A Conversation about Rockwood


By: Brad Ketch

What started out as a conversation to kill time while my nurse checked my vitals, turned into a riveting 15-minute conversation about the complexity of poverty in urban America, specifically the Rockwood community.

We weren’t far from my office, but I wasn’t surprised when he told me he had no idea where Rockwood actually was. He was not aware that there were such significant challenges in a community so close to where he lived.

As most people do, he asked about the types of programs and services we provide at the Rockwood CDC. He was surprised to learn that, while we have been actively meeting needs during COVID-19, we just do not normally provide a wide range of services. This often makes people scratch their heads a bit.

This is a question you may be asking as well. If we do not provide services, what then are we doing?

Since the challenges in Rockwood are systems level challenges, we must work towards systems level solutions. Therefore, our primary goal is to change systems, not provide relief services. 

This always seems to bring about more questions. The most common of which is, “Wait, what do you mean when you say ‘systems’?”

I have shared this before, but it is worth repeating because it is so important:

A system is a combination of public and private sectors defined through policy, power, and personal positions that instills a defined network of structures and hierarchies that get to dictate three very important factors:

Who is normal?

What is normal? And,

How is normalcy achieved?

More simply put: Our work is to change what is considered normal, or expected, in Rockwood.

My new friend’s reaction to this was correct right when he asked “You’re saying you can change systems? Isn’t that kind of audacious?”

We have been working in Rockwood for 8 years and I can say with complete and utter confidence that it is audacious. But, while Rockwood continues to be a community with multiple challenges, the systems are being changed.

This isn’t because the Rockwood CDC has done so many great things and that we know better than our neighbors. No, it is because we have very intentionally worked alongside our gifted, exceptional, and passionate neighbors in the community.

We work tirelessly together to create bridges and partnerships between the public and private sectors. This means building relationships at a civic level in Rockwood, Gresham, East County, and statewide.

We are seeing an increase in the supply of decent and affordable housing. Long-ignored groups are finding opportunities for economic development. Health outcomes are being addressed and increased.

And one of the things that I am most excited about is seeing more and more leaders come together to align the educational, faith-based, governmental, capital, social service, business, and healthcare sectors.

In the process, all of our programs have been birthed out of meaningful relationships and conversations with local leaders.

If you are like my friend, you too might have several questions about communities like Rockwood.

Questions such as:

  • “How did the challenges in Rockwood develop?”
  • “Why doesn’t the government step in and do something?”
  • “What can I do?”
  • “Do you need volunteers?”
  • “I still don’t understand the idea of ‘systems,’ can you tell me more?”
  • “Do you need financial support if you do not provide a lot of services?”*

If you have questions like these or other similar questions, we would love for you to join one of our upcoming virtual Lunch and Learn events.

Please note: our last invitation for these events elicited a significant response so we have added some new dates and times to our calendar.