Re-organize, students said.

I want to talk about our new mission – We engage youth in a lifelong exploration of career development through volunteerism and education. The five people in the room who created this had never met as a group, yet all had invested time in Passion Impact for multiple years. To spend eight hours of a Sunday collaborating in our office with the goal to build a basic strategic plan was a long-shot to say the least. We all believe in revolutionizing the education system. We all believe in the power of volunteerism and how it can catalyze youth to search for something greater than themselves. We all want to see youth become passionate about giving back to their community through their future careers. Connecting those three areas was already a no-brainer for all of us.

This was the first strategic plan that we’ve ever had and it was an exciting process! I received insight from multiple executive directors, researched on my own, and asked our current Board their thoughts on strategic planning meetings. We needed a jumpstart, a reorganization of what Passion Impact is and stands for. Our result was to focus on building a stronger foundation of capacity. I want to add that we also received input and edits from the remainder of our Board, our committees, and, most importantly, our students.

You may know that we have held 11 Volunteer Fairs over the past four years and that students were the main orchestrators of the planning, implementation, and evaluation of 10. In November, during the evaluation week of our the Fall 2018 Volunteer Fair, students came to the conclusion that despite their best efforts and despite the skills they gleaned from their experiences, they did not see or feel the impact that they wanted. Due to this, they suggested that we alter the programs spurring our refocus on only volunteer events. What this means is that we increase our relationship efforts with our nonprofit partners; we increase our exposure on a day-to-day basis in school classrooms and clubs; and we focus on connecting students to easily accessible ongoing volunteer opportunities. This has also prompted us to produce more volunteering events on school premises and to invite community members and partners to the school to engage students during the school day. To help organize these experiences, we now use GivePulse, which is a platform that helps students track and reflect on their volunteering ultimately resulting in an ongoing volunteer transcript. Students can continually refer to this transcript and their written reflections to assist in applying to scholarships, colleges, trade schools, and careers as they continue in their educational aspirations. We have since recruited over 100 Franklin High School students to use the platform and will continue to ramp up our recruitment efforts toward our summer programming.

Franklin Beautification was our first volunteer experience on FHS’s campus on April 4th. Over 40 students came out to clean up over 15 lbs of trash with eight teachers and staff. Two of our partners from the Friends of Mt. Tabor Weed Warriors and Cascade Forest Conservancy led groups throughout the school while engaging with students to talk about potential careers in the environmental industry. After volunteering, 15 students sat down and for 45 minutes, engaged in deep reflection while filling out their CRLEs (Career Related Learning Experiences) of which two are required for graduation. We are aiming to host our next beautification with more partners on May 22nd and, based on student suggestions, will split the volunteering into two shifts – during and after school to accommodate all students.

After students graduate this June, they may choose to attend Portland Community College, which many of our previous students have chosen to do. Having started our relationship with Portland Community College and their Community-Based Learning Department (CBL) over 3 years ago, our progress with the ACE (Advocate for Community Engagement) Program has been slow. Since January, however, we have on-boarded and fully trained two PCC Community Service Work-Study (CSWS) students (The Work-Study distinction, for those of you who may not know,  requires that students who apply for Work-Study must live in households that are designated low-income by the Federal Government). Our ACEs’ advertise volunteer opportunities, CBL classes, and CSWS positions to PCC students across the city in an effort to activate students’ full potential educational opportunities. Both of the students who hold ACE positions matriculated from our programs at Franklin High School and, as we continue the relationships with both schools, we aim to make this pipeline more accessible to the underserved youth with whom we work.

I want to give you a window into my heart to see my guiding beliefs because I feel that if you’re reading this, you may mirror the sentiments that I’m sharing with you. I believe that each student deserves to give their gift and to be encouraged by their educational institutions. I believe that students currently in our educational system are being held to standards that are not acceptable for the future that’s going to hit them square in the face. We need to provide them with the resources, experiences, and support that prepare them to exceed the expectations they have for themselves. This means we need to challenge their status quo. This means we need to meet them where they are and invite them to engage more. This means we need to make school more fun. This means we need to make the time outside of school more fun. This means we need to take the time to listen to what they want to do and to guide them in ways about which they may have never been aware. I believe that volunteering is the community taking on the burden of nurturing our youth and, as community members, we have the responsibility to lift up all students, especially those who have been disenfranchised due the systemic issues that exist in our American society.

