Commencement Focus: Basic needs peer navigators propelled by HUS Program 

Story by Misty Bouse. Photos by Tammy Dowd Shearer.

Houck and Alaiya are peer navigators for the HUS Program

Christian Olaiya (right) and Addison Houck are peer navigators.

Portland Community College’s fast-growing Family and Human Services (HUS) Program, now in its fifth year, encompasses a broad field that serves the needs of diverse clients. But soon-to-be graduates, Addison Houck (They/Them) and Christian Olaiya (He/Him), know that a strong desire to do meaningful work is at the heart of being human services professionals. 

Their first-of-their-kind internships are with PCC’s newly developed Basic Needs, Sustainability, and Leadership Department as peer resource navigators. PCC is busily preparing entry-level human service professionals like Houck and Olaiya for a range of environments under the direction of social workers, educators, counselors, psychologists, and other specialists. In fact, the HUS Program just finished an important accreditation site visit this May. It’s needed as the Oregon Employment Division forecasts that employment for social and human service jobs is growing about 15% through 2030. 

“PCC’s HUS Program will be the first Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE) accredited program in Oregon. Plus, it is only the second associate degree program west of the Rockies,” said instructor Sally Guyer of Family and Human Services Department of Child and Family Studies. She has been with PCC for six years and is the field experience supervisor for the program.

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While the internships fulfill required fieldwork components of the program, they have been challenging for the interns who have had to develop them from scratch. This included advocacy around food and housing security and transportation access, assisting fellow students with SNAP applications, and planning PCC’s first Basic Needs Resource Fair. Guyer has had both students in multiple classes and recommended them for their field placement with basic needs because of their unique and expansive skill sets.

“They are brilliant, insightful, and bring diverse lived experiences that inform their practice as human service professionals,” said Guyer, who also works with 14 other HUS students participating in similar fieldwork. “Christian asks questions that advance the learning, and I count on Addison to point out system inefficiencies and inequities.”

Houck lives in Southeast Portland and remembers taking their driver’s education course on-campus at PCC. Now, they are graduating from PCC in June.

“My internship with PCC Basic Needs has been exciting and challenging,” Houck added. “I’ve gotten to flex my program planning muscles since this is such a new endeavor for all of us. It was so cool to watch it all come together at the recent, first-ever Basic Needs Resource Fair.”

Olaiya, who grew up in Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood, graduates from the HUS Program this June too. “I’ll be returning to PSU in winter term to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Public Health Administration. I currently work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in direct support and have the desire to continue this work but in a different capacity,” said Olaiya, whose hope is to become an administrator, and eventually an executive director of his own agency providing services and resources to people with disabilities. 

But Olaiya sometimes struggled. “I’m grateful for the flexibility of the Family and Human Services Program because I worked two full-time jobs during my entire time in the program. I also appreciate Sally Guyer for always being supportive of me as a student and recognizing my potential for greatness when I was sometimes doubtful of myself,” he said.

PCC is busily preparing entry-level human service professionals like Houck and Olaiya for a range of environments.

PCC is busily preparing entry-level human service professionals like Houck and Olaiya for a range of environments.

Olaiya appreciated that he gained experience engaging in program development and said, “I had the opportunity to practice skills that’ll propel me in my human services career like community outreach and advocacy; exposure fulfilling specific grant deliverables in order to continue a program; and learning about resources available in the community.”

Houck says they keep being reminded that human services is such a huge field, and they have so many options. For instance, HUS students learn about addiction, multicultural practices, case management, dementia care, gerontology, abnormal psychology, human development, counseling, and trends in human services. Plus, “Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training” and “Mental Health First Aid” classes were added to the academic training that includes both one-year certificates and a two-year degree option. 

The HUS Program partners with Basic Needs, Sustainability and Leadership to ensure opportunities for all students to cultivate personal and community resiliency at the college.

“Peer to peer support is de-stigmatizing and a best-practices model that Addison and Christian embody,” said Tammy Dowd Shearer, who has worked as a Counselor at PCC since 2004  and is now the basic needs coordinator in Student Life and Leadership.

Houck intends to get their bachelor’s degree and eventually a master’s at some point to work in the Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Welfare. “That could change, and I’m open to it,” said Houck. “Before this program I was convinced that I never wanted to work with adults. Then I did, and it was great!” 

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