When a nonprofit and a government agency are working together to enact change, common ground can be good – but for two organizations with distinct missions and specific processes for achieving goals, disagreement can be great.
As part of a community partnership pilot program, Metro and the Momentum Alliance, a youth-led nonprofit, are partnering to bring opportunities to people in hopes of increasing youth involvement at Metro.
Momentum Alliance primarily works to mobilize and inspire young people interested in social justice issues, such as racial and reproductive justice. The organization routinely attends demonstrations throughout greater Portland area and hosts leadership training workshops.
“What Momentum Alliance does is try to get young people engaged in the political sphere and actually enact change in the government spectrum,” said Fio Law, a youth coach for the reproductive justice youth advocates program at the alliance. “I think it’s really cool that this connection is being made.”
Led by Momentum Alliance staff, the second official meeting of the partnership took place at the nonprofit’s office located in North Portland. Because of the focus on agency-wide involvement, representatives from several Metro departments also participated.
“We bring to the table a lot of different things that Metro maybe doesn’t have and vice versa,” Law said. “The things that we each lack, the other compensates for. It’s helpful to build things that we may have not thought of before.”
During the meeting, participants shared anecdotes and brought up a variety of issues that contribute to why young people don’t get involved in government affairs. They also shared their vision of how the partnership can potentially shape the culture at Metro.
“It means that we get an opportunity to bring in individuals to hopefully excite or to demystify government,” said Roger Gonzalez, a council policy coordinator at Metro who works directly with Metro Council President Tom Hughes and other decisionmakers. “There are all these processes and ways that things get done and I forget how almost off-putting it can be sometimes.”
Throughout the meeting, participants talked about the importance of engaging young people when planning for the future of the region. One way that Metro visualizes the future is through its 2040 Growth Concept – a 50-year plan for growth in the Portland metropolitan area adopted in 1995. Under Oregon law, Metro is required to forecast population and employment growth in the Portland region every six years. Much of the forecast information is used to shape future land use and transportation plans.
“We’re working on this 2040 growth concept and this vision that we have. I don’t know how often we stop and think ‘Who is it that we think we’re building this for?’ This is a group of individuals who are going to be living that vision or that concept,” Gonzalez said.
The agency-wide community partnership pilot program is a first for Metro and was created to learn how these relationships could potentially be beneficial to the agency as well as the community organizations. As part of the desired outcomes, members of Momentum Alliance will lead trainings on equity for Metro staff and leadership. These youth-led trainings will be part of an agency-wide effort to provide a training program that supports Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the Diversity Action Plan.
“Oftentimes, the policies that people make affect young people, but on the other side, young people can’t necessarily affect policy,” said Llondyn Elliott, who is the program coordinator for the reproductive justice youth advocates program.
Though on paper the partnership between Momentum Alliance and Metro just started, the relationship between representatives from both organizations goes back at least a year.
“It’s super important to have those really deep relationships where it’s not just us testifying, or doing ‘get out the vote’ efforts, it’s really us impacting the employees and the councilors at Metro,” Elliott said.
Beyond just explaining how Metro works, participants also brainstormed possible ways to bring in youth voices directly to the decision-making process at Metro.
“I think we do have this issue with government where a lot of the times, youth aren’t heard,” said Nellie Papsdorf, a legislative and engagement coordinator at Metro. “If we’re trying to be representative of our communities at large, we need that point of view.”
Papsdorf acknowledges that although Metro and Momentum Alliance take different approaches to their work, she says both organizations are clearly committed to doing good work throughout communities.
“They’ve been operating separately for a long time, but I think we can both benefit from each other. They’ll both need to probably change a little bit, but I think that’s good,” Papsdorf said. “We need more involved partnerships in the world as it is now.”