As we move forward, I am committed to leading Passion Impact as an equitable organization. Every student is welcome and to open our doors in this way will are required to constantly revisit how we are including students, their parents, our partners, and our community in our decisions. It will continue to prove difficult and I am excited for the challenge.

Stefan Peierls
4/22/19




Finding Passion

When I was 12 years old, my parents broke the news to me that we were picking up everything we owned and moving to a new state: Oregon. I was devastated. The thought of leaving behind the life I knew and the relationships I had formed seemed heartbreaking. What was in store on this new time in my life? And more importantly, how would I fit in?

I was naturally quiet and pensive in nature. When you’re shy and reserved, it’s incredibly hard to make friends and to have your voice be heard. It seemed like the entire support system that I had created for myself would disappear forever with this move, and I would have to start all over. This seemed so daunting. As I was dropped off to my first day at a new school, I was met with a feeling of unease. Everything seemed so strange and different- and lonely. For months, I struggled to make friends with people who shared the same interests and values as me. I wondered if I would ever feel confident in myself and the gifts that I had to share.

One day, my parents suggested that I join a youth organization that they had been actively involved in when they were kids, known as Job’s Daughters International. The prospect seemed simple enough- join this club, meet new people, and develop friendships! In time, however, I learned far more than that. You see, this organization was centered around a concept they called “philanthropy.” We, as youth, were encouraged to volunteer within our communities, raise funds for social causes, and be in charge of our own events and activities. It was fun while learning leadership skills- and I was having the time of my life! Everything I thought I couldn’t do- such as hosting and planning statewide events, and giving presentations to hundreds of people- became a reality of me. My 8 years within Job’s Daughters International gave me the confidence to be a leader and enact change within the world around me. Not only did I forge lifelong friendships with fellow youths across the country, but I was able to see the passion and skills I had within me.

When I learned about Passion Impact and its mission, I was instantly reminded of my experiences as a youth volunteer. Volunteering shaped me into the person I am today, while simultaneously making an impact on lives around me. I learned to tap into my specific skill set and passions, to inspire and encourage others. I also gained insight into what makes me unique and what I want to spend my life doing.

Not every youth gets an opportunity like this. Various social, economic, and geographic obstacles can impact young people in their growth. Organizations like Passion Impact & Job’s Daughters International, however, can fill that gap and provide the resources these youth need to reach their full potential. As we journey into this years adventures with Passion Impact, I hope you get to learn more about the students involved and their stories. With your help and continued support, we can continue to provide youth an outlet to help their communities thrive, and to find their passions. Sometimes, a person’s true self is just bubbling under the surface- and needs a spark to let it come to life.


Students Run the World

As youth, we all tapped into our creativity and imagination. We would develop ideas on how we wanted our world to be. In our wildest dreams, we imagined the change we would create if given the chance. The world was ours and the power to shape it lay in our hands.

The youth of today share that same idealism and it has been motivating them to create significant change in their communities. This spark towards activism has only become stronger in light of recent events. March, 2018, marked a notable time in history- where thousands of students across the country coordinated school walk-outs to protest against current gun laws and violence. This solidarity came in support of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which recently was the site of one of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Through press releases, video segments, interviews, and organized protests, these students have been leading their communities on a scale that is unprecedented.

Portland’s own Franklin High School was just one of many schools that participated in the walk-outs. On March 14th, many Franklin students used their voices to inspire change and gun reform. One student organization, Oregon Students Empowered, helped organize walk-outs at both Franklin High School and Beaverton High School. It was formed for one compelling reason, which they shared: “students have the power to make a lot of change that will impact our future.” Students truly believe in the work they are doing and are challenging themselves to play a more active role in their community, their State and their Country.

If youth are able to garner widespread attention and support for social change, what does that mean for the future? At the heart of all activism is the spirit of its volunteers. Students are volunteering their time and voice to encourage political, environmental, and social change. This involvement helps shape them into our future professionals and our leaders of tomorrow.

