By Monet Sutch, Community Partnerships Team member
It’s a tradition for the College Possible Oregon team to volunteer together on National Make a Difference Day. This October, our AmeriCorps members and staff rolled up their sleeves to support the Foster Floodplain Restoration Project, which is part of the Portland Parks and Recreation Land Stewardship Division.
This year, the team wanted to make a lasting impact, be intentional with whom they partnered and engage the team in a project they’d be invested in.
The Foster Floodplain Restoration Project began as an effort to turn a chronically flooded neighborhood built along the Foster floodplain back into a thriving, biodiverse ecosystem. Revitalizing the floodplain would not only reintroduce innumerable plant and animal species but also act as flood mitigation for the greater Foster-Powell area.
It was an incredibly ambitious project. A neighborhood’s worth of chronically flooded houses, a dam and paved roads had to be removed for the project to even begin. With support from the state, federal grants and guidance from Indigenous leaders (largely through the Native American Community Advisory Council), the 63-acre Foster Floodplain Natural Area is now home to manifold birds, riparian plants, frogs and salamanders. Even once-critically endangered native salmon, trout and lamprey have begun spawning in Johnson Creek again! Needless to say, the restoration of Johnson Creek has been a remarkable success.
The amount of intention and care that went into the project was enormously inspiring. No community member, be it plant, person, bird, frog, or river, was left out of the equation. This project is an example of what we’re capable of when we work together and get down to the root of the issues we’re facing. Things can get better. Thriving is possible, even in extremely unlikely and difficult circumstances.
Our team had an overwhelmingly positive experience volunteering at the Foster Floodplain Natural Area. The 63-acre plot was dappled with laughter from our team all day, regardless of the rain, mud and cold.
When asked in the post-event survey about whether or not the event felt valuable, attendees wrote:
- “Yes! The significance of clearing trash that otherwise would have made it into the waterway was very salient. It takes the ‘Let’s clean up our natural spaces’ narrative one step further by tying the efforts to the health of the creek and the growing salmon population and I feel like you immediately get a more tangible WHY associated with the event.”
- “This event was very valuable. Getting to clean up in our own city always makes me feel better and like I can contribute in a positive way.”
- “Absolutely! This event helped College Possible in relationship-building while doing something good for the community.”
College Possible is centered on addressing the college equity gap. However, that focus doesn’t mean we have tunnel vision about our mission. Make a Difference Day gives us an opportunity to make sure our greater values and the authentic desire to create mutually beneficial community relationships through service events, are highlighted every year.
The immense amount of trash we were able to remove from the floodplain was both the best and worst part of the day. On the one hand, it was so, so satisfying to see that trash leave the floodplain. Even more so, it was heartening to see the group work together to make such a tangible impact on the environment while becoming more familiar with it. That feeling of seeing the positive impact of your actions in real time is unlike anything else.
On the other hand, we collected a lot of trash in a relatively short time. It highlighted that every issue we confront is intersectional, multifold and deserving of care. A river needs a steward in a similar way that our students need their coaches. The momentum, power and potential are all there — they just need someone to help navigate and remove the barriers that prevent them from fully realizing those elements.