Friday April 25th 2014

Do Good: Take Action in Portland

By: Shannon Bryan

Amanda Lehman, TAP founder, shows a young sledder the ropes during WinterKids in Portland on Jan 19. Shannon Bryan photos

Amanda Lehman is a matchmaker of sorts. She has a knack for introducing people and making connections. Except this isn’t a story about romance – not in the traditional sense, anyway. See, Amanda is helping people meet and fall in love with local nonprofits.

Amanda is one of the founders of Take Action Portland (TAP), an organization that introduces benevolent locals with area nonprofits that are looking to meet volunteers. It’s an old-school set up of the do gooder variety.

Launched in April 2012, TAP teams up with organizations like Portland Trails, Preble Street, Youth and Family Outreach, and Surfrider for low-barrier, one-day volunteering opportunities.

It gives folks the chance to do good locally without a big commitment – because commitment can be, quite frankly, scary and daunting. (It’s a fact that deters people who might otherwise really, really want to get involved with their communities. Or move in with their boyfriends.)

On top of that, TAP events help rally much-need volunteers for Portland nonprofits that could certainly use the help. And in the process, who knows what could happen. A TAP volunteer might really dig what Preble Street is doing and decide to take the volunteering relationship to the next level. Or he might prefer to see several nonprofits casually for a while. That’s part of what makes TAP so accessible.

“TAP is making it easy to get involved and getting nonprofits the resources they need,” said Lehman. “There are just so many great nonprofits in Portland that people don’t even know about.”

Catherine Boysen and Erin Quigley, both TAP project coordinators, work the hill at Payson Park during WinterKids.

TAP makes those introductions easy, like “community-involvement blind dates,” joked Erin Quigley, a TAP project coordinator. And locals are responding. Spots filled quickly for a recent volunteering opportunity during WinterKids, where volunteers helped corral eager young sledders at Portland’s Payson Park. Many of the kids were experiencing the speedy downhill for the first time, and TAP volunteers helped encourage the first-timers with high fives and enthusiastic shouts – and even joined in when sledders needed the backup.

“It’s a way to be social and have fun and get to know Portland more,” said TAP volunteer Sam Harvell. “And you connect with so many different people.”

TAP is like a “community-involved blind date,” joked TAP project coordinator Erin Quigley.

Following each event, volunteers often meet up at a local watering hole or restaurant to socialize and have a drink, and a representative from that day’s partner nonprofit is on hand to chat and answer questions. Longer-term connections could be made over a slice of Otto pizza.

“It’s another way for people to get together,” said Lehman. “Every event, we make it social.”

And if nothing else, volunteers can revel in knowing they spent a few hours having a positive impact on Portland. Heck, they probably even met some cool people.

It’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And it seems it’s working.

“We’ve been filling up consistently,” said Quigley, who added that she’s been likewise impressed by the “general awesomeness” of the people who show up. The question now is figuring out how to accommodate a growing number of eager volunteers. It’s a good problem to have and an indication that the people of Portland aren’t the kind to simply watch the city go by. Portlanders want to have an impact.

“We want people to feel like they’re doing meaningful work,” said Catherine Boysen, another TAP project coordinator. “Sometimes we create what we’re doing, sometimes a nonprofit reaches out to us.”

Sam Harvell, of Portland, helps a young sledder and his brother move out of the way of oncoming sledders during WinterKids.

TAP events typically run for a couple of hours, often on the weekends or weekday evenings to make them accessible to folks with day jobs, said Lehman. Interested locals can sign up for TAP’s newsletter to learn about upcoming opportunities, or check the website: http://takeactionportland.com/.

* The next event, TAP into Preble Street, taking place Thursday evening, is already full. (In fact, after Thursday’s event filled so quickly, TAP added a second night, Feb 6. And that one filled up, too.)

It seems if you’re looking for love, or looking to do good in your community, you can’t wait around for it. But if you’re paying attention and putting yourself out there? Well, the nonprofit you’ve been looking for all your life could be just around the corner.

FMI: takeactionportland.com or on Facebook

TAP volunteers show off their jumping skills. From left: Erin Quigley, Jonathan Steitzer, Catherine Boysen, Sam Harvell, Chriki Jones, Meagan Lauer, and Amanda Lehman.