After over a decade of absence, community members have put the organization back together

A few dozen community members gathered in the Forest Grove City Library on Wednesday evening, June 27, to hear about what's happening in their hometown, ask questions and share their comments and concerns. STAFF PHOTO: OLIVIA SINGER - The CPO panel discussion was led by Eva Hawes from Washington County Health and Human Services, interim superintendent of the Forest Grove School District John O'Neill, and Yolanda Diaz, an incoming junior at Forest Grove High School and member of Adelante Mujeres Chicas Youth Program.

Several community members have decided to put the Forest Grove's Community Participation Organization back together, after it was discontinued 17 years ago due to lack of activity.

"We are a group that come together once a month to discuss issues that are important to the community," said CPO Chairwoman Kirsten Beier. "CPOs have been around in Washington County now for 40 years. We have gotten together a group of us, and we wanted to bring it back because I think that having the CPO really helps you to better understand what's going on within your community and within the county."

CPOs serve as advisory bodies to the county government, providing public input from all around Washington County — especially in rural and unincorporated areas. They also host regular public meetings, often with speakers who give presentations or lead discussions about topics of interest to the community.

Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, executive director of the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce Howard Sullivan, Washington County Commissioner Bob Terry and others were in attendance Wednesday.

"This is really important to me personally, having another CPO open up in Forest Grove," said Terry, who is running for chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners this year. "CPOs really are so important to the county and to your local community here in Forest Grove. ... Your county is so big now, and they have so much going on, it's hard for the citizens to typically keep up with it, so this gives you an opportunity to do that and ask any kind of questions you want."

The CPO kick-off event was themed "Helping Families Thrive," with three local panelists: Eva Hawes from Washington County Health and Human Services, interim superintendent of the Forest Grove School District John O'Neill, and Yolanda Diaz, an incoming junior at Forest Grove High School and member of Adelante Mujeres Chicas Youth Program.

Hawes began by discussing trauma-informed care and the prevalent issue of adults and children having experienced some trauma in their lives, without having an outlet for recovery.

"Trauma-informed care realizes the impact of trauma on an individual or a community's experience, and understands paths to recovery," Hawes said. "And we in health and human services are facilitators of paths to recovery."

She mentioned that recent studies have found in almost any population, two out of three individuals had experienced childhood adversity, or what is called "ACES."

Hawes urged community members to form positive relationships with kids, whether that be someone they teach, mentor or even just a kid in the neighborhood.

"The number-one thing that builds resilience in children is positive adult relationships," she said. "In health and human services, we are moving on the right path of trauma-informed care. We are working to become more trauma-informed as a nation. I am one of the co-leads of that work, and I am very, very passionate about that, and very proud to be doing that work."

O'Neill followed, sharing the things he is most proud of within the school district right now, including the implementation of trauma-informed care at the schools, the success of the dual-language programs, the STEM learning opportunities, the decreased number of teen pregnancies, and the college and career readiness pathways.

"We have had a great partnership with Washington County," O'Neill said. "They recently put out a grant to help support students that have ACES. ... Every single one of our schools have been through the training and they have implemented (trauma-informed curriculum) in our district. So when something unexpected happens in the classroom or something triggers their behavior, teaching the student, as well as the teacher and instructional staff, as well as the administrators and counseling services, how to respond and how to step proactively in an environment that is conducive and supports trauma-informed practices."

O'Neill also pointed out the success of the students enrolled in the dual-language programs in the district, offered at Cornelius, Echo Shaw and Tom McCall elementary schools and most recently added to Neil Armstrong Middle School.

"We have students that for the first time ever, have successfully enrolled in advanced placement Spanish language in seventh grade and are passing the course with high scores," he said. "And we can't wait to get the tests back. ...They tested along with our juniors and seniors... we are fully expecting some great success."

The high school will also implement AP Spanish literature for freshman this fall, and the school will be transitioning to a new schedule offering four classes one day and four the next, rather than four one day and three another, he said. This new transition allows more students to enroll in an elective of their choice, as previously students who were enrolled in special education or English language development were unable to choose an elective, because this required course filled their only open class slot. The high school will be hiring more teachers and lowering class sizes in the process, he said.

Lastly, Diaz spoke to the group about the positive affect the youth program has had on her, and why it is important to advocate for youth in the community.

"I have no words to describe what Chicas has done for me," Diaz said. "Thanks to Chicas, I now know what college is and I know I can get there and I know how to get there. ... Our Latino culture has been built around barriers. I want to break that barrier and prove to people that just because you come from a certain background, or because you're not encouraged by others to do (something), you can still do it."

Officers from the Washington County Sheriff's Office were also in attendance, encouraging the community to reach out with concerns or questions. STAFF PHOTO: OLIVIA SINGER - Several local officers discussed public safety during the meeting and told community members to reach out with any questions or concerns in the future.

Forest Grove's CPO meetings will be held on the fourth Wednesday of every month in the Forest Grove Library Rogers Room from 6 to 8 p.m., although no meeting will be held in August due to the first week of school.

July's topic is homelessness, and coordinators are hoping the September meeting will be a candidate forum where people can hear from and ask questions to those running for City Council and other local positions.

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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