From EngAGE Founder and Executive Director Tim Carpenter:
We are proud partners with Friendly House in Portland, OR, and I think you’ll understand why when you read this piece by Mya Chamberlin about a worst-case scenario happening that will turn out OK.
Very often the holidays serve as a lens, magnifying both the joy and the sadness around us. For some, it’s a time of celebration with friends and family; for others, a reminder of their loneliness and isolation. Friendly House has a unique view through this lens, on the front lines, seeing people at their very best, and through their darkest days. Never has this juxtaposition been more apparent than it was on December 19, 2016.
On this chilly morning, our Anderson Building was transported back in time to the days of Amelia Anderson, with a flurry of activity for the holidays. Volunteers gathered, drinking cider and warming by the fire, creating hand-made cards to hold the gift certificates that would be sent to our older adult clients. (Our staff had already donned their Santa caps and reindeer antlers to deliver gifts to low-income families from our Children’s Programs).
Around the corner, in our Crawford Building, older adults gathered, awaiting a multicultural, intergenerational luncheon. Twenty Mandarin speaking Chinese immigrants joined children from our After School Program to eat lunch, share stories, and create holiday ornaments that would adorn Friendly House buildings. With the help of translators, these seniors and their new young friends talked about their family holiday traditions; the foods they eat, the games they play, and their favorite holiday memories. Young Joshua was shocked to learn that Mr. Wong’s family had been too poor to exchange gifts, but then he remembered a year that his own family struggled, “My Mom was poor back then, but I got new Adidas shoes and a brand new coat from Friendly House!” By the end of lunch, they were all eager to meet again at the Chinese New Year party planned for January.
We all pitched in for cleanup, spurred on by the kids motivational chant, “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, clean up, clean up, everybody do your…” The song was interrupted when a staff person entered the room abruptly, asking to speak with me outside.
“There has been a shooting at Cascadian Terrace.”
In August of 2016, Friendly House launched a new partnership with EngAGE, a non-profit out of Southern California, whose mission is to transform aging and the way people think about aging by turning living communities into vibrant centers of learning, wellness, and creativity. Friendly House would bring this mission to Cascadian Terrace, a subsidized building in North Portland for very low-income people living with disabilities. Many of the residents at Cascadian Terrace are formerly homeless, and nearly all have overcome tremendous obstacles in order to achieve stability and gain the sense of community they have there. In addition to arts, wellness, and lifelong learning, Friendly House provides resident services and our staff serve as the liaison between residents and Cascadian management.
On that Monday in December, a disgruntled tenant on the verge of eviction entered the building and went into the office, where he shot the manager and assistant. After confirming that our staff member was unharmed, we quickly made our way to the building. Upon our arrival we learned that the suspect had been apprehended, and the two gunshot victims would survive.
We wasted no time in coordinating a trauma response team to counsel residents in the aftermath of the assault. Skilled crisis counselors arrived within 24-hours to be available to those who needed support. This time was spent sorting fact from rumor, recounting the event, and sitting with the sadness, rage, and confusion. A local artist, who had been working with residents on holiday crafts just the week before, was on hand to provide a creative outlet. Some residents found solace through tears, some through laughter, and others through creating art.
We were ambivalent about proceeding with the holiday festivities scheduled for the next day, but residents insisted, “We need a party!”
The next day, residents began to trickle in to the community room, brightly decorated by their artwork. Construction paper ornaments hung from the tree, aglow in tiny lights, paper snowflakes swaying, suspended from fishing line, and handmade Tibetan Prayer Flags hung from the rafters; “Hope”, and “Learn, Laugh, Listen, Love” were painted on two of the flags. At the time they were created, no one could have anticipated how important their sentiments would become.
We learned more about each other that day. We learned that Rich can identify the artist of any song that plays on Pandora; Larry has played Santa for the children at his church for more years than he can remember; Peter plans to ask his girlfriend to marry him, as soon as he can afford a ring; Cathy once sang backup for Aretha Franklin. At our insistence, she finally took hold of the mic, and began to sing Silent Night. At the end of the song, Charlotte fought through her tears to ask for the microphone, “Thank you for being here, Friendly House, thank you for coming back, thank you for not being scared, thank you for being our friends.”
Yours in service,
Friendly House Community Services