On the easternmost border of Portland, a boundary shared with Gresham, is a 15-block neighborhood known as the Rosewood District. Not wholly in either city, this district is both physically and structurally far removed from the main hub of downtown Portland. Further and further east, the thriving niche shops and food carts that distinguish Portland disappear, turning into dollar stores, Mexican tiendas, or vacant storefronts.
While most newcomers to Portland prefer being as closest to city center as possible, AmeriCorps VISTA Tony Lamb knew that Rosewood was the community he wanted to serve. “When I first visited this community, people were telling me, ‘You’re going to the rough part of town,’” said Tony. “Then I came out here and I was like, ‘What? Excuse me? No, it does not look very rough to me at all.’” After growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, then spending some years working in Waco, Texas, Tony expected a low-income community to consist of “dilapidated houses everywhere.” Instead, he was shown a place where many houses were in livable condition.
Dilapidated houses, however, are not the primary point of concern for Rosewood Initiative, the organization where Tony is stationed for the next year. Rosewood Initiative is looking at a much larger picture — building up a sense of community and economic opportunity for its low-income residents. After many renters were pushed out of inner Portland when cost of living rose, they moved here, to the outskirts of the city. The result was a conglomerate of differing, or “broken,” communities. Rosewood Initiative aims to tie those pieces together by providing a safe place for resources and programs to help improve their community.
While many of the programs offered at Rosewood Initiative will range anywhere from job skills training programs to coordinated community activities, most will be run by other organizations conducting outreach in the space provided by Rosewood Initiative. Rosewood Initiative can serve as a hub of resources for the low-income community to learn and understand how to navigate social services, including those that support job skills and financial wellness training. “Most of those programs are located closer in while their target populations have moved further out. We’re where they need to be, and they have the programs that our community needs.”
The idea is that Rosewood Initiative will become a one-stop-shop for the community’s low-income residents. “We want to be a facilitator,” said Tony. For instance, if an organization has a mentorship program, Rosewood Initiative will help develop that program’s sustainability and resources to best meet the community needs, while helping to conduct outreach to Rosewood’s residents. And that office space, located in the heart of the Rosewood district, is vast.
As the VISTA assigned to develop Rosewood’s funding strategy for its education and training initiatives, Tony is excited about the projects Rosewood Initiative is heading up. “That room up there is a music studio for the youth, “ said Tony, pointing up at a second story loft. “Then back there, that big space has been used as a workshop area for arts and crafts. They’d like to get some drywall up.” He began listing off other projects: a digital space for computers, a conference room, a stage, and finally, a coffee shop.
“People who are experiencing poverty still have a sense of pride,” said Tony, noting that it might be difficult for people to seek the help they need. Rosewood Initiative’s solution to this is simple, as they focus on a more organic method of community development by providing a nonprofit café that serves both as a job skills training program and a means of drawing in residents that otherwise would not seek such beneficial programs. “Here, residents don’t have to go to get help or get services, they can merely come to the café, and it just so happens that there’s a job placement program in here as well.”
Tony’s primary goal right now is finding those programs and entrepreneurs that can utilize Rosewood Initiative’s space. He is working on setting up a market in Rosewood Initiative on December 7, so low income small business owners can profit from what they sell at their booths while they also get to learn about Rosewood Initiative and its mission. “It’s so fun to see people come in and catch a vision of Rosewood has to offer,” said Tony, beaming.
With a long-term interest in community development, Tony sees this project both as personal development and professional experience. “Community development to me is facilitating community, but also being a voice for those who don’t always have a voice, in whatever way and capacity that looks like,” said Tony. Through research and outreach, Tony seeks the best way to get the word out about Rosewood Initiative and its community. “I want to create more awareness, facilitate discussions, and have people think about things. I want to help solve that question, How do we coexist?”