Portland Youth Corps

A strong academic education, especially one that includes a college education, can be a great equalizer and, in many instances, put an end to generational poverty, reduce crime, and contribute to a higher quality of life for all.  Unfortunately, it is unattainable for thousands of Portland youth because of the high cost of college-related expenses and/or the long term burden of college loan debt for 4 years.  The Portland Youth Corps (PYC) would be a collaboration between the City of Portland, Mt. Hood Community College, Portland Community College, and potentially Portland State University.  It will provide Portland youth aged 18-21 with an approved online college curriculum for a 2 year AA or AS degree in exchange for two years of community service.  If possible, vocational training might also be an option with nursing and IT as top contenders for this alternative academic pathway.

The best case scenario for this effort would be for youth participants to have numerous types of community service experiences spread throughout the City to provide them with exposure to various types of people and activities that will give them a better understanding of the hopes and dreams as well as the obstacles faced by Portlanders of various socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.  In other words, a real world learning experience to supplement their academic education.  The hope being that this combined education experience will provide them with a better understanding of the life experience of others they might not otherwise come in contact with and subsequently inform their decision-making for the rest of their lives.  Hopefully, it will also help them critically think thru their decisions, including when voting, on how their choices and decisions affect others.  

The types of volunteer work participants could do is endless and only limited by the needs of our community.  Imagine every K-12 school in the City with a pool of teacher aides.  Every street cleared of garbage and graffiti.  Every elderly or disabled Portland homeowner not having to worry about yard and home maintenance they are unable to do or can’t afford.  The City would also have a large pool of volunteers to remove invasive species; plant trees and bushes; remove debris from street gutters and drains; assist with park and public space maintenance; provide volunteer support at City community events, such as Sunday Parkways, Movies in the Park, and other Parks and Recreation activities.  

We can also use the program to address important issues, such as food insecurity.  There are literally tons of fresh food being wasted because someone is unable to pick the fruit or other produce on their property.  There are also countless properties that have the capacity to add food-related plants.  With permission and engagement with property owners, PYC participants could plant food producing trees and bushes as well as pick excess fruit from property owners’ trees and bushes and deliver it to food banks, schools, adult residential care facilities, and other groups with a need for fresh food.  The remainder could go to local grocery stores and Farmers Markets.  Any proceeds from sales could be used to help support the program, other community programs, or added to the budget of historically underfunded City Bureaus and Offices.

The volunteer component might also include providing volunteer support to other City programs or efforts such as the Portland Reparations Project, Movies in the Park, or City revenue generating activities.  Working with K-5 schools on street art projects or providing volunteer support for local nonprofits.  Picking up cigarette butts, which are among the most littered items in the world and the single greatest source of ocean trash.  And with a little luck maybe prevent some young people from smoking.  The potential is vast and only limited by our support of such an effort.

A brief list of some of the development activities include:

• establishing clear safety protocols at all levels — from no participant may enter a private residence without prior approval and never without at least one other program participant or volunteer mentor, to using gloves and observing established hazardous material protocols when clearing street gutters and drains.  

• determining categories and volunteer opportunities within each category

• determining the number of credit hours of work needed to satisfy the volunteer requirement and how many credit hours each activity represents from each category option

• developing pathways that allow participants to have exposure to a wide variety of experiences — from outdoor activities to introductions to different cultures to in-person exposure to the obstacles faced by the elderly and disabled

• developing oversight protocols for all volunteer levels

• developing academic component and oversight protocols.

This document created by Mark White and made possible by the Mark for Portland 2020 campaign.