That lived experience gives me the understanding of what another individual is going through – suffering from the challenges in recovery to come out of that place.
Victor Veloz: Building Community in the Gorge
Victor Veloz: Building Community in the Gorge
Above any other title, Victor Veloz considers himself a servant to the Columbia Gorge community. From distributing food to his neighbors to supporting those struggling with addiction, Victor believes his most important role in the community is to serve — to walk alongside others with an open heart and provide concrete resources.
Nicole Beaman, President of Windy River Gleaners, says:
“I’ve known Victor for a few years — he’s a person who’s out in the community helping people, helping bring food to them, caring for them, helping them meet their needs. He does many many different things, wears many different hats. It’s important for people like Victor to be out in the community because it’s neighbors helping neighbors. Everybody needs a hand up sometimes. It could be you. It could be me. You just never know.”
LEADING THROUGH LIVED EXPERIENCE
Victor is the Program Manager for Bridges to Change in The Dalles, an organization supporting individuals suffering from drug addiction, houselessness, mental health challenges, and behavioral health challenges. As part of this work, Bridges to Change oversees two local sober living houses and a program that supports people who are re-entering the community following incarceration.
Brandon Johnson, a Bridges to Change alum who now serves as a Recovery Mentor shares:
“I first met Victor when I got out of prison. He was my mentor when I went through the Bridges to Change program. He was very supportive of me in my recovery and he was there to support me on my path.”
Victor shares that the most important part of his work is:
“Just sitting and listening. Not trying to tell people what to do, but asking ‘How can we best serve them? How can we walk alongside them? What are their goals in their life? And how can we help them achieve those goals?’ That's the lens that we work from: we walk alongside somebody to help them achieve the goals they have set for themselves, not goals that we set for them. We’re dealing with people’s lives.”
Victor shares, acknowledging the mental, physical and emotional demands of this work. Yet he meets each person with compassion because he also knows intimately what it’s like to experience addiction and poverty.
“That lived experience gives me the understanding of what another individual is going through – suffering from the challenges in recovery to come out of that place. For me, it was faith that began my recovery and coming to the place where I am today. But it gives me an understanding and compassion for those who are still suffering from addiction.”
Brandon shares that Victor’s lived experience creates trust and connection:
“It’s important to have people like Victor in leadership because there’s an extra level of being able to confide in him. The people that we’re serving, a lot of them have struggled with a variety of things. Victor, having lived experience of struggling with those same things, can identify and relate.”
And Victor knows that this work is not possible without teamwork and shared commitment from the community.
“It’s not about me…it's about all of us together, working together. We wouldn't be as successful here if it wasn't for everybody there doing their part. So I owe a lot to the team.”
FROM SNACK BAGS TO LARGE-SCALE SUPPORT
Victor started volunteering with the Windy River Gleaners in the fall of 2014, making small snack bags for community members facing food insecurity. Through their ministry efforts, he and his wife met a number of people living outdoors – and saw first-hand a much bigger need for food and other essential resources. By partnering with Columbia Gorge Food Bank, they were soon preparing more than 200 snack bags each month – distributing food to libraries, social service offices and other places where people experiencing hunger seek support.
As the program grew, Indigenous elders in the community invited Victor to Lone Pine, an In-Lieu fishing site that was established after dozens of native families’ homes and land were flooded by dams along the Columbia River – without compensation or relocation support from the U.S. government. The Lone Pine partnership grew significantly over the next four years, and today, Victor leads a volunteer group that delivers a weekly truckload of groceries and seasonal produce – including bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, apples, oranges, bread, potato chips and prepared meals.
“Having the provisions from the Columbia Gorge Food Bank is huge. We wouldn't have the food that's out in the community right now. That can make a difference in somebody's life from one day to the next.”
Victor recognizes the significant challenges communities along the Columbia Gorge have faced in recent years. Yet these same communities have come together in new and incredible ways to meet those challenges and make meaningful progress in the fight to end hunger and poverty.
“I know this community has come the farthest that it's ever been to help the houseless community. We have agencies here that are trying to blossom and create these big resources for the houseless community. Agencies are coming together and working better together than ever before – than I've ever seen. That's gonna be a huge difference right there. As everybody continues to be successful in that, it's going to be better for the community.”
Victor has played a significant role in that change – and he continues to show up every day for communities throughout the Gorge. But he’s quick to note that he’s far from alone in the work and that the resilience of his neighbors is a significant motivator.
“What inspires me is the people that we serve in the community, the Indigenous on the river, those dealing with addiction and mental health and houselessness. They're my inspiration to keep on going and keep on serving, because I've seen a lot of successful stories as well. Those are the things that keep us going.”