Tag Archives: Cassandra Kolsen

Foot care program at Downtown Chapel brings dignity and relief for people sleeping outside

by Cassandra Koslen, Contributing Writer (Photos by Jennifer Jansons)

The custom of washing another’s feet was embedded in the cultures of ancient civilizations as an act of hospitality and necessary cleanliness. For obvious reasons, the health of one’s feet can judge the wellbeing of the body.

For those who live outside, disease and fungus are a constant threat in the Northwest winter. Calluses erupt from always walking and wearing shoes. Sores develop and nails may become ingrown.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper, as an act of humility and gesture of service.  Every Wednesday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., volunteers emulate this act by caring for the feet of those in need in the basement of Portland’s Downtown Chapel.

Pink towels form a pathway between two rows of facing chairs where the soaking takes place and three nurses’ stations where the real work happens. The room smells fresh and clean, everyone seems happy, relaxed.

“Washing a person’s feet puts you truly below them, it is an act of kindness with much human symbolism,” says Andrew Noethe, pastoral associate at Downtown Chapel. “Your perspective of a person changes.”

The foot care program began with a parishioner and his wife who asked church staff if they could wash people’s feet as Jesus did. Because they were not health care providers, only a washing was offered.  Today, a team of registered nurses volunteer medical care while others handle filling sterilized tubs with fresh soapy water for the initial soak.

Sharon Christenson has been volunteering her time and services as an RN for almost six years. She originally came with an interest in foot care to keep busy after her retirement. In the beginning she traded weeks with the program’s founding couple. When they could no longer volunteer, she says, she began coming every week.

Sharon is a small, older woman with glasses and a big smile. Pretty blue earrings bob as she talks, simultaneously grating the calluses off an elderly diabetic man’s left foot.“I feel blessed to provide a service you can’t get anywhere else with RN expertise,” she says. Continue reading

SR vendor and Soapbox Under the Bridge spearhead community garden

By Cassandra Koslen, Contributing Writer

At first glance the recently-planted community garden at Peace Lutheran Church, 2201 N. Rosa Parks Way, is nothing special. The two long beds of dirt with plotted sprouts could be anywhere in Portland.

But this small start has its seeds from throughout the city, beginning with Street Roots vendor Rick Buck.

Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., Peace Lutheran hosts a dinner open to the community.  Joined by a new congregation who will be sharing their church, on June 15 the meal is full of renewed energy. Jerrie Johnston, church organizer, cook and council member, is beside herself.

“This is wonderful,” she says, cleaning up.  “I have to see.”

Outside on the church’s lawn, there are children playing.  Neighbors have wandered over to look at two long rows of elevated beds, almost completely planted. Mothers discuss which of the extra flats to take home and the best place to put them in their gardens. Continue reading

American Gun Culture, Pacific style

By Cassandra Kolsen, Contributing Writer

The weight of the loaded Glock is greater than I had expected, certainly heftier than its ‘plastic’ reputation might lead one to assume. It’s mid-afternoon, Ross Eliot, editor-in-chief and publisher of American Gun Culture Report, a politically open-minded discourse magazine about firearms and protection of the Second Amendment, is giving us a quick rundown of basic handgun safety.

“A lot of design and engineering goes into making your hand feel comfortable on the trigger,” Eliot tells us initially. “Always be conscious of it. Remember to keep your finger off the trigger unless you mean to use it.”

Even when we all know a gun is unloaded, he is adamant. “Watch your finger. Keep it off the trigger. Do you know that’s safe? Always check. Whoa, watch where you point that; check the barrel a second time.”

It sounds so simple. But my finger is nervous. The power it suddenly holds is seductive, almost to the point of revulsion. Eliot says you probably aren’t going to kill somebody outright with a handgun, unless the victim is left to bleed to death. Somehow this information does not make it seem any safer.

Each of our party of four has already handled all of the three guns we will shoot, a Glock 17 (the full-size 9mm), a Springfield XD subcompact, and a SigSauer 220 (a .45).  Now, with real bullets in their chambers, the tools have become their own entity.