Volunteerism, whether it be motivated by activism or by the desire to positively impact the people of a community, is a platform from which students can derive and implement constructive ideas of change as well as to discover their passions and use their skills to better their communities. As long as students continue to volunteer and inspire others to do the same, society will continue to evolve. The world that we imagined so long ago is on its way to becoming a reality.

 

Erin Thacker
Passion Impact
Public Relations Intern

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Oregon Students Empowered; BHS Students Participating in one of several walkouts across Oregon to gain awareness for school shootings.

 





Next Steps with Franklin High School

We have heard it over and over again.

“I don’t know where to look for volunteering”

Our answer up until now has been to have students tell us their interests and then we sift through all of the volunteering opportunities available until we find something that matches – almost like the eHarmony of volunteering. There are many problems with this approach though. In searching for opportunities, we use large amounts of time and resources. Time and resources that only allow us to reach a small population of students. On top of that, it may take multiple iterations of volunteering for us to find the right one for a student. Students lose motivation while waiting for us to find something that fits.

The largest problem of all is that it does not encourage a habit of volunteering. We end up being the crutch for students and once they graduate or leave the city, they don’t know where to look for the opportunities we found for them.

This is why it is imperative that we help students understand what resources they have at their fingertips, how to use them, and why knowing and using them is pertinent to their lives.

Here is an easy comparison with which we all can associate:

By giving a man to fish, we feed him for a day. By teaching a man to fish, we feed him for a lifetime.

In order to make this a sustainable model, we must add another step.

By teaching a man how best to teach others how to fish, we feed the community for generations.

The fall Xplore and Ignite program will have students teaching other students how to use their resources. Then, to use these resources and actually volunteer. Next, to understand what skills and capabilities were enabled through volunteering applying them to their resume. The final step is the most important, though.

Why? Why is all of it important? We will reflect on the entire experience and knowing what it means to have gone through the program and how it can apply to each student’s future. With excitement, we take our first steps into this fall Xplore and Ignite program with Franklin High School.


Libby Peierls’ Inspiration

I was in boy scouts and was required to volunteer throughout grade school. I enjoyed being around my friends, but I didn’t understand why I was volunteering. My parents volunteered in numerous capacities and tried to impress upon me the importance of giving back. I rarely volunteered with opportunities that matched my passions, nor did I actively search for them. Even though volunteering was important to my family, it wasn’t a high priority for me at the time.

My parents were talking in our kitchen nook one day and in the middle of conversation, my mom collapsed. Thankfully my dad was there and caught her, but he soon realized she had become victim to a seizure. He remembered what they were from when he was a child and his dad had seizures. It turned out that my mother was exhibiting symptoms based on the cancer that had been growing in her brain.

Everything changed. Our eating habits. Our interactions. Our extracurricular activities. Even how our friends acted toward us. I remember meal after meal was brought to our house by family friends, and neighbors, and people we had never met. I know there were a few families behind the scenes coordinating everything and I am thankful for everything they did, despite me not remembering who they were.

What really stood out to me was this. It was because of my mom that those families wanted to help us. It was my mom who showed all of them love and gave her time in effort for nothing in return. She created a community who cared about one another and I cherish her ability to do so.

On June 28, 2005, after 2 and half years of fighting brain cancer, in and out of remission, my mom, Elizabeth Peierls, passed away. Again, friends stopped by with their blessings and food. Others with words of reflection about my mom.

What I gathered was that my mother was a sun. She attracted others in an orbital fashion while giving off love and heat to nurture their souls. With bright red hair, she stood out among most and laughed like no one I have ever heard before, or since. Her ability to bring others together in hope and inspiration, especially in the times of need and grief, was her gift.

It has been 10 years since her passing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. More importantly, I have made the effort to understand how she would have raised me and what kind of values she would have passed on. Based on the combination of hers and my dad’s guidance, I began to mold myself the way I believed best.

I traveled to 4 continents in the fall of 2013, with the expectation that I would push my comfort zone. What I didn’t realize was that each environment that absorbed me expanded my definitions of need, want, and privilege more than I could myself. I saw similar needs in many countries relating to poor health sanitation, lack of education and medicine, and close proximity living quarters made from trash. I also witnessed the need for equality and understanding, the absence of inspiration, and the desire to be happy. I’m not saying that everything I saw was bad, and in fact, many of my best memories today originated from that trip. What I am saying is that I had never seen the need for action in my life more than I saw it then.

