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Since 2017, Children First has visited communities across the state to listen to the dreams, concerns, and shared vision that Oregonians have for children. Through Community Conversations, we are exploring and understanding the distinct challenges facing children throughout Oregon, as well as the special strengths our unique communities bring in ensuring that kids are cared for and thriving.

In June, we spent time in Cottage Grove and North Plains, where we partnered with legislators to co-host Community Conversations and town halls. Participants shared what is working well in their communities, their concerns for kids, and their ideas for solutions.

In Cottage Grove, community members shared an inspiring vision of healthy and happy childhoods for all kids, economic security for parents and young people graduating from high school, and plenty of opportunities for children to grow up to live their best lives as adults. We learned about the incredibly supportive community standing up for kids in Cottage Grove, and the slate of services for children and youth that are working well — from family relief nurseries to school districts to mental health providers. We heard concerns about generational poverty, the lack of access to healthy food, and the lack of afterschool activities. We also heard great solutions, like providing SNAP matches at farmer’s markets, increasing afterschool activities available to students, and ensuring that children receive life skills education in school.

Senator Riley and Representative Sollman speaking at a Community Conversation in North Plains.

In North Plains, we learned about what’s working well in the community, from effective breakfast programs to parent involvement in schools. Participants shared their heartfelt vision of a community where schools are equipped to address the needs of all children, especially those who currently seem to “fall between the cracks”, and widely available mental health care and support for young people. We also heard the community’s concern about low graduation rates and the need for higher quality education. Community members were enthusiastic about their solutions for kids, such as funding mental health services in schools in order to provide more training, peer support, counselors, and trauma-informed care for students.

While Cottage Grove and North Plains have unique strengths and challenges, we walked away from our Community Conversations with a sense that both communities share the value of setting kids up for success and giving them plenty of opportunities to live their best lives, as well as a strong dedication to addressing the needs of all children. We look forward to hearing from many more communities as we continue our listening tour across the state, and we hope to hear from you at a Community Conversation in the future!