The English Pit is a public outdoor shooting range in Vancouver, Wash., that has been around since the 1940s. It is exactly what the name describes — a pit of gray sand and gravel, outfitted for target practice. At the entrance, a cheerful man in a blue button-down shirt patterned with sailboats and lighthouses takes our money, makes sure everyone is equipped with eye and ear protection, and goes over the rules. He winks when he tells us to have a good time.

Since this is the Pacific Northwest, great trees sway around the pit’s top perimeter, creating a giant globe of nature. Their roots sprout a story or two above our position, their branches rustling in the wind is the only sound aside from gunshot. There are no birds, no insects. There is only silence broken by random, frequent explosions and plants touching in the movement of nature.

My first shot is with the Glock, chunky and awkward in my grasp. I close one eye, aim down the barrel.  Gently I caress the trigger, trying to gauge how much it will take without reacting. It fights back, as tense as I am, wary of what is to come. I pull harder. Even knowing what will happen, the force of the shot is shocking.


Squaring up, I hold my arms, my wrist steady. I cock my head and keep both eyes open.  My index finger is electric. It happens again. This time I let slip a little blasphemy. Already I smell sulfur on my person, thick and sweet.

I’m glad we are the only group shooting, having forgotten how easily startled I am, especially now, armed and wasting bullets. Eventually I hit the target. I am beginning to feel the ground beneath my feet. My stance is steady.  If the shock of the expelling bullet gets me every time, at least I begin to feel the trigger, begin to know where it pulls and when.

Of the three pistols, the Springfield is my favorite. Light and compact, it fits into my palm the best. This would be an easy weapon to conceal. The Glock, despite its thug reputation, is unwieldy, hard. The .45 is notably the most powerful, I can feel the bullet being propelled, the force of it moving through my whole body, out my feet and back into the ground where its metal came from.

As I stand aiming, I keep thinking to follow-through, like in sports. Follow the shot through. Relax. Let the gun fire, retract, be one with the explosion. But it is not a ball loose by only the force of my own hand. There is smoke, there is fire. There is a very loud bang. Aside from a slip of my index finger, these actions are out of my control. I have nothing to do with it — the gun will follow-through, or not, of its own volition.

American Gun Culture Report, Issue No. 1 has a picture of a girl smiling at the camera while happily hugging an AK-47 on its cover. First printed in December 2006, Ross Eliot wrote the then-zine completely on his own, as a tool to garner attention and support for his project.

Now in the fifth issue, the Report is full-size, in color and black-and-white, has several contributors, and is sold in several major cities across the country. Perhaps because it is not specifically conservative, most people call it liberal. Undeniably, it has a counter-culture skew. But while it does not cater to the exclusive audience to which most other gun press speaks, it also does not seek to exclude them.

“I was the guy looking for the alternative gun magazine,” Eliot says, cleaning guns on his dining room table. Shooting fills a gun’s barrel with gunk and powder. The solvent to remove it reeks of pure alcohol.

Most gun press are very much the same. Right wing, male dominated, sales driven. This is not only regressive, states AGCR’s mission statement, it is boring, and AGCR promotes journalism outside these social confines.

“I will frequently meet people who don’t fit into stereotypes … who tell me none of their friends know they have a gun, they don’t want to be associated with people who own guns, but have a gun under their bed,” Eliot says. “I want to create an environment for people like that to come out and really connect.” Continue reading

Vendor corner: Home, sweet home, is a family affair


From the August 7 edition of Street Roots. 

Oftentimes, we here at the paper refer to Street Roots as a family; contributing members, bound together by a common thread.

I have been volunteering at Street Roots for over a year and a half and may still only have a cursory understanding of all the different aspects of the paper’s multi-faceted gene pool.  There are many reasons why every one of us — from vendor to reader to volunteer — interacts with Street Roots. One of the most important is the basic idea that to be a part of Street Roots is to strive for something better.

Marshall and Julie Worley think so. They became vendors together in February. Selling the paper is beneficial for more than a means of income, and Marshall is happy to discuss it. In fact, he’s happy about a lot of things these days. Continue reading