Portland, OR

Posted March 5, 2012 in Profile

For information about new Circles in Portland, contact Henry Amick at henry@henryamick.com.

Over the past few years, the First Unitarian Church of Portland has helped start about a dozen Resilience Circles. Two of them were comprised almost entirely of unemployed people who met to support one another, advocate for benefits and share skills.  One met for five initial sessions and then organized tours of local housing efforts and got involved in a local campaign on tax issues.  Many of the circles have met together socially and are working to link the rest of the church into a time bank they started.

The following stories about the Portland circles were published in YES! Magazine:

“We’re taking baby steps toward a new type of community,” says Jared Gardner, a facilitator in Portland, Oregon. “We want people to feel connected and empowered. That’s what the groups are all about.”

In the past, neighbors knew each other and engaged more naturally in mutual aid, sharing common resources and helping those in need. Nowadays, our mutual aid muscles are out of shape and pretty flabby. Clubs help us to start flexing and stretching them again, little by little.

Clubs also chip away at our resistance to being helped. “People at first resist simply receiving—they think they can’t show up to a potluck empty-handed,” Jared says. “We tell them it’s okay—it’s okay to receive if you need help. We say we’re putting the ‘luck’ back in potluck.”

Often, club members find they can be helpful in ways they don’t expect. “People downplay what they are able to offer,” says Lil Hosman, also in Portland. “I know how to sew a button on a shirt, and you probably don’t. That’s something concrete I can offer. And it helps me to help you. It’s amazing how quickly people diminish when you take away their ability to be useful.”

Some clubs even experience conflict. “We had some participants for whom the unemployment experiencewas too fresh. It was too raw to talk about,” says Amanda Soarez in Portland. “The group ended up getting pretty small, but we came up with a cool mutual aid project where we set up a shared sewing machine at our church for the community to use.”

Amanda is now facilitating a second group, and this time the experience is much different. “Our group has only met twice, but we’ve already decided we want to keep meeting beyond the five sessions outlined in the guide,” she says. “We meet in people’s houses, and everyone is from the same neighborhood. I think that has helped us gel as a group—people are already sharing rides and planning neighborhood improvement projects.”