Building trust in immigrant communities
As Portland grows, so does the need for quality park features in all corners of the city. Outer Southeast Portland, for example, is home to a large number of newer immigrants and refugees from all over the world. The area will soon see two parks revitalized thanks to the Parks Replacement Bond. Lynchview and Gilbert Primary Parks will feature new playgrounds designed with input and involvement from a diverse community.
Getting the community involved meant earning their trust. Hanna Grishkevich served as a community engagement liaison for both playground projects. The principal of a private school started by Slavic families more than a decade ago and a Ukrainian immigrant herself, Hanna understands the importance of reaching out and assuring immigrants that their opinions really count.
Hanna says that at first, the Russian-speaking community viewed the process with a lot of skepticism. “We would encourage them to vote for their favorite design, and they would say that it really doesn’t matter,” she says. “But [Portland] Parks would tell them, yes, we could do what we want, but that’s not how it works. Our manager is actually interested in what you have to say.”
Their skepticism stems from their cultural roots, Hanna says. “No one ever asks our opinion back home.” The idea of government borrowing was foreign to them. “There are no taxes in Ukraine, and ‘bond’ can’t even be translated,” she says. “But here, they could see what the process was, from start to finish, and all the possibilities. To be able to be a person who decides something, whose opinion matters, who is able to express an idea is inspiring.”
To spread the word about PP&R’s community meetings, Hanna would distribute flyers, in Russian, Spanish, and English, outside the schools adjacent to the parks. She mentioned the meetings to her students, many of whom, she learned, had attended those schools. Realizing that the design process would be the perfect civics lesson, she encouraged them to participate.
Her students and their fellow participants gained a sense of empowerment. “Now they are encouraged to speak their mind, and they know they can participate in a City Council meeting [for instance],” she says. “My students felt proud of their role. I tell them, ‘You will tell your kids someday, I was there; I was in these meetings.’”
Like the participants, Hanna was inspired by the level of engagement PP&R insisted upon. “People can read people,” she says. “[PP&R staff members] gave me faith that not everyone is a bureaucrat going for the checklist. People get into the flow of caring and stay there.”
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