April 25, 2011

Win the Future for Foster Kids

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:35 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

The future for youths in foster care in Oregon is bleak. According to a 2006 study of former youths in foster care from Oregon and Washington cited by the Oregonian, one in five will become homeless, one in six received welfare and one in three lived at or near the poverty level. College graduates on the other hand, have lower unemployment and poverty rates, contribute more to tax revenues and are less likely to depend on social safety-net programs.

House Bill 3471, co-sponsored by Rep. Michael Dembrow (D) and Rep. Matt Wingard (R), would create tuition waivers at state and community colleges for young people who have aged out of the foster care system with no permanent family.

Representative Julie Parrish makes the case that in these tight budget times that we can’t afford HB 3471. Indeed we are struggling to set priorities this session with so many worthwhile and effective programs on the chopping block. But one thing is sure, we can’t afford more homeless, hopeless kids in our state. I don’t think Rep. Julie Parrish “hates kids” as she says people will say about her because of her opposition to the bill. She has an amazing story of self-sufficiency — pulling herself out of homelessness. And yet, why do we want a society that requires vulnerable people to be superheroes to make it out? I don’t believe in superheroes, but I do believe in the power of education.

What if these vulnerable kids had a promise that college was waiting for them? Granted there are about 300 kids in community college, university or post-secondary school this year (400 teens have aged out of the foster care system each year since 2006) under the current funding system which includes a number of grants available to foster care kids. But even so, do statistics tell us that the current system is working for this population? At some point, we will need to decide if we are going to invest in our kids or if we are simply going to manage the outcome of little investment. With outcomes already so dismal for this population, it might be time to follow what 16 other states have done — provide college tuition waivers for foster care kids with no permanent family.

We can subject kids in foster care to the same market forces which are forcing many college students today to gamble on loans to pay for a future that is not assured. Or we can say to foster care kids, your lives have been gambled with enough already. We want you to know that your state wants a future for you and we are so strong in our commitment to you that we are going to make it a sure thing. If a youth coming out of the foster care system in Oregon wants to work hard to earn a degree (something that statistics show is difficult for this population), I say we gamble on rewarding their ambition in the face of such great odds.

April 20, 2011

Shemia Fagan: A Force for David Douglas Schools

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:31 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

The first time I heard about Shemia Fagan, I remember hearing she was a force. Being a skeptical, yet curious person I reserved judgment until I met her. We first officially met at my Emerge Oregon training in Bend last year. She was a 2009 alumna of the program and was back to learn more from the program and engage with the new class.

Shemia presents well — engaging, full of enthusiasm and confidence, just as you might expect someone described as a “force” to present. And you might stop there and marvel at her presence and move on, but what’s special about Shemia is not her presence. It’s her depth. I sensed it from the moment I met her, that there was this depth with her that went beyond the charisma. She spoke often about her devout, hard-working father — family, though times were often tough with an absent mother who battled addiction well until Shemia’s adulthood, was her bedrock.

In a recent campaign video, Shemia says, “I believe that public education gives every kid a chance to determine their own life.” What I know only from our similar life experiences is that when Shemia talks about schools providing opportunities, it’s not a slogan. To a lot of kids, school is THE answer, the way up and/or out. For Shemia, it was her 4th grade teacher, Mr. Wagner at Dufur Elementary, who volunteered his own time to teach her in the Chess Club. She eventually went on to win the Oregon State Chess Championship, which ignited a drive in her. That drive led her to pursue college and then go on to Lewis & Clark Law school where she learned to effectively advocate and resolve disputes.

I recently had the opportunity to see her talents at dispute resolution in person — a by chance opportunity to join her for a Lakers-Blazers game at the Rose Garden. There’s nothing more serious than a couple of Laker fans sitting in front of this Blazer loyalist at her first ever Laker-Blazer game. Shemia quickly made their acquaintance and found out that they were Oregonians (Southern Oregon) just like us and you gotta love ’em, grew up Laker fans. My incredulity at this possibility aside, I thought back to that experience when Shemia recently told me she was challenging a 24-year incumbent for the David Douglas School Board. I thought if she can get me to empathize with Laker fans, I can’t wait to see her in action on something that really matters — advocating on behalf of the kids in her neighborhood.

On a more serious note, the David Douglas School District needs strong, empathic people like Shemia on their side. The number of students on free and reduced lunch has skyrocketed to nearly 80% over the past several years. She knows firsthand the value of public education and believes that East Portland deserves its fair share. For a city that prides itself on all its admittedly fabulous wonders, we still leave far too many people behind. A new, strong leader in East Portland’s “bulging at the seams” David Douglas School District will have impacts in the community beyond just the schools.

