“I like to laugh because my work is so serious.”

Name: Nicole McKinney
Age: 38
I’m from: North Portland
Now I live in: Sabin/Northeast Portland
Job: Lead Community Outreach Specialist for Commission on Children, Families, and Community (CCFC)
With the county since: 2009
Look out: I’m also a clown at fundraising events!

How long have you lived in Portland? I was born in Roanoke, VA, but I got here when I was 6 months old, so I’m an Oregonian. I left Portland to take my children on an East Coast quest to see Georgia and to meet up with family. I was also fleeing domestic violence in Oregon. I was middle class and I was too ashamed to get food stamps or TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) in my own town. I started my own business in Georgia and overcame that. You can only be away from home for so long, so I said, “I’m coming back home to figure it out.”

How did you start working at the County? I started off as an intern. At that time I was unemployed and receiving help from the government.

I saw a presentation at the Northeast Workforce Center. The Commission on Children, Families and Community came out to present about past work. I shared my story with the commission and they said, “We want you to share that story again. ” I just looked at it and said, “Oh I'll come in and I'll give my testimony. ” It ended up turning into a job. I still have my original intern badge.

How would you describe your job? I build friendships by going out to community events and finding out what their needs are. In addition, we assist low and moderate income families to become aware of and apply for services, such as Oregon Healthy Kids, TANF and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Who do you impact the most? It’s that 16-to-18 year-old group that I’ve seen that I’ve made a positive impact on. In particular, unaccompanied youth who may live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or may just live with friends. I’ve shown them how to advocate for themselves and how to use county resources.

What do you do outside of work? I just recently created a character, Nicki “Brown Clown.” There aren’t any African-American clowns in Portland. I’ve been painting faces and clowning around Portland, going to events and collecting dollars for this non-profit. It’s really fun and amazing. I made my debut at a Juneteenth event. I went out there, and the response was overwhelming. My goal is not only to do clowning for Sabin, but also for other non-profits that also support communities of color, especially African-Americans.

Although Nicole addresses serious issues like poverty and homelessness, she manages to laugh about the hardships in life--including parenting.