Workers rights non-profit encourages student volunteering

On Oct. 1, Student Leadership and Service (SLS) brought Grassroots Engagement Coordinator Marvin Peña of the Voz Workers Rights Education Project to Lewis & Clark for an information session. According to their website, Voz “advocates for the rights of day laborers and immigrant workers.” 

At the event, Peña described the many programs Voz offers at their work center, from ESL classes to vocational training courses to workshops. Voz gets these workers out into the real world, finding them jobs in fields such as landscaping and construction. Voz has offered these services to workers in Northeast Portland for over twenty years, charging only $10 a year for access to all of their services. 

Peña explained how the day to day process works.

“They (workers) show up every morning at 7 (a.m.), and we have a raffle and each of them get a number, and that number is associated with their name, and so every day we send them out according to that number,” Peña said. 

The most unique feature of Voz, Peña says, is that it is a “worker-led” organization — it gives the workers the ability to advocate for themselves not just out in the world, but within the organization itself. Peña explained how workers are involved in administrative decisions.

“The workers have a say in what’s going on,” Peña said. “We work collectively … we try to include as many voices as we can.” 

Including workers in large decisions not only teaches them how to advocate for themselves but shows them that their voices do matter.

SLS project leader Zack Hart ’21 said that SLS brought Peña to campus to continue its partnership with Voz.

“I know a lot of past Lewis & Clark students have worked with (Voz) before,” he said.

According to Peña, Voz’s work center has a staff of 20-25 consistent volunteers, many of them students. Volunteers, after completing a brief questionnaire and interview process, are able to get involved in numerous ways. From assisting employees with office tasks to engaging in hands-on experience with the workers in their training, Voz relies heavily on student volunteers. And, according to Peña, students should rely on them too — volunteering at Voz “helps students be more open-minded and welcoming to diversity,” Peña said. 

However, students have found it difficult to participate in SLS-led programs for two main reasons: lack of information and lack of transportation. Angie Paveo ’22, the only student to attend the info session, shared her experience with SLS as a member of the Social Change Corps (a new pilot program within SLS that allows students to participate in service projects and events specifically geared toward social justice) and frequent participant in SLS events.

“That’s the problem with SLS …  they have so many cool opportunities and community partners that we have relationships with for students that want to participate … we just don’t know about (them) or can’t get there.” 

Students such as Paveo believe that “there are so many great opportunities to volunteer in the city,” but they either require a commitment that college students do not have the ability to make, or readily accessible transportation, which many do not have as well. 

Director of Student Leadership and Service Harold McNaron said in an email statement that “Regarding SLS projects being far from campus, this is definitely a challenge we face … (however) we do arrange for free transportation to all SLS-sponsored projects and events.” With regard to the issue of lack of information, McNaron said that “yes, SLS struggles here as well…[but starting] this week (October 14), SLS student staff and corps members will begin tabling weekly … (as well as) producing a weekly e-newsletter to highlight 4-8 upcoming events.”

For those who can find even a couple hours a week and a ride to Northeast, SLS-partnered organizations like Voz provide a safe and stimulating environment for young people with a desire to make real change.

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