I started this blog a few weeks ago.  The original intent was that it was supposed to be all about my business.  Today, I had a very interesting experience that I would like to share with others who might be reading.

I am a member of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce.  I have been attending their meetings for over a year every Wednesday morning at 7:30 AM.  Lately, members have been signing up as Ambassadors, a volunteer position.  I signed up, trying to give back to a community that is there to help us with our businesses.  Ambassadors help in specific events – Ribbon cuttings, welcoming in AM or PM events, etc. This morning, Saturday, September 27th, I went with Norm, Pam, Dave from East Portland News, and Liz from SE Works to the Warner Pacific College.  They had just completed the renovation of their grounds, adding great facilities such as a small theater, many piano rooms for the students to practice, recording space, conference room, a nice dining space that is open to the public in the area, as well as the students, and it goes on and on.  They did an excellent job.  We had a tour around the new building.  In just a few months – April to August — they did all the work, and it looks great.  The East Portland Chamber of Commerce had its Christmas party there last season. I had a table then, and it looks totally different and much nicer.  I couldn’t believe how different and beautiful it all was.

But, what I enjoyed and appreciated most was the art exhibition they had for the homeless people from the “Julia West House.”  It was quite touching.  The College had most of the art that the homeless people did on the walls of the conference or meeting room.  I was amazed with the beautiful work that had been done.  At the entrance, they had a sleeping bed on the floor, with a bike and most of what a homeless person would have for daily use on the bike – blanket, pillow, some clothes, and other miscellaneous items.  Instead of showing the head of a person popping out of the sleeping bag on the floor, they had a computer screen showing most of the people who did the art work telling their stories.  It was beyond belief.

Then I walked around the room to look at their painting and creations.  Every piece of art had a little framed story about the artist and what the art meant.  It brought tears to my eyes.  Every homeless artist had quite a bit to tell in one small piece of art, sort of describing the past, and the future – what they liked or didn’t like about most of their childhood, what they missed, what they would like to happen, all done with a collage of papers, glass, metal, fabric, ropes, buttons, mirrors, masks.  I translated the mask like the person behind the face watching back and forward.  It was fascinating.  I enjoyed reading every story.  I managed to meet some of them, and after reading their art, I could feel compassion for each.  There was so much joy and hope in their eyes and manners.  Most of the pieces were sold.  I liked one done by a man named Larry.  I asked if I could buy it, but it was “NFS,” not for sale.  He did not want to sell it as the piece meant a lot to him.  I asked if I could meet him and to see if I could order a copy.  I was able to meet him, complimented him on his beautiful work, and told him that he should keep doing it because who knows, he could become famous.  He gave me a beautiful smile, and had tears in his eyes.  Also, he agreed to make a copy for me.  The sale of the art was very reasonable – $25.00.  Sharon Agnor is there to help them deal with the checks and profit from the sales, and all the little details involved.  She helped them organize their show and directed them in the right direction, a great lady.

The following is from a statement by the Julia West House organization:

Julia West House is a refuge from the street where guests find a welcoming smile, a hot cup of coffee, and someone who will listen.  Some guests drop in for 15 minutes, some stay all day.  Some come daily, others drop in only once in a while.  The services they provide are unique services not available anywhere else.  The important outcomes of their programs are the relationships they develop with the guests.  Social isolation is a major problem for many people living on the streets or in low income housing.  At Julia West House, many of the guests often feel invisible, except when they are at the JWH.

They care about each person.  The guests feel trusted enough to tell their stories. And what stories!!!  Meals and clothing are not provided there.  It is a small space, so they can offer restrooms, private showers, backpack storage, and most importantly, a place to be.  It is a place to learn new skills, to get help in connecting with social service providers, filling out applications and finding work.  Mostly it is a place to build trusting relationships.

All the staff and volunteers work together to provide seamless support for the guests.

The Julia West House is owned and operated by First Presbyterian Church, in Portland, Oregon.

Their website is www.juliawest.org .  They welcome volunteering and donations.

I used to help and volunteer at a women’s shelter in Boston, MA called “Rosie’s Place” that had some similarities.  I am very pleased to have found the Julia West House.

Julia West House is located on 522 SW 13th Avenue, Portland, OR.  It is a place where low-income and homeless residents of downtown areas become part of a community, a place where they are accorded dignity and recognized as individuals.  It is a place where opportunities are offered to guests to learn, become self-sufficient, and improve their futures by gaining new skills.

Margo Marver
Wellness Studio
East Portland Chamber of Commerce Ambassador