“Going Small”: A 3-Month Plan for Civic Engagement Across the Generations (by Guest Blogger Laura Dubois)

Please note that the following is Laura Dubois’s final submission for the Portland State University Course UNST 421: Enhancing Youth Literacy.  Laura volunteered with Portland Youth Builders during Spring 2012.

While this writing was an assignment for class, it is also an actual plan for action beyond the classroom.   Posting these action plans is part of a system of accountability that we set up via the “Action Plan” assignment.  Students developed an accountability method to keep them on track with their community work.  Some chose to post to the public.  I will be checking back in with these students (publicly) down the road. Laura’s action plan showcases the fact that we can do volunteer work with our families and that this work can be part of the way we educate ourselves and our children on community.


I would like to continue to work with the community as a volunteer. My passion has always been working with elderly, and I will focus my efforts on this population. The elderly are an underserved population, just as are the youth that I worked with at Portland Youth Builders. The main theme that I took from the class is that it is very important for each individual to do what they can to support their community. I also learned how very rewarding it is to do so, and I am looking forward to continuing to help my community.

It will be fairly easy for me to take steps towards volunteering with the elderly. Starting the first week of July, I will make the appropriate contacts to work with Store to Door. This organization helps seniors remain independent in their own homes by providing them with groceries that they are otherwise unable to attain. This opportunity is available every Wednesday, every month, and will be easy to work into my life schedule. It is also a good opportunity for me because I will be able to bring my children with me.


I am choosing to “Go Small” with my volunteering at this time, because of my hectic schedule. Hands on Portland makes this very easy by identifying several volunteer opportunities that I can start and complete in just one day. This volunteer opportunity will also allow me to “Simply Connect”. I feel like senior citizens are a forgotten population for most, and working with Store to Door will allow me to connect with senior citizens that may think no one cares. I will let them know that I do care, and so do my children! Another way that this volunteer experience is right for me is that it will help me to become an “Expert in something small”. I learned a long time ago that I can not save the world, but I can make a difference. I know that I will not be able to change the way that society views the elderly, but I can make a big difference, in a very small way.


I will be able to stay on track with the goals that I have set up for myself because I have set very small and reasonable goals. With the kids and myself being out of school for the summer, I will have more than enough time to accomplish my goals. I have also discussed the volunteer opportunity with my children and they are excited to help. They never let me forget anything, so they will help me stay on track. I do not expect there to be any barriers to my success and I am truly looking forward to working with Store to Door, and also exploring other volunteer opportunities on the Hands On website.

Becoming an Activist: Little Steps, One Week (A Picture Diary)

I have been teaching community-based learning courses for about four years now.  I have been working in the community since I was a little kid, first through standing with my mom at rummage sales and helping out in the Saint Francis School soup kitchen.  As I first started teaching education-focused classes on social justice and volunteerism, I volunteered at the schools where my students worked.  And now, I’m exploring other roles.  The last week was a whirlwind of networking and trying new things.  I present my picture diary and the ups and downs of finding my new place as an activist for equity in education.

Thursday, May 31

Thursday, May 31, was the Save Our Schools Day of Action.  I’m still feeling out all of the official organizations that work to support schools, advocate for kids and teachers, and talk about school funding.  I am a Stand for Children member, I attended the UPSET (Underfunded Parents, Students, and Educators Together) rally, and I decided to test out the SOS Day of Action as part of my journey.

One of the actions the group was taking part in was a rally outside the Oregon Education Investment Board’s meeting with the new Chief Education Officer, Rudy Crew.  Both Crew and Governor Kitzhaber spoke to the small rally group; this earned both points in my book, but I am curious to see how this new CEO will turn around Oregon schools in the next 3-10 years.

On a side note, there was much talk about the last-minute change of location for the meeting (from PSU to Parkrose High School).  PSU would have undoubtedly had a much higher turn-out.  Was the change of location a way of avoiding more protestors?

Later in the day, I attended the Harvey Scott SUN showcase and was privileged to witness the work of my colleague Sabina Haque with SUN school kids and PSU Capstone students.  They produced beautiful community maps in addition to video shorts that filled the auditorium with the students’ honesty, real experience of the world, and ability to overcome obstacles even at such a young age.  This showcase really embodies one kind of community work that I am completely dedicated to — the sharing of our abilities and talents and the guiding of new mentors to work one-on-one with students in areas such as art that have been cut from so many of our schools.

