From the Transition Projects April e-newsletter
Shelley Dixon is a name that is known well around Transition Projects. Clients, staff and volunteers who have had the pleasure of meeting her will all sing her praises. Shelley has served every role imaginable at Transition Projects and has knowledge of both sides of the social service experience. She is not shy about sharing her story and you will agree that she shouldn’t be when you hear how far she has traveled in her journey.
Shelley came to Transition Projects in 1988, then Burnside Projects, as a client. Referred from her parole officer, she had been previously been to detox and did not have success. Arriving at the shelter, she jokes, that she had no idea of what she was getting into.
“I had a t-shirt, pair of shorts, no shoes and a teddy bear,” Shelley explains. “I showed up and said: where’s my room?”
Shelley enrolled in the drug and alcohol treatment and corrections programs to get her life in order. Shortly after that she began her community service, serving as a volunteer aid helping other clients access showers and clothing at Transition Projects, as well as volunteering with the Blanchet House and Sisters of the Road Café.
In August of 1989, Dixon was hired on as a residential advocate. During that time she worked out of temporary administrative offices in Portland’s Union Station. She was tasked with entering in the handwritten records of clients into a computer database. This made it possible to track services that clients used and how many nights spent in the shelter, something that had not been possible to keep up with before.
During that time, Shelley also worked at our Street Light Youth Shelter. Working 13 hour shifts, she saw kids showing up at all hours looking for a place to stay. She would eventually serve as shelter supervisor working the swing, graveyard and weekend shifts. What stands out the most to her about that time was the struggle to care for as many youth as possible with limited resources.
“How are you going to tell a 12 year old, at three in the morning, in the snow, that they can’t stay here?” Shelley says. “We found ways to get them in.”
By April of 1994, Shelley had become a case manager. She worked very closely with the corrections program and support groups, fostering relationships that would help her clients thrive. She was one of the first case managers at Jean’s Place, our women’s residential program when it opened.
In 2004, Shelley began meeting with every client that was put on our shelter waiting list. This allowed her to house 175 people in six months, a record that still stands.
Another program Shelley has influenced is the current mentor program. The initial class of graduating mentors were all at one time Shelley’s clients. Ask any of them and they will attribute some of their desire to change the lives of others to the compassion Shelley had shown them.
Some of Shelley’s proudest accomplishments involve the amount of people she was able to help and the longevity of their stay in housing after being placed. To her, the number one priority was always clients. There was something about her that allowed clients to open up to her and share information and stories that they never had before.
“I don’t know how or why,” Shelley admits. “But they would come into my office and begin to tell me all of the things that they would never tell anyone. Sometimes things that they wouldn’t even admit to themselves.”
For all she had accomplished, Shelley credits her coworkers at Transition Projects. She can rattle off a list of names of current and former staff members that have helped make her success possible. Shelley is amazed by the ability of each individual to look past appearances and personal barriers and treat everyone with respect, something she role-modeled on a daily basis.
Shelley retired shortly after Transition Projects offices moved into the Bud Clark Commons. She was able to see the organization and its clients benefit from the new setting.
“I loved the surroundings. I loved it for the clients, because the building was built for them. Basically it came down to more space for everyone.” Shelley says.
Shelley’s work throughout the years should not be measure by how many individuals she housed or connected to services, but rather in the number of relationships she has created. Staff or clients, everyone has a story involving Shelley’s kindness and compassion.
“We see people fail on a daily basis,” says Shelley. “At a certain moment in some individuals’ lives they cannot move past those failures. But then, there are so many people who do well and that is what keeps you going.”