Students volunteer at Vestal Elementary, support school's social justice mission

Every August Portland Public Schools (PPS) hosts Project Community Care, a school beautification event where the local community is invited to assist with projects at their neighborhood PPS school so the institutions are ready to welcome kids back once classes start. This year, it fell during Multnomah’s student leadership training, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to build this event into the training schedule. The athletic teams are often looking for team service opportunities, so the men’s soccer team joined our student leaders on Saturday morning at Vestal Elementary School.

Every year, we try to integrate a service component into our student leadership training, as we believe the act of local service is not only a way of actively demonstrating Christ’s call to love our neighbors, but also a way to teach our students the value of servant leadership. Authentic leadership is modeled through humble service, and there’s no better way to demonstrate this truth than to give our students the opportunity to actively serve together.

Vestal is one of the more ethnically and socially diverse schools in Northeast Portland, and it also happens to be Multnomah’s neighbor. As a large public school with limited financial support, they often have practical needs that can be easily met by willing volunteers. Vestal’s principal, Sabrina Flamoe, has spent the past year cultivating a new mission for Vestal — A School for Social Justice — with the desire to create a culture of respect, service and care that reaches beyond school property and benefits the entire Montavilla neighborhood. Vestal’s mission may be articulated a bit differently than Multnomah’s mission, but the heart of the vision is very similar. The more Multnomah can bless Vestal with much-needed service projects, the more Vestal can empower their students to make a positive difference in their homes and neighborhoods. I see it as a beautiful opportunity to actively be the hands and feet of Christ to the Montavilla neighborhood.

During Project Community Care at Vestal this year, there were more than 150 volunteers who spent their Saturday morning clearing brush, pulling weeds, picking up trash, spreading bark chips, painting walls, scraping floors, and designing bulletin boards. Fifty of those volunteers were Multnomah University students and staff. Principal Flamoe told me the event made a huge impact: “I so appreciate the hard work on tasks both small and big!” she wrote “Every ask was received with a smile and ended with a ‘What’s next?’ — incredible! Our kiddos and staff are going to be blown away when they walk on our campus and through the doors…beautiful…huge thanks!”

Vestal is always looking for volunteers, and in fact, during Project Community Care several important conversations were had with Multnomah students about ways they could lean into personal passions and interests, while also meeting needs at Vestal. These prospects for further partnerships were exciting for both our students and for the Vestal staff.

For instance, because Vestal’s new theme is A School for Social Justice, Max Upchurch – a Voices Scholar & SGA’s Intercultural Inclusion Chair – was on the crew designing a huge bulletin board explaining the social justice mission. He was so excited about the way the school is practically promoting social justice that he got into a long conversation with Principal Flamoe and told her about how he spent the summer in Chicago training urban youth on social justice. Then she got so excited hearing about his passion on the topic that she invited him to join me at their community partners meetings, where we discuss how to integrate social justice into the school’s curriculum while actively practicing it in the community. It was a really fun connection to make in a place where I think Max can have a significant contribution!

Jose, from the men’s soccer team, had been a part of the small group last year who went to Vestal several times to paint student bathrooms. On Saturday he was also approached by the school’s staff, who invited him to design and paint a mural in the school this year! He told me he’s really excited about it. Several other students mentioned that they would love to do their LINK service hours at Vestal, and the Vestal staff was raving about how they’d love Multnomah students to be more involved!

As the Dean of Students at Multnomah, as well as a Montavilla resident and a mom of kids who attend Vestal, I have the privilege of serving as the liaison between Multnomah and Vestal. If anyone from Multnomah has interest in doing more service projects (yard work, painting, etc.) or classroom volunteering (helping a teacher, reading with kids, etc.) during the year, they can contact me for more information. For students, it can be a fun and impactful way to fulfill LINK Service Learning credit requirements.

Kim Stave
Dean of Students
Multnomah University

August 22, 2018 | Outreach