Friday, June 1

I started the day early with a big cup of coffee and a muffin.  I then kissed my two children goodbye and headed to PSU where the Portland Action Summit: Leadership for the Next Generation was taking place.  I was able to listen to an incredibly articulate group from Lincoln High School (the “We the People” Constitution Team) answer audience-posed questions about the role of the community to support equity in education.  Very inspiring; here’s some video footage from the Classroom Law Project (also inspiring).  If all young people could be this well-educated in civics, what a community we would have!

I also participated in a community mapping project (a vision of what our community looks like now and what it should look like with adequate support for youth voices) and networked with Hands on Portland, the Classroom Law Project, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the Oregon Student Association.  Meeting people face to face is what this work is really about.  I feel like I have some good resources for future partnering and had many offers of groups to attend my class and speak to my students.

Later in the evening, I was honored to attend the Portland Teacher’s Program graduation ceremony.  I ran into students from my last five years of teaching and was so happy to hear that some of them are now in the classroom doing the important work. A powerful quote from the program: “The country is in deep trouble.  We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.  We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice” (Cornel West).

Saturday, June 2

I attended the opening day of the St. Johns Farmers Market with my family.  We listened to the Roosevelt High School jazz band.  I encouraged my husband (a jazz trumpeter and educator at PSU) to volunteer with their program next year.  The work continues little step by little step.  I think that’s the most important thing I learned in the last few days.  Each little step builds upon the last, and these steps do add up.  The more I get involved, the more I want to be more involved.  And the more I want to be more involved, the more I want my students and family members to be more involved in building the community of people dedicated to social justice and to supporting education.

Easy Spring Volunteer Opportunities: Work with Kids/Youth in PDX and Surrounding Areas

Spring is a great time to get into new routines; with longer hours of daylight, it feels like we have more time to do additional activities.  Please email me at zapoura@pdx.edu if you’re interested in any of the following opportunities:

  • Work in a NE Portland 2nd grade classroom with small groups (mornings)
  • Work with the ASPIRE Program (a mentoring program supporting high school students in becoming informed and confident about planning a future that includes college) in Gresham and David Douglas High Schools
  • Work in SUN programs in Gresham and David Douglas

Don’t forget to also check in at Hands on Greater Portland for other volunteer opportunities with kids and beyond!

Advice from My Students (Part I): Two Easy Steps for Becoming More Active Community Members (by Guest Blogger Lindsay Glasser)

Winter term at Portland State University is coming to an end, and it is my time to reflect on how much I’ve learned from being part of the community-based learning classes (Enhancing Youth Literacy & Youth Enrichment) that I am fortunate to teach.  In honor of the good work my students have done all term and what they have to share, I’m dedicating this week to their words and final reflections in the hope that they will inspire you, readers, as they have inspired me.  Thank you, Lindsay, for being willing to share your work here (her words are in teal below):

As this volunteering is petering out I’m realizing that I really just started to feel comfortable in my placement! I really was enjoying working with the youth at the GED completion program and it’s a little sad for me to think about leaving. In class we discussed ways for regular people to get active within the education system and I really liked a lot of the things that we all had to say about it. If I were to write a “being active” prescription for the most inactive of people I would say to start with these two steps:

  1. I think that being aware of what is going on in the community around you is the first and most important step for any citizen of any city. There is no way that anyone can make a difference in the policies and system if they are not aware of what the issues are in the first place. 
  2. Secondly I think it is important that every member of our community votes. (The prerequisite to voting is being educated about the policies and acts being voted on) There is so much work done by our representatives and senators and WE are the ones who put them in office. Therefore, I think that the simple act of voting is a great help to our education system! 

After these two steps are complete, you have already made a difference in your community! The next step is to find an area that interests you and find out how to help. If you are good at fund raising, volunteer for that and not tree planting. If you are interested in after school crafts,. volunteer for that rather than grant writing. 

This is another opportunity to give out information for the Hands on Portland website that easily gives us all the opportunity to search for the perfect short- or long-term volunteer opportunity.  This is a simple way to get started!

Go BIG and Go Small: Valentine’s Day Challenges 4 & 5

I have about 50 more papers to grade this weekend, so I will make this short and sweet.  The theme for PDXEAN’s Valentine’s Day Challenge Days 4 and 5 is “Go BIG and Go small.”  What does this mean?


Challenge #4.  GO BIG

If you think that the individual doesn’t matter, if you don’t vote, if you feel like you are powerless to help, make a goal to experience being part of a BIG movement this year.  This might mean working on the 2012 election for a cause or candidate you can connect with.  This might mean walking in a protest or awareness march.  Being part of a big group working for something big, like equity for kids and schools, is invigorating in ways that working as an individual might not be.  The momentum, the passion, the excitement — try it!