I knew that when I returned I wanted to sell my belongings and purchase a van to travel the country. I wanted to volunteer. A lot. And I got really into filming my adventures. Then it hit me. I could volunteer, film the volunteering, and encourage college students to volunteer! That might be something my parents would do.

I returned home – complete in a hazy state of culture shock. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it alone. I approached my friend Brad Burns, who I have known since we attended Camp Champions back when we were 10. “You want to travel the country, volunteer, and film it all?”.

“Sure!” So we started with this idea.

I bought an RV, which Brad’s brother creatively gave the name Harvey. Turned out that all of the planning that we had been doing toward the east coast, across the northern part of the country, and wrapping up in Alaska, was for naught. We had to cancel all of our tour dates with nearly 20 nonprofits because our friend Patrick’s mom discovered mold in Harvey.

For the next 4 months, we tore Harvey wall from wall rebuilding his insides and outsides. Meanwhile, Brad’s uncle brought up the idea of applying for 501(c)3 Public Charity status and altering the idea a little. We incorporated, formed a Board of Directors, and Passion Impact was born. The original mission was to help college students build a long-term habit of volunteering.

It took us 4 and a half months after leaving on June 15, 2014, to reach and get secured in Portland. Harvey broke down a lot. Over 10 times with the first being only 20 minutes from our original embarkation point. Throughout that time, we volunteered with multiple organizations in each city that we stayed and continued to build the framework for our vision. Granted, we had not made it to Portland or even thought about it as a home base at that time. We still wanted to travel and film.

For each person we met on our trip, I channeled my mom and her ability to listen. I was genuinely interested in each of their stories and experiences. You could say that I looked for the sun in each of them. We began to notice that the more we passed through towns and cities and the less we stayed in them, the less of a chance we had at actually changing the behavior of students. So, we set our eyes on Portland for the long haul.

Once reaching Portland, we all secured part-time jobs and began our work. The plan that we had originally put together melted away as we soon figured out what life would actually be like in the PNW. Despite all of our separate calendars, we found a way to grow Passion Impact slowly over the next 7 months.

I quit my part time job at the end of April and as of May 1, began working full time for Passion Impact. With this time, we have been able to design Xplore and Ignite: Adventuring, Understanding, and Building Community. In designing this program, I thought heavily on the past two years of my life and how what I had done allowed me to give to others. Referring back to the importance of giving that my mom and dad had taught me while growing up, I see a possibility for this program to thrive.

Xplore and Ignite High school program is designed to help students explore their city, it’s needs, and their passions to understand how they can better their community. This means meeting with nonprofits in their community and volunteering; reflecting on these experiences and why these organizations exist to give back; talking with community members about the problems they see and experience; and then designing projects as a team that take everything they learn and put it into a plan that students can choose to take on if they would like.

Xplore and Ignite 18+ Program will be meeting for 10 Sunday evenings to enjoy genuine and intelligent discussion over a FREE dinner in order to create something beautiful for the community with new friends.

Considering these are pilot programs, we have no clue if this first iteration will work. But then again, it is an adventure in and of itself. As we persist with our mission, we will eventually reach the point where we continually help students can volunteer their passions, love their community, and grow into happy and engaged community members.

Students deserve to chase something they are passionate about and to love it thoroughly. We want to help them get there and believe that this program is the first step.

This is something I could see my mom doing. This is dedicated to you Libby.

-Stefan


The Farm Life

Sometimes I would wake up to sun shining in the windows, but more often than not, the fog would caress the hill behind the house. I woke up from one dream in another. The farm started early, so we did too.

Circling the spiral staircase downstairs, I would hear the thumping of Burma’s tail on the wall. Give me some love!  She’d stretch out her Burmese Mountain dog legs and roll onto her back in anticipation for a belly rub. She is the size of a teenager and has the spirit of a crafty child.

DSC_0601 The farm was more than a place to help; it was a place to think. So much time away from civilization. So much freedom for the mind. We arrived on September 28th, and the weather was still warm — surprising for Oregon.

