Team members at OCO have had some exciting leadership opportunities over the past year, with more on the horizon as we enter the second half of 2022. Here, we spotlight the stories of Jenifer, James, Ashley, and Jyoni and their respective experiences that have informed and deepened their work at the organization and strengthened their commitment to the well-being of Oregon’s diverse communities and their children.
Jenifer Wagley, OCO’s Executive Director, received notice in spring 2021 of their nomination to participate in the American Leadership Forum of Oregon (ALF). Having called ALF’s founding location of Houston, Texas home for many years prior to coming to Oregon in 2019, she knew what this opportunity was all about and was honored for the chance to join Class XL (40) and to travel the state (both virtually and physically) and better understand her new home.
An intensive year-long fellowship connecting 20 multi-sector leaders from throughout Oregon, ALF’s intention is to strengthen collaborative approaches to identifying and dealing with complex and broad-based issues impacting our communities and our state as a whole. “We began our class journey with a week-long wilderness experience focused on deepening our relationships and learning how to work together,” Jenifer explained. “Each month has been both eye-opening and offered potential emergence for my work with Our Children Oregon.”
During her time in Sisters, Jenifer and Class XL learned in-depth about the family houselessness crisis and how families are living in the federal forests without the support of running water or other basic amenities. In Klamath Falls, they saw up close the reality of the water crisis, visiting the home of a family whose well had literally run dry. It was one of the 300 domestic wells that did so in 2021 alone. While learning about Astoria, Jenifer was able to connect with local non-profit, Consejo Hispano. In the following months, Our Children Oregon partnered with Consejo Hispano for our first event hosted in Spanish focused on helping families access the federal Child Tax Credit, and organized with the leadership of our Equity in Policy and Advocacy intern, Paola Velazquez.
For her first individual project, Jenifer focused on learning the history of Indian boarding schools in Oregon. That interest led her to connect with fellow classmate and Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), Dr. Sarah Kastelic. This past April, Dr. Kastelic was among the panelists on OCO’s InterACTions webinar centered on Indigenous leadership in child welfare reform. The panel discussion also elevated the current threats facing the national Indian Child Welfare Act.
In reflecting on the tremendous impact of ALF, Jenifer shared: “I am so deeply grateful for this year, this leadership journey, and for my fellow XL classmates, you have forever deepened my living and my work. I am so proud of our journey together and look forward to continuing to push for the just, abundant world we all know is possible.”
In the middle of April, James Jones Jr, Community Engagement Coordinator at OCO, joined a cohort of new organizers of color in Bend, Oregon, for The Cascade Society’s Spring Academy. Created by Esperanza Tervalon-Garrett, Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Dancing Hearts Consulting, the four-day intensive program educates and trains on the art and science of organizing, centering on social justice and liberation. Facilitators break down key terms and tactics and support participants in skill-building and deepening their leadership capacity while providing space and opportunity to put learnings into practice.
Organizing is 90% following up with those you’ve already connected with.
“I wanted to engage in this program because I felt like as a new organizer and person in this field, I was missing some skills and knowledge necessary to succeed,” James shared. Within his role, James outreaches to our partners and community members to engage them in our work, most recently launching our inaugural cohort of Youth ACT leaders as part of OCO’s All Children Thrive (ACT) Collective.
Having begun his career during the pandemic shutdown, the opportunities for the kind of hands-on learning The Cascade Society offered were limited. James was thrilled for the opportunity to engage in this program and have access to the tools, skills, and resources to support him in excelling within his career. “I can definitely say that my ability to do my job has progressed significantly since returning from the Cascade Society,” James reflected on his experience. “It highlighted the importance of knowing how to do the work and also having the proper people in place to teach that knowledge.”
Since October 2021, Ashley Light, CFRE, who joined OCO earlier this month as Development Director, has been among the 36 professionals participating in the Portland Business Alliance’s nine-month Leadership Portland program. Leadership Portland was founded to broaden perspectives on the most critical issues facing the Portland metro region while giving back through Community Impact Projects. The program also fosters leadership skills in team management, critical and creative thinking, and problem-solving. Through regular program days and her Impact Project, Ashley has had the opportunity to build relationships throughout the local community.
For her Impact Project, Ashley worked with the nonprofit Saturday Academy to establish a Community Advisory Board.
Since its inception in 2003, Leadership Portland has raised awareness of how business, government, and community sectors can work together to achieve common goals and develop skills to attain impact through inclusion and human-centered, equity-informed, developmental approaches to systems change. Ashley shared one example of this in reflecting on the day dedicated to Portland’s Arts and Culture, “we got to hear from the Portland Street Art Alliance on how they collaborate with street artists and connect them with opportunities to create art in the community.” That same day, she was able to visit the Oregon Historical Society. She appreciated it as a source of education about our state’s history and that it “did not avoid tough conversations.” Ashley will graduate from Leadership Portland in June 2022 and is grateful that it provided her with “a deeper understanding of the community, offering a better understanding of the issues and needs in the community and how nonprofits are helping to make a difference.”
To learn more about Portland Business Alliance’s Leadership Portland program, visit https://portlandalliance.com/programs/leadership-portland.html or find them on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn
OCO’s Research Manager Jyoni Tetsurō Shuler viewed the opportunity to join the KIDS COUNT National Steering Committee as a chance to contribute to the broader network’s work while supporting the network’s antiracist, equity-centered goals. Later this summer, they will begin their three-year commitment to this 12-member committee of KIDS COUNT grantee organization representatives, which operates as an advisory and coordination group for the Foundation.
“We are expanding our annual KIDS COUNT data reporting to feature new indicators, including the ‘Climate and Sustainability’ domain,” Jyoni explained. “I am thrilled by the opportunity to speak about our innovative work at the national level and help inform how the Foundation moves forward with its pioneering child well-being research.”
Our Children Oregon has served as Oregon’s KID COUNT grantee for nearly 30 years!
Jyoni’s participation as a Steering Committee member will undoubtedly strengthen OCO’s work locally, further improving, expanding, and growing Oregon’s KID COUNT work. Additionally, she hopes to “harness this role to advocate for the inclusion of climate and sustainability-related data in future data reports of the Foundation [AECF] – KIDS COUNT or otherwise.” At 31, Jyoni may also be the youngest member of this national group. They look forward to representing Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in the Committee, sharing their unique lens as a Millennial transfemme of color, and advancing the network to “capture the real-time challenges, impacts, and opportunities of the pandemic and climate crisis for our children and families.”