More than 130 families spent their Saturday morning (May 15), in a virtual summit designed to build relationships and share information in a safe space about legal matters, education, advocacy, employment, safety and health.
The forum — hosted by Multnomah County, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and Rosemary Anderson High School, Latino Network, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), Native American Youth and Family Center, and Northwest Family Services — served as an information hub for parents, many reeling from crises that were exacerbated by the events of the last year and continue to unfold into 2021.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from economic strife to the shuttering of schools to excruciating community violence, continue to pummel parents and families.
But Saturday’s interactive forum, themed “Hand in Hand: Families & Communities,” empowered families by providing information and guidance on vaccines and mental health and wellness; women and girls’ safety; education planning for students; issues pertaining to immigration; and employment opportunities. The event also included healing circles for parents to reflect on the past year.
The summit was over a year in the making and included presentations in English and Spanish.
Representatives from Portland Public Schools, Gresham-Barlow and Centennial school districts presented parents with information about Individualized Educational Plans for children with disabilities and answered other urgent questions parents had as schools move to fully reopen. The event also included connections and resources with National Alliance on Mental Illness Oregon and Black Mental Health of Oregon.
“This event provided the opportunity to bring together parents and community leaders to talk about pressing issues in the community and provide a space to share challenges and concerns during these very difficult times,” said Diana Trejo, Latino Network parent advocate. “It also provided a learning space for families to gather information to better advocate for their loved ones.”
Elected leaders including Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann, Sheriff Mike Reese and District Attorney Mike Schmidt also shared information about their respective budget priorities and decried escalating community violence.
“I do want to recognize that this last year has been tough for all of us,” said Commissioner Stegmann, who opened Saturday’s event.
“But I also want to recognize your strength and perseverance. A lot of us took on roles that we didn’t previously have to support our children and families, all in the midst of a global pandemic. The stress and anxiety we’ve all been carrying with us has been really extreme.”
Stegmann, who grew up in the Rockwood neighborhood and whose district encompasses much of east Portland, as well as the cities of Fairview, Gresham, Troutdale and Wood Village, noted the distinction in infrastructure and environment in east Multnomah County.
“Access to childcare is a struggle and many drive outside of communities for work,” she stressed. “Frontline workers don’t have the option of remote work.”
Amid the struggles, Multnomah County has worked hard to meet the deeper level of need, as well as new needs, caused by the pandemic by offering vaccine clinics for communities facing high barriers to healthcare, as well as enhanced food access, rental support and basic services, shared Stegmann.
In April, the Multnomah County Board declared racism as a public health crisis. That declaration translates to the Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, which includes a focus on upstream interventions, “especially those that provide culturally specific support to communities that have long been overlooked and underserved,” Stegmann said.
“It includes investments in programs and geographies that have long needed greater funding.’’
Violence is complex and calls for a myriad of solutions, shared speakers.
“Preventing violence isn’t as easy as taking the gun out of someone’s hand,” said Stegmann. “It’s about interrupting violence, reducing retaliation, creating restorative spaces and providing pro-social opportunities for youth and families to thrive.”
Sheriff Reese and District Attorney Schmidt also shared highlights of their respective budgets, and were also asked numerous questions by attendees.
Stegmann cited the need to transform the criminal legal system at a systemic level and to continue expanding the continuum of prevention, intervention.
“We need sustainable approaches to dedicate funding and programming to address violence when it occurs, and before it occurs,” Stegmann said. “That means developing and implementing ongoing violence prevention activities in our communities and securing funding for enhanced social services and resources.”
Parents, who were interested, were also encouraged to get involved as parent leaders.
“We really look forward to more events like this,” said Annette Majekodunmi who serves as the Parent and Community Engagement Supervisor with Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center and Rosemary Anderson High School.
“It’s events like this that can encourage others who are struggling to come forward,” shared one parent at the close of the event.
“They can seek help through community.”