Life in the City: A week in Portland

Every year, Dragonfly students take a trip to Portland where they participate in community service projects to help those in need.  In addition, they have a chance to enjoy some of the unique cultural activities that Portland has to offer.  Ashland campus mentor, Cassie Belden shares her group’s experience of life in the city this past week.

By: Cassie Belden, Mentor

On Monday evening, a band of weary travelers arrived in our new home for the week “Lux” Airbnb. As everyone got settled, a few ventured out to acquire provisions for meals for the week.  Although we enjoyed a few memorable restaurant experiences, many of our meals were prepared by students who paired up to cook a meal for the group.  

Helping remove invasive species  and building new paths at the Portland Arboretum

We awoke bright and early on Tuesday morning and went to the Portland Arboretum, home to some 2,000 plus plant species. We worked hard to assist the “Tuesdays”, a crew of senior men who have been volunteering there for over 10 years, to remove invasive blackberry bushes and pave new gravel pathways on the well-loved trail. 

After a long day of work, we stopped at the famous Portland food trucks and enjoyed the many different cuisines offered.  Then onwards to Powell’s bookstore, where imaginations ran rampant and every bibliophiles’ heart sang at the rows and rows and rooms and rooms full of books on every subject.

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Vancouver, WA

Wednesday brought an adventure to a whole other state!  We ventured to Vancouver, Washington and offered a full volunteer day to Habitat for Humanity, where we installed drywall and metal corner protectors. Students learned many new skills including how to use a tape measurer, T-square, electric drill and more. All while practicing team-work and helping build a home for a family in need! Even though we ended up completely covered in dry-wall dust, it was a very rewarding experience. 

On Wednesday evening staff Billy lead a therapeutic group on the benefit of service. It was touching to witness students describe what it felt like to help others and their own difficulties in asking for help. 

Thursday was time for a different type of exploration. We took the drive to Silver Falls, a state park outside of Salem, and spent most of our day hiking around to various incredible waterfalls. We practiced mindfulness by noticing the various ways each sense was activated and shared a nice picnic lunch in the sunshine.   That evening we enjoyed pizza at a local parlor before meeting up with the larger group for Twist your Dickens, a hilarious sketch comedy spinoff of the classic A Christmas Carol. 

Friday brought another packed day with a visit to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, complete with a Planetarium viewing of the current night sky. After another group lunch in a waterfront park downtown, the students explored the city for a few hours before heading home. That evening, everyone attended a Portland Trailblazers basketball game and the Trailblazers came out triumphant! 

Saturday was our last day together and we spent the morning volunteering with “No Ivy League” in Forest Park. The organization spends a lot of time removing invasive species of English and Irish Ivy and then replanting native species. We were able to help plant many dozens of seedlings that will hopefully help grow a healthy new ecosystem. After planting, we hiked to the infamous “Witches Castle”, just up the trail from our volunteer spot, and had lunch and another therapeutic mindfulness group. After a short body scan meditation, we talked about the impact of being in our bodies and with our breaths even for just a few minutes. 

After a week in the city, volunteering and exploring the many sights, students packed up and departed Sunday morning for home visits.  It was a fun filled, productive week!


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