One of the most inspiring themes woven into The Portland Story*and the CityServe narrative, is the coming together of churches and schools for Portland Public Schools’ (PPS) Project Community Care, now in its 15th year. Last summer, nearly 7,000 volunteers from churches, colleges, community organizations and businesses, helped to beautify 65 schools and academic learning spaces, nearing $900,000 in value to the district.
From weeding, pruning, and gardening to power-washing and painting, churches and other community partners are sending a message to kids, families, teachers and administration: you are seen, valued, and loved by your local church and community partners.
Because of the increased buy-in by school administrators and businesses through in-kind donations and services, an average of $1 million in value to the district has been realized each year. Since 2006, more than 56,000 volunteers have served in Project Community Care, contributing over $8.5 million in dollar value.1
Not bad for what started as a small idea.
It all began with one church and one school. As the Custodial Services Manager for Portland Public Schools, Randy Thomas saw that the city’s public schools badly needed upkeep. He thought that his church—and potentially other churches—could solve the problem if organized properly. So he pitched his idea to the school district and gave a shout out to his pastor. What if we invited volunteers from a nearby church to pitch in for a day and help beautify the school campus? Could it work?
His idea became the first Community Care Day in July, 2001, when Randy’s home church, City Bible, jumped on-board at nearby Beaumont Middle School rounding up hundreds of volunteers. In the following year more than 50 schools received assistance from a nearby church. The seeds for church and public school partnerships were planted. Better yet, they have blossomed perennially for 15 years and the “season” has extended from one day to several weeks of service.
For the first six years grants helped to back the annual event at a cost of $50,000 per year with a modest showing of 500 to 1000 volunteers.
Then everything changed.
“That’s when I came on board. In 2006,” remembers Andre Jackson, Partnerships and Volunteer Coordinator for PPS. “Funding [for Community Care Day] went away -- totally.”
They eventually got a smidgen of support back, and a meager $5,000 was salvaged in the PPS budget for Community Care Day. By the spring of 2008, that enormous loss of support, compounded by a slow-down in the economy and a facilities budget that had been cut in half, meant that the need for community partners was greater than ever.
Also in the spring of 2008, church collaboration was in full-swing for Luis Palau’s CityFest on Portland’s Waterfront. With CityFest came the Season of Service, an expansion of community involvement beyond schoolyards into other city services like summer lunch programs for kids, homeless family mentoring, environmental cleanups, after-school tutoring services, backpack drives, and one-day Compassion Clinics. Approximately 500 churches and 26,000 volunteers from those churches helped out all around the city.
The 2008 Season of Service year proved to be pivotal for PPS Community Care Day too. West Linn’s Southlake Foursquare Church embraced the ailing Roosevelt High School delivering one thousand volunteers onto the school’s campus. The Roosevelt story became the stuff of legend for church and school partnerships. (see Undivided: The Movie)
It was also the year that Andre Jackson changed the name to Project Community Care, and orchestrated a bold marketing campaign. He aired PSA’s on Comcast and Clear Channel radio stations, and collaborated with Kevin Palau to further cultivate meaningful partnerships with churches. And it worked. A record turnout! The number of volunteers and the dollar value nearly doubled between 2008 and 2009.
“From the beginning, Project Community Care helped to bridge the gap between the churches and the school. It was the way that we as a district could partner with religious organizations and have a positive relationship,” Jackson emphasized.
Prior to Project Community Care, Jackson remembers, schools shied away from church involvement. Now ten years into his tenure he remarks, “We’ve shown ‘Yes! It is possible for faith based organizations and the school district to have a great relationship.’”
Every relationship is unique and has unique value to each community. There are literally thousands of positive ways that local churches have served the schools, said Jackson, and he wants to hear about more. “I wish we had more reports…that schools and churches or organizations would tell us about the good work they’re doing. There’s just so many great things happening out there!”
Off the cuff, Jackson shared how Imago Dei has made a positive difference at Kelly Elementary School by building the Learning Garden. “It’s impacted the classroom and teachers build lesson plans around it,” he said. Imago Dei’s prolific supply of hundreds of volunteers, year after year, has encouraged the principal and teachers at Kelly Elementary and other schools.
That’s just one church, one school, one difference.
Stories abound for the 78 Portland Public Schools served by Project Community Care. Whether greeted by a spruced-up entryway, fresh bark dust, a freshly painted classroom, or something as amazing as a new athletic field, students, teachers and administrators can experience the difference and start the school year encouraged.
Today there are 115 church and school partnerships in the PPS District which have grown largely out of relationships cultivated through Project Community Care. Built on this foundation, a new development took place last May when CityServe Portland hosted the first Pastors and Principals Gathering at PPS – convening together the principals of the school district with the pastors serving in their community.
This has been a foundational fifteen years for Portland area church and civic partnerships. Nurtured by Christian love and mutual respect, these seeds of service have blossomed into collaboration and understanding—laying a clear path forward for church/school partnerships and a stronger community.
* “The Portland Story” is a phrase that has come to express a season when churches in Portland united to serve the city, resulting in a flourishing movement that continues to grow. (Read the story in Unlikely, 2015, Howard Books)
1. Numbers do not include Roosevelt HS 2008 volunteers and financials.
Project Community Care partners for 2015 included Starbucks, Imago Dei, AC Portland, Southlake Church, Mormon Church, Agape Church, Concordia University, University of Portland, Lew and Clark, Wells Fargo, Daisy Scouts, PGE, Umpqua Bank, Church of the Nazarene, Mission Church, Portland Christian Church, Mosaic Church, Kenton Neighborhood, Central Bible Church, Eastside Christian Church, NW Regional Laboratory and many more. In-kind donations came from Nike, CityServe Portland, Starbucks, Purdy, Pacific Coast Fruit. Information provided by Portland Public Schools.