THE STORY OF JUAN AND
Juan and Sumaya came from different continents,
he from South America and she from Africa. Although
political unrest in their home countries brought
them both to Portland, they didn’t realize they
had so much in common until they met at Portland’s
civic leadership center – a gathering place that
unites diverse cultures and communities and forms
a hub of civic engagement.
Having spent several years in a refugee camp as
a child, Sumaya struggled with English and with
schoolwork when she first came to Portland. Fortunately,
the civic leadership center housed many independent
cultural organizations with bilingual and bicultural
tutors, who helped her catch up on homework. Juan
was also enrolled in a tutoring course, and soon
not only were both students able to speak English,
Sumaya was also speaking Spanish and Juan had learned
a few phrases in Somali.
A few months ago, Juan and Sumaya were elected
by their peers to serve on an advisory council for
Portland Public Schools, an example of Portland’s
efforts to involve youth in local government. Today
they are visiting the offices inside the center
with multilingual flyers about an upcoming meeting
designed to connect parents to their children’s
schools. It is a familiar role for Juan and Sumaya,
who also serve as unofficial ambassadors to new
immigrants and refugees, organizing monthly “Welcome
to Portland” gatherings at the center. At these
meetings, newcomers get to know their adopted city
and neighbors who live nearby.
Several City offices have moved into the center,
bringing local government closer to the community.
City employees and neighbors can often be seen chatting
over coffee or tea in the center’s many informal
gathering spaces or visiting local businesses.