Servin’ the Suburbs

JV AmeriCorps members of the Hillsboro community share their varied experiences serving in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. From stream clean-up to adult literacy courses, they address a wide range of Hillsboro’s challenges. 



Hillsboro JV AmeriCorps members Gina Graziano and Charlie Vogelheim lead a trip with Clackamas High School students at Rock Creek as part of their service with the environmental nonprofit SOLV.

AmeriCorps members in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest Hillsboro “Casa de Paz” are doing well out in the suburbs! While many of our fellow JV AmeriCorps members serve in either very urban or very rural placements, we find ourselves in a suburban setting, one that is not traditionally associated with high need. However, service in Hillsboro becomes more important with each new resident of increasingly-popular Portland. As the city becomes more and more expensive, people who used to be able to afford to live within the Portland city limits are being pushed out to the suburbs, where we are honored to be able to serve in a variety of ways. Although we are all proud JV AmeriCorps members, each of us serves in a very different way, and experiences a unique day-to-day experience. Here’s a brief glimpse into the world of Casa de Paz:

JV AmeriCorps member Gina Graziano samples macroinvertebrates with Gladstone High School Students.

Gina Graziano: SOLV is an Oregon based non-profit organization that brings together individual volunteers, service and conservation groups, businesses and government agencies in activities to restore our natural spaces and provide educational opportunities to encourage environmental stewardship. Established in 1969 by Governor Tom McCall, SOLV is well-known for its annual Beach and Riverside Cleanup as well as its Saturday community tree planting events through Team Up for the Watershed Health Program. I have the great joy, excitement, and adventure of working with SOLVs educational outreach and stewardship program, called Green Team. We work with elementary, middle, and high school science classes throughout the Portland Metro area to engage students in restoration work at stream sites near their schools. This year we are working with 80 classrooms and over 2,200 students. It has been truly life-giving, hopeful, and just plain fun seeing kids connect with nature and be inspired to conserve and protect their creeks and watersheds.

JV AmeriCorps member Lauren Vilardo spends her days supporting foster youth in the skill-building they'll need to live as independent adults.

Lauren Vilardo: The Independent Living Program (ILP) through LifeWorks Northwest assists foster  youths  in Washington County in the transition from foster care to independent living. The ILP helps individuals with goal-setting and skill-building, enabling youths to find jobs, go to college, and live on their own.  Additionally, the ILP provides a stable support system and social network for youths who often move from home to home or from school to school.

Charlie Vogelheim: While working at SOLV, I have been encouraging a lifelong sense of stewardship to both community and the environment to Portland-area students by leading service learning trips at local streams. Students learn about stream ecology and they are given the opportunity to work to improve a local degraded urban stream. Gina and I have lead students in activities such as invasive species removal, native tree planting, stream bank stabilization efforts, and maintenance and monitoring of native species.

Taking a break from pulling invasive English ivy to restore native habitats, JV AmeriCorps member Charlie Vogelheim smiles for the camera.

Kelly Mennemeier: As an AmeriCorps member at the Metropolitan Public Defender, I spend my days going back and forth between the office and the jail, meeting with newly incarcerated clients and preparing them for their first court appearance. My position affords me the opportunity to examine social justice issues from a legal angle. By focusing specifically on clients being held in custody, I am encouraged to consider the societal costs of a punishment-focused criminal justice system, and I push to understand the needs and vulnerabilities that lead my clients into the system, while also working to address the issues they face once there.

Raine Dalton: My placement, Bienestar, is a non-profit working for affordable housing and resident services for farmworkers and low-income families in the Hillsboro area. There is a great need for help with economic sustainability, education, and literacy. As the JV AmeriCorps member, I lead Bienestar’s homework club, teach citizenship classes and adult ESL classes, and help with residents’ taxes. I also help with the summer lunch program. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to serve Bienestar because the work is a direct result of the residents’ expressed needs and has a direct impact on their well-being. When my time is done, I will be able to say that I know someone who has a place to live, who obtained citizenship, and who learned how to read.

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