I’m going to remove the rose-colored glasses that social media wears for a minute and try to paint a real picture of what it is like for me here in Portland, an Ohioan living it up on the West coast on an AmeriCorps budget.
So what do I do at my job? What does a day in my life look like? Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and exploring as showcased on social media, but I do have a job too!
Let me tell you.
I walk out of my apartment to catch the 7:26 am 56 bus toward downtown. I live in the southwest hills of Portland, about a 15 drive toward downtown without traffic. I ride for several stops making note of the occasionally visible Mount Hood or the layers of fog in between the evergreens before getting off downtown to transfer to another bus where I’ll cross the Hawthorne bridge and head to work. I genuinely enjoy my commute, even though most people on the morning bus have a lifeless and tired look on their face. I like the time to listen to music, look out the window, and mentally prepare for the day without having the stress and tension that driving in Portland morning traffic brings. I also like being a part of the morning energy. When I transfer buses downtown, everyone seems to be rushing by, in their own little worlds, going to wherever it is that they work. It’s not glamorous in any way. It’s sometimes inconvenient. Sometimes the bus is crowded and people invade your personal space, but it’s part of living in a city, and it’s better than sitting on a congested I-5 when gas costs as high as almost four dollars a gallon.
This morning I’m headed to northeast Portland where my office is located. My office is a repurposed firehouse nestled in the residential Irvington neighborhood surrounded by large, historic houses and beautiful trees, especially in the fall. Inside, the pale yellow walls and smell of brewing coffee create a welcoming environment and I make my way to my desk where my amazing co-workers are already busy at work. They always kindly greet me even if it’s just a quick hello between their many phone calls. Every day looks different for me but, in general, I’ll check my email, feed the squirrels outside our office window some sunflower seeds, and check my calendar for the day.
On Mondays, I usually ride along on our Project Linkage bus with one of our drivers, Paul, where we take older adults to places such as shopping centers, farmers markets, movie theaters, and make a stop for lunch. Project Linkage also takes older adults to medical appointments and to grocery stores, but Monday’s trips are generally more recreational. For many of our riders, this is their social network. This is their only opportunity to leave the house for the week and interact with others. They know the others that we’ll be picking up on the way and although it’s a long ride for the first one’s we pick up, they love looking out the large windows and seeing the other neighborhoods in Portland. This trip specifically services the mid-county area of Portland, many who live here have lived their whole lives in Portland, watching as it has rapidly changed and gentrified, pushing them out East where housing is minimally more affordable. One the most common topics of conversations on these rides starts out with “This used to be…” as everyone makes comments on their changing community. As a new Portlander from the Midwest and also a millennial, I initially found this very annoying. Change is growth and growth is good, how can these people not see that? They are so stuck in the past and it’s depressing, I thought. But the more I’ve learned about Portland’s history and also as I try to become more empathetic towards a client population that differs from myself in many ways, I thought about the feeling I experience when I drive past the remains of the house I grew up in, in Jeffersonville, Ohio. We moved when I was 17 and it is now a Medflight office, with a helicopter pad in what was once the front yard. Honestly, I try to avoid driving past it when I’m home; it’s a sad feeling. I realized that they aren’t just stubborn and that many of them have memories tied to places that no longer exist, which is sad. Plus, hearing their stories of Portland’s past makes me more educated on just how much the city that I now live in has changed and that when I look out the window, I’m seeing things that may not have been there just a few years back.
When we arrive at our destination for that day with all of our passengers, I assist in getting everyone out of the bus, operating the lift when necessary and then I join them at wherever we are that day. Sometimes this means walking around the zoo with a small group or helping someone with their grocery bags. However, most important is that I’m there for people to talk to. Some of our riders are genuinely amazing people and I love learning about their adventurous pasts and they love learning about how exactly I got here and what I “what to do when I grow up”. I’ve just gotten to the point where I know almost everyone we pick up on our route, although it differs as there’s always more that want to go than we have seats. On the ride back, I connect my phone to the bluetooth system and play some classic 1930’s swing music that everyone loves. Some people clap, some people sing, and overall it’s such a cool thing to witness. One couple that rides frequently has been married for 62 years! I can’t even fathom that. Sometimes people get to talking and they realize that they went to high school together, in the ’50s! I love being able to see these connections being made.
That is just an example of one thing I do at my job. Other days look different. I created a professional blog for Project Linkage from scratch with all original content. I then had a meeting with my supervisor and our communication and marketing team to discuss the correct use of our branding and what they thought of it overall. I got positive feedback, so I’m currently working on expanding the content and adding more features. I also do quite a bit of volunteer recruitment for our other older adults programs. On Thursdays, I help out at one of our organization’s many food pantries. Thousands of food gets delivered and I help unload and organize it to be ready for shoppers. It’s an amazing process to witness.
I also meet with a small caseload of older adult clients that live alone on a biweekly basis. These visits are mostly just talking to them, making sure they are safe in their homes, ensuring they have network of support, and letting them show me countless pictures of their grandchildren. One of my clients always brings a thermos of coffee and an atlas and we talk about the places we’ve both travelled. “Now show me where that is on the map.” She’ll say. Spending the first few hours of my day having coffee, slowing down, and just talking with someone who doesn’t have anyone to talk to is a very humbling experience. It challenges me to connect with someone very different than I and makes me realize the power in simple conversation.