And if you’re still unconvinced that the little people don’t count, the recent turn around of the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Association decision, seems like a good one to study.  Yes, people with money and power were involved in overturning the decision to pull Planned Parenthood’s funding for breast cancer screenings, but little people were involved, too.  And it was the culmination of all of those voices that mattered and turned things around so that women can have affordable access to prevention.

Challenge # 5: go small

Make a tiny goal.  Say that you’ll volunteer for one day (a few hours) this month at an organization that you believe in.  Use Hands on Portland’s easy volunteer position finder to sign up for a single day of service that fits into your schedule.  They have one-time volunteer activities days, weekends, nights…you name it.  And, hey, maybe after your few hours of volunteering, you’ll want to make it a monthly or weekly practice?

That’s my two cents for the weekend: go big and go small.  I sincerely hope you try both!

The Daily Work of Living the Dream: How to Lift Our Voices & Make Them Louder

On Friday, I attended a local elementary school’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., assembly with my two small children, mother, and husband, who was playing trumpet for the event.  The song “How I Love to Sing Your Name” has been running through my head ever since as I sift through the complex range of thoughts and emotions I have as I think about this Monday’s holiday, the ways we talk about and celebrate those who have worked for social justice, and how to do the daily work of living the dream.

The first thing I did today was to download the “How I Love to Sing Your Name” song and put it on repeat.  Secondly, I pulled out one of the most beautiful books out there on MLK for young kids: Martin’s Big Words.  I read the book to my 2-year-old daughter, and she nodded seriously as I read each page.  And then she stood up on the wooden stepping stool we have in the kitchen and proceded to sing along: “Oh, Martin Luther King…”

But…as beautiful and important as these moments were, they are not the bulk of the work that needs to be done.

Just read the recent report titled 2011 Oregon Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity, and you’ll see that we still have far to go in terms of equity in our community. To get a summary of some of the missed opportunities for more equitable laws in Oregon to support communities of color, see the recent Oregonian article.  You can also read the comments from more vocal readers and get a glimpse into the tension that some feel surrounding the issue of equity.  I groaned to myself reading comments about how no group should expect “handouts” and how the system is actually equal for those who work hard enough.  This is a popular narrative…and it is a loud one these days.

Just look at the book published by the White House purporting to detail the actions of national heroes.  Browsing through the most recent edition of Rethinking Schools, there was a review of Barack Obama’s recent children’s book titled Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.  While the book does bring in a diversity of national “heroes,” it minimizes their roles as social activists and instead highlights the easier ideas of love and harmony.  And while love and harmony are beautiful things, it is the often contentious actions that many of these people (Helen Keller, Sitting Bull, etc.) took and the struggle that produced social change.  This narrative, too, that we should talk about history in a much diluted manner and that the most famous social activists in our country’s history were merely encouraging hugging and holding hands as ways to change the systemic violence and racism against so many in our communities, is deeply problematic.

What am I trying to say here?  That we need to educate ourselves and our families/friends.  That we need to make our voices stronger and louder.  That we need to live the dream each day, rather than just today.

This leads me to commend the work of Kate McPherson and so many others at Roosevelt who have worked on the Freedom Riders project.  I’ve just started working with Kate as a partner in both of my Capstone courses and have been impressed with her level of commitment.  Please read the recent article on Roosevelt and their Freedom Riders project, which gives voices to people in our community who have worked and are working against injustice.  Here is the Freedom Rider’s website.  Get involved in some of the support organizations contributing to this work and to showcasing the voices of those working for social change by clicking here.

Living the dream each day is about being humble, being self-aware, being open, and being flexible.  It’s also about being bold and sometimes putting ourselves in situations where we don’t have the answers.  Just like we cannot possibly teach about cultural competency in a single 4-credit class or about our history’s rich culture in a single Black History month, we cannot contribute to positive changes in our community on one holiday.  We must live cultural competency, Black history, educational equity, and social justice every day in both small and big ways.

Easier said than done, of course.  But it can be done.  And it must be done.  Dr. King would probably have a lot to say about the fact that students in our city are educated in unequal settings and with unequal resources.  We should have a lot to say about this, too!   For an easy starting point, thinking about checking out Stand for Children, Chalkboard Project, and Hands on Portland.  And join in on the conversation.

What daily ways do you live the dream?  What are little and big actions people can take to get more involved?  I’d love to hear from you!  Let’s brainstorm ways to make our voices louder, to educate more people (ourselves included), and to make change happen.