Club Impact Fills Social Gap

By Don MacGillivray

Last year’s budget cuts to the Oregon State Human Services budget are taking effect now. Because of the short fall of nearly $600 million, Oregon’s least fortunate citizens are receiving less support because the state’s biennial budget had to be cut by $1.4 billion.

This is resulting in reductions to Oregon Project Independence(OPI), Disability Services, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Child Welfare including post-adoption services. The new state director of Human Services must make significant reductions in personnel leading to increased workloads and staffing challenges. Impact NW, here in Portland, is seeing the effects of this situation.

The OPI waiting list grows daily, unfilled requests for transportation are increasing, and energy assistance funding never meets the demand. The agency funding from the state is much less than in previous years while the personal expenses of the clients are increasing.

With the added growth of Portland’s burgeoning population and the increases in homelessness, many people are not being provided for. This is a false sense of economy as both government and the public pay more while causing pain and suffering to many troubled citizens.

One of the more unique and highly successful supplemental programs to the standard social services model is a program called Club Impact, started eight years ago by a retired special education teacher and volunteer with Impact NW as a way to provide social opportunities to adults with disabilities over eighteen in Portland.

Before retiring, founder Ralph Gilliam worked as a Special Education teacher for 18 to 21 year old students with disabilities in a post high school transition program. He became very aware of the social isolation his students experienced after leaving the transition program.

Gilliam, a former Impact NW committee member with a passion for helping others was first involved with Portland Impact, now Impact NW, while he was a coordinator for a homeless shelter years ago. This experience gave him a background helping people and solidified his relationship with Impact NW.

With the help and support of Impact staff, Club Impact was born. They offer a weekly drop-in night at the SE Multicultural Center in the Tabor Square building at 4610 SE Belmont St. On Monday nights, around 40 participants, 15 care providers and a handful of volunteers play board games, celebrate birthdays, enjoy snacks and music, and sing karaoke. Club Impact is a springboard for new relationships and activities.

The Club has other events besides Monday drop-in night. They have movie and pizza nights at the Avalon Theater and Straight From New York Pizza. There is an annual Holiday Dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory; an annual picnic and rides day at The Oaks Park; jetboat rides on the Willamette River, and holiday parties. The cost for all events is kept low which is important for this population.

The real evidence of their success is seeing participants who have built relationships and are seeing each other socially beyond the club. Care providers use the  Club as a networking tool, meeting each other and planning joint activities for their customers.

At some of the events, participants are given the opportunity to share what Club Impact has meant to them. These moments reveal a depth of caring participants experience about it. Recently during a “sharing time”, club participants expressed reasons why they appreciate the Club and its activities. For many talking in front of a group was a new and unfamiliar experience.

One talked about movie nights being his favorite. Another expressed appreciation for the Holiday dinner at the Spaghetti Factory. For another it was the Summer Blast. One took on the role as disc jockey and played music for the group. For others it was the regular act of playing games like UNO.

Club Impact has no paid staff. They charge a modest $2 per participant at the door on drop-in nights and receive donations from Imago Dei Church and other donors.

This is a special organization and a great model for what might be done for other special groups with common interests and experiences. In the era of technological isolation, simple social occurrences are what many people need, but many are not able to find.

The organization is dependent on its retired volunteer director who can spend much of his time organizing and doing the many little things that make it a success. It is a classic grassroots organization that is supported by community organizations and dedicated volunteers.

Just like with government funded human service program, Club Impact is a small, important service to a group of under-served people. Gilliam understands the Club will require another equally skilled and committed leader for Club Impact to continue to thrive and grow in the future. The needs and benefits are obvious, but without the minimal support of organizations like Impact NW this club wouldn’t exist. With fewer resources from the state priorities must be determined and cuts will be made. All this in a world of expanding needs for human services in a growing Oregon.

Interested in volunteering or learning more about Club Impact? Contact Ralph Gilliam at

Club Impact Fills Social Gap

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