we help bring men back into relationship and community in their lives as a whole,” Tim says. “Having positive experiences of individuals working together toward a common goal benefits not only the men here, but members of the greater community as they have the opportunity to work alongside them and get to know their stories.”

When their shift was over, the Link team couldn’t help but see the difference they had made. The sidewalks were clear and the landscaping looked beautiful and inviting, just as Helen and the Old Town Chinatown community association had hoped.

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