When the back door was opened, we were told to make sure not to let the Box-alders in. Never having been introduced to them before, I was skeptical about their intentions. If one was to land on me, would it bite me? Sting me, even? Am I its food? No, not at all. They were absolutely harmless and because of their naiveté, they never really had any direction to their lives. I thought on their purpose every time I opened a window and hundreds would drop from between the screen and the glass. As they fell, the sound reminded me of my mom pouring coffee beans into a grinder when I was a child. I opened the windows every day, just to hear the noise.

As the days became colder, the swarms of happy and healthy box-alders dwindled. The lucky ones that had made it in the house were given names and were watched over with grace. I remember one night as I was working at the table, a shadow kept appearing and disappearing on the ceiling. Having a tendency to climb on thin ridges, Tom (one of our favorites) had found his way to the top of a lamp shade and continued to walk in circles for hours. Why was he doing this? At least he wasn’t going for the light, I thought at the time. But what was he doing? He did this many more nights throughout the next couple of weeks and would change directions periodically.

Tom’s repetitive actions reminded me of my walk in the Labyrinth in Santa Cruz. Tom reminded me to breathe and envision where I was going, without worrying about my actual next steps. He stayed warm by the heat of the lamp. I stayed focused on words written on rocks in the spiral. Breathe. Motivate. Smile.

The farm allowed for this same type of meditation. We had chores that we helped with and specific jobs that we were instructed to complete. One of those was to completely remove blackberry bushes from the side of a hill. This would allow for the owners to monitor the chickens in the orchard and to potentially do some terraced farming.

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If you have ever waged war on blackberry bushes, you already know what was ahead of us. Even though my father had hacked away at them when I was a child, I forgot about their ferocity and, without much preparation, went after them anyway. Dressed in shorts and a tank-top, I was ready for the weather, but not for the bushes outreached thorns. After the first full day of working, we made a large dent in the bushed, but they had fought back vigorously. I soon was scratching my entire body and later found out, that somehow, I had been given the gift of poison ivy. It spread quickly and itched more than the thorn scratches hurt. It took 3 weeks for me to fully recover.

After we defeated the blackberry bushes, it was time to move onto our other jobs. These included cleaning the barn, weeding and spreading manure in the garden, removing grass from the base of trees in the orchard, spreading new gravel in potholes on the road and in the paddock, stabilizing the paddock fence, and continuing with the frequent animal chores.

At one point, Brad and Mel had left the barn as I went to fetch Willy, the horse, from the field. But when I returned, the goats had forced their pen gate open and were roaming the barn. Not only that, but they had forced the lid off of their food container. Six goats viciously surrounded it, butting each other for a better spot. I started rounding them up by pulling their ears toward their pen. After containing four of them, I chased the rest in circles around some shelving while shooing more from the food and clamping down the lid. As soon as I would grab another goat, the lid was off, and they would dive back in their food. It was hopeless. I grabbed the lid, closed the container, and sat down on top of it breathing heavily. One of the more aggressive goats head butted my leg and stared at me. I stared back and didn’t budge. I remembered being told that goats can eat themselves to death, meaning that if they had open access to a continuous food supply, their stomachs would burst. Thankfully, Mel walked back in to see what was taking me so long. She stood at the door and laughed.

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We reflected on our help with the animals more so than any other tasks on the farm. It was incredibly enriching to know that we were helping give the cows, the goats, the chickens, the cats, the dogs, and the horse vitality and love. We would walk down to the barn knowing that the animals were expecting us and were excited to see us. Willy became accustomed to our hugging his snout and the goats eventually enjoyed a scratch behind their ears. Even the three legged cat, named Horse, needed our help scratching his left ear, which was the side of his missing leg.

We had found a feeling of satisfaction like no other – that warm and fuzzy that flooded in because we knew our help was appreciated. This is our vision. One where students will have this same feeling as they volunteer their passions and better their communities.DSC_0635

Thank you Tom for you incessant adventures around the rim of the lamp. Thank you fog for your dreamy awakenings. Thank you McMinnville and the farm. Our time with all of you allowed for much valuable reflection.