With endorsements from the David Douglas Education Association, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (who just announced his campaign for Congressman David Wu’s seat), State Representative Jefferson Smith and even a recent porchside endorsement from Mrs. Betty Merkley (the woman who raised our wonderful Senator Jeff Merkley), Shemia has a growing list of supporters. But it’s lifelong David Douglas resident Sam Kahl who says it best: ” Shemia Fagan is the kind of leader we need to guide us…young, imaginative, forward thinking and committed to her community through thick and thin.”

If you are interested in learning more about Shemia and what she stands for, visitShemiaFagan.com or find her on Facebook “Elect Shemia Fagan to David Douglas School Board”.

April 2, 2011

Respecting All Riders Revisited

Posted in Blue Oregon at 9:29 am by Nova Newcomer

Originally posted on BlueOregon.com.

My first blog on Blue Oregon back in July of last year was an issue about accessibility and accommodation of parents and guardians riding with children. I had first shared this idea with the founders of the MotherPAC and they had encouraged me to followup on this issue as they, along with mothers from Urbanmamas.com, had been in talks with TriMet on this very issue a year or so back.

I thought Blue Oregon was the perfect place to have this conversation and was delighted when Josh Collins of TriMet was thoughtful enough to post a comment on my post about TriMet’s policy. An e-mail exchange and a meeting at TriMet resulted in a TriMet-led Space Management Summit where Lisa Frack (MotherPAC, Family Forward Oregon) and I were able to meet with other concerned riders about space management issues.

It became clear early on in the meeting after a presentation by TriMet that the group of riders who ride with children were not a part of the official planning or stakeholder engagement process. Advocates for seniors and disabled passengers, a cycling advocate and an advocate for riders who speak English as a second language have official roles as part of TriMet’s community committee structure, however no such role exists for a parent or guardian riding with kids advocate. We also discovered that TriMet’s rider survey results did not include statistics about parents or guardians traveling with young kids. Nor did any of their capacity planning or train design drawings demonstrate the need for space for parents/guardians traveling with kids — in particular the concept of what to do with strollers (a necessary traveling tool for any long-term trip with an infant or small toddler) was not included in these drawings.

In addition, the campaign to “Respect the Ride” did not include any rider instruction on how to respectfully ride with young kids or to be a helpful passenger to a rider with young kids. There also was no other signage on the bus or MAX to suggest that there may be riders with young kids traveling and how to best share space on TriMet between all riders. And knowing how to share the space is particularly important, because of the necessary and critical accommodations and legally-protected space for disabled and senior passengers, who should not have to be put in a position to ask for this space, but are often blocked from access by riders (including parents traveling with young kids) who have no other place to sit with their stroller, luggage or otherwise bulky or irregular “cargo”.

I say all this because I was impressed with how TriMet included us in this meeting and brought different rider groups together. It wasn’t a perfect meeting and we didn’t all agree on everything, but it was clear in the room that there did need to be a way for parents and guardians riding with kids to know where they were allowed to use additional space on MAX and the bus. And TriMet came back with a list of improvements they were planning to implement to make riding on TriMet a better experience for parents and guardians with young children — work that is still very much in progress.

Original Max Sticker showing only bikes New multi-use stickerCredit J. Maus and Mitch L and Bike Portland.org for the photos

One of our early suggestions on the MAX side was to have a multi-use sticker for the bike hanger area to make sure that it was clear that riders with various cargo could use this area. Yesterday on BikePortland.org, a blog post showed early evidence that these new multi-use stickers were indeed being placed on MAX as TriMet had promised. The original sticker as shown, implies that bikes had priority to this area. Now, it more adequately represents that this is a multi-use area as space allows.

I know that cycling advocates at BikePortland.org are concerned about the impact of this new sticker to the cycling commuting community and I think their concerns are valid — I do think the overall message of this new sticker is that we all need to share our places on the road. A cyclist sharing the space on MAX with a parent or guardian with a young infant one day (there is room for a bike to hang and have a parent or guardian with a stroller stand there). A car sharing the road with a cyclist by observing bike lanes and making safe right-hand turns another day. A parent or guardian with a stroller moving for a senior or disabled passenger without being asked. All of us being more attentive to pedestrians.

To me, it’s about the fact that we all have places to go, things we feel are necessary to bring (whether it be a bike, a stroller, luggage for the airport or a basket of laundry). We should honor the fact that people with larger or irregular cargo have chosen to use public transit rather than put one more car on the road and make sure they are welcomed and have a place on our system. And of course, we should all consider our fellow passengers when bringing along these items. Space on the bus and MAX is limited and certain times in the day are specifically challenging. We all need to continue to advocate for TriMet to include different rider groups in their capacity and design planning processes so that our transit system is not only well-used but also accessible to senior and disabled passengers, cyclists, and parents and guardians with young children and others. If we want to increase ridership on public transit, we must consider the barriers to using it.