Transforming communities through writing

Portland has a reputation for working hard to build a strong sense of community. A prime example of this philosophy is the local nonprofit organization, Write Around Portland.

Write Around Portland (WRAP) offers free creative writing workshops to help transform the lives of people often marginalized in their communities. There, people living in poverty, members of sexual minorities and people suffering from HIV/AIDS can come together and write about their lives and experiences in a safe and accepting environment.

"To tell our stories – the voiceless, the disavowed are given a voice. So many people can’t even imagine what we’ve seen," said workshop participant and facilitator Daniel Balter in "Free Write," WRAP’s quarterly newspaper distributed throughout Portland.

"Certain [social] classes just tend to ignore the issues, ignore us. People don’t want to see. But once it’s written, then it’s out there. These stories are social justice, just in the nature of them: The disavowed are being avowed."

WRAP is supported solely by grants, donations, a small staff and dedicated volunteers. This is less support than some would expect for an organization that gives so much to Portland.

"When I tell people about WRAP and what it has meant to me, I just want everyone to find a way to express themselves like I have, to see their own stories, and really be in their own stories," WRAP participant Shura Young said. "I want to encourage people to write. It’s healing. If more and more people speak out about what happens in their lives, there may be more of a chance for change."

Their one-room office sits on the fourth floor of a building across the street from Powell’s Books. The windows overlook Burnside and the Pearl District. Inside are three computer workstations, word magnets in disarray and coffee to keep the interns happy.

"I think I need a favorite coffee mug," said Deirdre Costello, WRAP intern and Lewis and Clark student, while picking up the white mug with red around the rim. "I like this one, if no one else objects."

"It’s all yours!" replied Jessica Denning, intern and PSU student. After coffee, Denning continues training Costello on the computer’s filing system. Costello is new to WRAP and they are working together to organize tasks.

"I’m taking a class on group facilitation," Denning said, "so I automatically go into delegation mode!"

They spend the rest of the afternoon coming up with a list of ideas for future projects while mailing fliers announcing WRAP’s next workshop series, which starts Feb. 21.

WRAP reaches out to local community organizations such as Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, William Temple House, Cascade AIDS Project and Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center to set up workshops for interested participants.

After establishing a suitable location, WRAP then hosts on-site writing classes, led by a volunteer facilitator to moderate and offer helpful writing advice. About 10 – 12 different groups meet all around the Portland area each quarter.

Workshops meet once a week for two hours at a time extended over 10 weeks. The groups are small at around 10 participants each. WRAP provides journals, pens, snacks, bus passes and free childcare.

These workshops build a strong sense of identity and self-esteem among their participants. Not only does writing help them find their hidden voice, but it also gives them the opportunity to publish their work in WRAP’s anthology. WRAP hosts other events such as readings, open mics and guest speakers.

The next reading is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Powell’s Books, 1005 W. Burnside. Local authors from the WRAP anthology, "Everyday Revolutions," will read their work. A panel discussion about writing and social change will immediately follow the reading.

WRAP is looking for volunteers to help lead workshops and intern in the office. The next workshop series starts Feb. 21. For more information or to volunteer, call 503-796-9224 or visit