For many JVs the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic sadly meant an end to their service placements, but for Maddie Shaner (’19-20 Gresham, OR ’18-19 Billings, MT), Hospitality Coordinator for the Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Outreach (RIHO) program at The Rosewood Initiative in outer SE Portland, life just got MUCH more “interesting.”
I’m the RIHO program director, and in normal times Maddie and I host a twice-weekly English language learning group at the Rosewood community center. Each class session sees 20-30 refugee and immigrant English learners arrive at Rosewood with their children (RIHO provides a program for children of participants as well), all part of the busy and vibrant RIHO community of about 60 Rohingya, Bhutanese/Nepali, Middle Eastern, and Latin American families. Virtually all the families live with significant poverty and we face language barriers for communication.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 virus and closure of the community center, Maddie and I decided to tackle the challenge of finding ways to continue the strong community connections and English learning, as well as to address the new issues related to participants’ loss of income.
As the day-do-day point person for RIHO’s activities, Maddie has been on the front lines of the RIHO program’s “pivot.” Her days look much different now, but she is as busy as ever. Instead of welcoming participants to the community center, answering their questions, connecting people to resources, and playing with the children, she is spearheading RIHO’s effort to keep everyone connected and address their immediate needs. She has organized the program participants and volunteers into an online community through Facebook, and helped conquer the technological challenges to get there. Thanks to Maddie’s thoughtful and caring persistence, most of the RIHO community members are actively involved in the group, and the volunteer teachers are outdoing themselves coming up with creative videos and instructional materials. Maddie and I use the Facebook group to share information, resources and opportunities needed by our virtual community.
Maddie also takes the lead in distributing donated items like hand sanitizer, masks and art/school supplies for kids (she has become an expert in navigating the myriad of confusing apartment complexes in East Portland), and has spent MANY hours on the phone and video chat helping families get connected to their kids’ online learning sites. She has delivered food boxes to families with no transportation, helped people apply for unemployment and other safety net programs, and keeps close track of those community members in the greatest need.
Maddie’s experience is providing a great example of how a JV member can creatively continue to meet the mission of an organization in the face of huge change. I firmly believe RIHO would not be functioning during the pandemic without Maddie’s talents, flexibility and commitment, and her work will ease the effort to restart the program once the virus is gone. Most importantly, she continues to make a tangible difference in the lives of community members at the most risk during the shutdown.