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Creating food and art help youth triumph

Nonprofit helps at-risk boys develop skills, leadership


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Delfino Gurrola,16, mixes ingredients for an apple crisp during a cooking class last week at St. Michaels Lutheran Church. It wasn’t gourmet, but it was simple and soul-satisfying.

The teens at the Boys Group last week cooked up a feast of fettuccine Alfredo with chicken, broccoli and mushrooms, and apple cobbler for dessert.

Last month they learned to make sloppy joes and salad. They also tried their hand at fresh chips and salsa.

The cooking lessons are partly for building their skills and self-esteem, partly for practicality’s sake.

“The boys are so hungry after school; most of their parents are working,” says Laura Kutner, founder of a nonprofit called Trash for Peace. “We were buying them snacks. We thought this was a great

opportunity.”

The boys range in age from 10 to 18; most attend Madison High, while a few go to Grant High or Faubion Middle School. They are a diverse bunch, from places including Latin America, Puerto Rico and Polynesia.

They’ve been meeting as the Dekum Youth Empowerment Initiative through Home Forward’s Dekum Court Housing community for at least three years.

Then Trash for Peace took over their mentorship, with the mission of educating youth about the importance of reducing, reusing and rethinking waste. Jumpstarted by a $1,195 community grant from the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods last year, Kutner helped them create functional works of art from scrap and recycled material.

Think wood donated from people’s old decks, construction projects and pallets; bike rims from bicycle shops; reclaimed paints, varnishes and wood glue from Metro; plastic bottles, caps and cans from businesses, schools and friends.

The Rebuilding Center and Habitat for Humanity ReStore also are good places to pick up hardware and other materials.

One of the most fun projects for the boys was a “corn hole” beanbag game, made from scrap wood and paints.

“They’re really talented artists; they need an outlet for it,” Kutner says. “There are so many things pulling these boys in different directions.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Zander Bonnichsen,11, shows off an apple he peeled into fancy spiral rings. Cooking and creating art from recycled goods provides a creative outlet and builds skills and self-esteem. Recently Kutner added the cooking component to their twice-monthly meetings.

A chef and member of the Concordia Neighborhood Association, Robin Johnson, works with the group in kitchen space donated by the St. Michael’s Lutheran Church.

Since reducing waste is the focus, the students talk a lot about how to make food with as little waste as possible.

“That whole foods have less packaging, and eating healthy doesn’t need to be expensive, which is a common misconception,” Kutner says. “Everything we’re doing, we want to make sure it’s accessible. We want them

to bring recipes from their cultures.”

As the cooking and art classes continue, Kutner wants to add more outreach to the community in part through another element: a zero-waste pop-up cafe.

Running a cafe based at the church could teach leadership and entrepreneurial skills, she says. The boys would serve coffee to people on a donation basis, since they’re not a licensed kitchen. They’d encourage people to bring their own reusable mug or enjoy their coffee in a mug on site.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Laura Kutner, founder of the nonprofit Trash for Peace, works with at-risk boys from Northeast Portland. A Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods grant helped her efforts.

Grants fund community projects

Trash for Peace is one of 11 projects that benefited from the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods Community Grant, now in its fifth year. Last year’s projects also included:

• $1,195 to the International Plastic Quilt Project, a youth art project designed to raise awareness of plastic waste and consumption and promote activism. Two Northeast Portland elementary schools led a nine-week curriculum for 20 students, who collected 500 single-use plastic items. They created an art project with plastic quilt squares and made partnerships with six community organizations.

• $1,195 to the Community Listening Project’s PreSERVE Coalition, which held two “Talk Taste Listen” public sessions in June. The aim was to gather input from older African-Americans on their health concerns, barriers to health, and ideas for community-based activities that promote health. They focused on preparing healthy soul food with an African-American caterer, as well as physical exercise and balance with an African-American tai chi and qigong instructor.

• $895 to Portland Playhouse for the production “Left Hand of Darkness.” More than 3,500 people attended the 34 productions of the show, which had themes that used literal aliens to explore issues of race, gender, sexuality, nationalism and the depiction of “other.”

• $895 to the Sullivan’s Gulch Neighborhood Association for a one-day public charrette on the Broadway/Weidler Commercial Corridor. Neighborhood leaders covered topics involving economic, historical, environmental and infrastructure overviews. They collected public input from 63 participants with a range of interests.