I don’t want to be selfish and want to be the best person I can be”. This is a quote from a new neighbor you may not have met yet. You also may not be familiar with at least 50 other new neighbors who want you to know how much they appreciate being in this neighborhood. They reside in the building at MLK and NE Sacramento, which is the home of the Volunteers of America Men’s Residential Center. It is the place that 52 men call home for 6 months while overcoming addiction and working on recovery. They are our neighbors and they would like Eliot to know a little more about them, how they are helping our neighborhood and the program that they are going to be graduating from.
As their website states, “Volunteers of America Oregon has been leading the way since 1896 in the search for innovative solutions to our community’s most complex and intractable social problems: poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, community justice, healthy and safe parenting, and care for elderly and disabled adults.” For the last 25 years, the Men’s Residential Center (MRC) has been operating in Portland. It is a residential drug and alcohol treatment center. The program includes four months of intensive treatment, two months of transitional care, and six months of continuing outpatient care. The majority of the men residing in this 52-bed facility voluntarily enter the program after being referred by the Multnomah County criminal justice system. Through counseling to understand the reasons for their addiction issues, activities to learn new patterns of behavior and outreach to local high schools to share their stories to prevent future addiction, the program has had great success in helping these men return to society to become contributing members and become stronger and more confident that life will be ok without the substances they had come to depend on.
One of the residents, Kee, would like to share with our neighborhood some of his story and his thoughts about the program, what it has done for him and how he hopes to help others avoid the substance abuse that led him to the VOA program.
The first thing you notice is his warm smile. “I’m a calm artist,” is how Kee describes himself. Kee was born in Mississippi but as a toddler moved to Portland and grew up in North and Northeast Portland. He went to Grant High School and then transferred to Fort Vancouver High School. Unfortunately, after dropping out of high school, life took a left turn and alcohol addiction changed the direction of his future. However, about a year and a half later he returned to school at Joseph L Meek ProTech High School and received his high school diploma which was a very important and proud day for Kee.
But times were still tough and he returned to drinking and wound up spending some time in prison. He is an ex-convict but he is also a father of a two year old and thinks about how he and his son’s life would have been different if he had not succumbed to alcohol addiction and the choices he made while battling that addiction.
He heard about the MRC while incarcerated and how successful the program was so decided to become a client. He says that he thinks it was a good choice because the staff and all the volunteers that give their time are amazing. He feels that the MRC staff want you to succeed. They are very supportive and have taught him to talk through issues and problems and about his feelings. The most important thing he has learned is composure. He admires successful people and models his future on those who have been in his life lately. Kee also feels very grateful for the ability to continue to learn and that he is still alive and able to move his life forward. He hopes to use his creative skills of poetry, tattoo artistry and cutting hair to find a future that is fulfilling and financially secure.
Kee loves to write poetry. He likes to use his poetry to uplift people. He hopes to effect self-esteem and lifelong change between his poetry and being part of the Speaker’s Bureau talking to high school students about his story and how to avoid addiction. “Maybe I can make a difference to someone else so they don’t have to go through what I am going through.”
One of the many opportunities for the men at the MRC is a program put on by “Write Around Portland”. That program works with both the men and women in the residential centers. As their website states, “Write Around Portland provides high quality, skillfully facilitated writing workshops in safe, accessible and respectful environments for people to write and share in community, holds community readings to promote the exchange of stories and publishes anthologies to connect writers and readers.”
Other opportunities for the men include being part of the Speaker’s Bureau which is organized by Kristin Yates, an MRC employee and also our neighborhood association secretary. She brings a few of the men to speak before high school students telling their story of addiction and recovery. The men also have been a great help delivering the Eliot News, hanging fliers to advertise neighborhood events, working on the neighborhood Spring Clean Up, volunteering at the Dawson Park Concerts and other events. The neighborhood association truly appreciates all their help and commitment to the tasks we have asked them to assist with. They are some great new neighbors that Eliot residents should get to know. Their stories are deep and we can help support their recovery. It truly does take a village.
For more information about the MRC or Volunteers of America and volunteer opportunities please visit their website at voaor.org. If anyone has an internship or employment opportunity for any of the men at the MRC, contact Kristin Yates at 503-802-0299.
The MRC is hosting a neighborhood block party on August 18th on Sacramento between MLK and 7th.
They say the sky
Is the limit to our choices
But how many astronauts
Feel the same?
To become and live a dream
From enhancement to our brains
As it states
Waste of your organs
Is detrimental, collective sense
But knowledge can arise a
From a vision, so within
With limitations in our mind
Sometimes we see it blind
Chasing goals for acceptance
Follow a shadow, left behind
Understand, they said
We can be who we choose
So if we focus & use our eyes
Is a way to figure the clues