Community building is key for many | United Good Neighbors 2021

By Leslie Kelly Special to The Leader
Posted 11/24/21

 

 

While their causes may differ, their goal is the same. Those who work with marginalized populations say they’re striving toward being accepted, having a sense of place, and …

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Community building is key for many | United Good Neighbors 2021

The nonprofit organization Olympic Neighbors supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and hosts monthly community meetings open to all.
The nonprofit organization Olympic Neighbors supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and hosts monthly community meetings open to all.
Photo courtesy of Olympic Neighbors
Posted

 

 

While their causes may differ, their goal is the same. Those who work with marginalized populations say they’re striving toward being accepted, having a sense of place, and feeling safe  here in Jefferson County.

Olympic Pride

Ellen Caldwell, president of the board of Olympic Pride, said strides have been made, but there’s always more work to do.

Olympic Pride, which was formerly Jefferson County Pride, supports the LGBTQ+ community on the Olympic Peninsula through awareness, education, and community engagement.

That engagement this year included having a booth at the Port Townsend Farmers Market.

“We got right out there and met people,” Caldwell said. “And we absolutely loved it.”

The focus of that and of their work is to build intimate, authentic relationships in the community.

“What we’re finding is that those who are not LGBTQ support us,” she said. “We had so many people come up to us and tell us that.”

While there are no strong, hard numbers that tell how many residents of Jefferson County identify as LGBTQ+, statistically, it would be about 10 percent of the county’s population.

That may be upward of 3,000 individuals. Olympic Pride is trying to re-establish itself post-pandemic, and Caldwell said she knows it can reach out to more people who might feel a need to be a part of the group.

“By and large, the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community feels accepted and feels safe in this community,” Caldwell said. “But we have work to do where the trans(sexual) and intersexual populations are concerned.”

As a gay woman, Caldwell said she never feels worried to walk down the street in Port Townsend holding hands with her wife. But she said there’s always an opportunity to be kinder and more inclusive.

“I think we saw with our Pride Line this summer that we have support,” she said. “We had nearly 200 people join us.”

The Pride Line was done this past summer when a Gay Pride parade and festival couldn’t be held due to COVID-19 restrictions. People stood side by side at a 6-foot COVID-safe distance and the line ran from McDonald’s to the Food Co-op, on both sides of the street.

Another visual program of Olympic Pride is their “Pride Rocks.” Rocks are gathered and painted by volunteers and hidden throughout the town.

“Each rock has a message of empowerment and acceptance,” Caldwell said. “We had the rocks at the farmers market and anyone could paint one and they were very popular. We’ve had people from all over take a Pride Rock home with them.”

Work that still needs to be done includes finding a physical location that is suitable for a youth center. And finding funding for it. Youth has met in the basement of the community center, prior to COVID, but now they are searching for a more visible location.

The program began as the “Rainbow Center,” but with the reorganization, Olympic Pride plans to allow the youth participants to name the program.

“We need a great physical location right in the center of things that the youth can easily get to,” she said.

“We want them to choose a name that represents the youth, not just something that adults have picked,” Caldwell said. “Right now, there is a very limited number of participants and we hope by having the youth run the program there will be more interest.”

Another focus is working with older adults who before recently, felt they couldn’t let their true identity be known. They desire to network with others.

“We need to build a sense of community for the entire gay community,” she said. “Anyone of any age should feel like they can be who they are in Port Townsend.”

Finally, it is their goal to be able to again sponsor a Pride Day like they did prior to COVID.

“We need to expand our influence in the community and this is one way we can do that,” Caldwell said.

Jefferson Teen Center

When it comes to youth in Jefferson County, the Jefferson Teen Center is one place where they can go to feel a part of something.

Shayann Hoffer-Pauley, director of the center, said the center operates as an after-school program, giving students ages 12 to 18 somewhere to go for a couple of hours after school.

“Lately our numbers are about 10 students a day,” she said. “Before COVID we had more like 20 to 25.” Transportation is sometimes an issue but now they have a second bus to bring teens to the center.

The center’s adult volunteers see it as a place that they hope will empower teens. They are working with another group, the Empower Teens Coalition at the county level.

“We see kids that want to be a part of something,” she said. “We try to provide that and what we see are kids who are so grateful to be teens and have fun.”

A mural project has been among the projects the youth have completed. Each participant was given a panel and could create whatever they wanted. Then the panels were put together to form a patchwork mural.

They also took part in the Rhody Parade carrying signs and rattling noise makers.

“Teens do feel a part of this community and they want to support it,” she said. “They want to connect with others and feel a part of decision making for the future.”

The center has been able to operate on donations and it received a Port Townsend Rotary grant, which was used to upgrade their space.

“Despite everything, we’ve been able to have healthy snacks for the kids and provide them with the materials they need for their projects,” Hoffer-Pauley said.

Individualism is sometimes the key to success.

“We try to embody all of the students and honor where they are at as individuals,” she said.

Olympic Neighbors

An important part of the work of Olympic Neighbors is the interaction of their residents with others in the community, said Claudia Coppola, director of Olympic Neighbors.

“Our mission is to support those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and see that they have access to anything and everything that anyone else would have,” Coppola said. “The community has been very open and supportive.”

There are six residents in Olympic Neighbors who live in a home where they can learn skills and eventually be able to live on their own. Residents range in age from late 20s to 60s. Some, however, will not be able to live independently without oversight.

Residents are able to explore their interests, learn new things, and gain skills so that they can be employed.

“One of our major goals it to integrate our residents with the community,” Coppola said. “We host monthly community events that are free and open to all.”

Coppola said Olympic Neighbors’ residents are valued as a part of the community.

“I’ve never heard of any of them having a negative experience with anyone in this community,” she said. “In fact, many of our volunteers and donors come to us because they’ve had a favorable interaction with one of our residents.”

COVID and the months of having to be isolated from the public and even their families were very difficult for the residents, Coppola said.

“But the staff worked hard to keep them busy. Just like all of us, they learned what Zoom is,” she said. “We offered FaceTime so they could see their family members on the computer. We had online exercise classes and virtual Bingo. Once it was safe, we got a large tent and heaters and had visits with family members outdoors.”

Inclusion also means things like going to Mariners games, going out to eat, or going to festivals in Port Townsend.

“All of the interactions we’ve had with community members have been good,” Coppola said.

“I think part of that is because we (Olympic Neighbors) have a great reputation in the community. We work hard to see that our residents with special needs aren’t just housed, but that they will thrive as part of this community.”

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