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Olga Cherevatenko: Connecting Community for Lasting Change

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When Olga Cherevatenko (Ольга Череватенко) immigrated to the U.S., she had to navigate a new country’s complex web of services by herself.

I failed so many times because of a lack of knowledge,” Olga says. “I wish somebody would have shown up and given me the hands, or the brochure, or the referral, and said, ‘Go there. Speak with those people.’

Today, 20 years later, Olga has become that person — the person saying “Go there. Speak with those people.” — for many new immigrants in Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas counties, helping them access food, register for college, and navigate the wide array of organizations offering critical services during their first few years in the U.S.

Olga is a caseworker at IRCO (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) and the co-founder of Community Pulse Association, a nonprofit in the Portland area providing culturally-specific resources to immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other Eastern European countries. Community Pulse Association organizes cultural awareness workshops, where they lead new immigrants and refugees through common questions and important topics like tenant rights, the legal system, and how to access medical and dental insurance.

“It comes with our personal stories,” Olga shares. “We are all here, all immigrants and some of us are refugees. And we came to the United States and we didn't have adequate support from any social organizations. We were lost.”

Community Pulse Association began in 2016 as a group of women, including Olga and other Russian-Ukrainian speaking case workers, who would get together every month to talk about health, family, and community and build friendship. As they discussed needs in their community, hosted events and connected people to critical services through cultural awareness workshops, they decided to file for nonprofit status to access more resources and reach even more community members.

This community-centered ethos remains at the heart of Community Pulse Association’s work. Recently, the organization brought community members together at the Beaverton Night Market, organizing a booth with several artists sharing their homemade goods.

“Sometimes they’re not brave enough to be on their own and sell their goods to the public,” Olga says. “And we said, "Come and join us in the community and just try it out.’ And people came and brought their amazing art made at their home with a part of their soul and part of their heart. We had ceramic bowls, candles, jewelry, felted animals, and knitted socks. Young kids made handmade postcards to sell and the money went to a shelter in Europe for refugees.”

Olga Cherevatenko, Co-Founder of Community Pulse Association

And in addition to building connections, the Community Pulse Association remains responsive to the community’s needs. When Olga first became an Oregon Food Bank ambassador, she shared that the organization heavily focused on building cultural orientation, awareness and workshops. But when people began to ask where to get support for their basic needs, like food and diapers, Olga knew they had to make a shift.

With the support from a grant from Oregon Food Bank, Community Pulse Association began a food distribution at Plenty Food and Deli, a culturally-specific Eastern European market.

“It's traditional in our culture to share food, whatever possible,” Olga shares. “And providing food meets an immediate need for people who are arriving in the country. They don't have a job right away because they need to build connections and apply. This time in between is usually a few weeks, and they need to fill the gap with basic needs like food, clothing, and diapers.”

Visitors to the food distribution can go home with nutritious, culturally-specific groceries, as well as receive vouchers for Eastern European grocery stores where they can find familiar foods. Olga and her team also provide community advocacy and act as resource navigators, pointing people to community closets, school districts, and free food deliveries or pickups.

Looking forward, Community Pulse Association plans to expand their impact even further. Next year, they plan to start two new programs: a class on preventing child abuse and teaching positive discipline and a service for people who are elderly with disabilities.

Olga’s work in the community — whether she’s organizing a food distribution, leading a resource workshop, or building community connections — is rooted in her belief in the possibility of a better future.

“I remember my first few years in the United States were the hardest ones,” she shares. “And I want everyone who's immigrating right now to not experience this hardship. It’s very important to have resources in as many languages as possible because people will get more information on what's going on. They're going to make better decisions and become better citizens.”

Food Share for Families happens in the evenings on every third Wednesday of the month at Plenty Food and Deli.

To access services or support Olga and Community Pulse Association, visit ResourcesGuide.org and https://www.facebook.com/CommunityPulseTeam/.

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