Haley Castle-Miller, Economic Opportunity Fellow, discusses how the Natural Helpers program promotes collaborative efforts to address community challenges.
The name “Resilience Corps” caught my attention while google-searching for jobs. Even though resilience has become a bit of a buzzword, I think it is also a deeply important concept at this time in history given the multiple overlapping crises we face. Younger generations are up against a growing wealth gap, ongoing threats to democracy, the impending doom of climate disaster, continuous and emerging threats of violence that displace millions, along with a global pandemic, all of which are testing our collective resilience. We are at a turning point that is going to require collaboration, major cultural shifts, and care for one another in order to build a collective resilience that can move with the unpredictability of this time.
I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the Natural Helpers program at the City of Portland Office of Economic Opportunity because it is an exemplary program that creates the necessary foundation for building resilient communities through collaborative and supportive efforts. The program invites racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities who are already active leaders in their communities to attend four days of training, followed by monthly meetings to check-in and provide continued education on specific topics of their interest. The four-day training includes two days at the University of Southern Maine (USM) where they learn about servant leadership and receive a badge of certification upon completion. The second two days are at Portland City Hall, where Natural Helpers learn about important programs and services offered by the city and other local non-profits. This gives the participants the opportunity to not only learn about programs that are available, but connect more personally with prominent leaders, making it easier to call on them for resources when a community member is in need.
The program is primarily intended to spread knowledge about local resources to racial, ethnic, and linguistic minority communities. Very often it can feel like government resources and programs are held under lock and key. You need to know the right people, be in the right place at the right time, or search the interwebs like it is your job. Finding the right network, and learning about the programs you qualify for, is even harder when you do not speak the dominant language, encounter discrimination, or face economic and legal barriers. The ongoing connection that Natural Helpers have to our office is also intended to alleviate some of the work that they do. Rather than taking time to research services, they can message our office on WhatsApp or send us an email, often getting an immediate answer. In the event that we do not have an answer, the job of researching is offloaded onto us, allowing more time for the Helpers to do what they do best: helping in their communities. They also have a built-in community of other Natural Helpers to offer support, share resources, and build community across cultural lines.
One of the things I love about the Natural Helpers program is that it merges community grassroots efforts with city government and other local programs. Collaborative efforts are most important now as Portland has been welcoming overwhelming numbers of refugees and newcomers--while facing a serious housing crisis. While the structures we currently operate under are far from perfect, they are what we have right now and in order to adapt the system to be more accessible and functional to all, there needs to be cross-over between government and community efforts.
A criticism that I have heard about the buzz around community resilience is that oftentimes the work that leads to resilience is the care work that typically goes uncompensated for and burdens the least recognized, most disadvantaged identity groups, such as women and people of color. Therefore, the result, “resilient community,” is praised, rather than the people who provided the labor and fostered the resilience. While there is still so much problem-solving yet to be done to create a truly collaborative effort that fosters resilience without burdening certain groups, I think this program is a great example of how to start to build bridges, work together, and adapt to find new solutions to the growing problems that we face.
Haley grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned her bachelor's degree in Peace Studies and Spanish from Goucher College and continued her education at Arcadia University, where she received her Master’s in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Through her studies, she became interested in alternative economic policies and creative ways to redistribute wealth and resources. She is excited to expand her knowledge and cultivate creativity in her position as the Economic Opportunity Fellow. The Resilience Corps is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with others to build a more equitable and welcoming city for everyone. Haley is also looking forward to hiking, spending time at the beach, and exploring the Greater Portland Region.