HER 'ME-TIME' IS SPENT VOLUNTEERING
Helping kids has been an animating focus of Wilsonville resident Kristi Park’s life. She believes that while adult behavior is more ingrained, the trajectory of a child’s life can be impacted significantly by a positive role model or just a little guidance. In turn, Park has spent much of the last few years helping kids succeed in the classroom and new environments.
Along with serving as a special education teacher in her day job, Park helps incoming refugees transition to their life in America and has set up many free libraries in the Wilsonville community to promote literacy.
“People say you have to take time out for yourself. My ‘me time’ is volunteering,” Park said.
Park spends much of her free time organizing volunteers to assist refugees through JustServe.org, providing ideas for helping volunteers make positive contributions like setting up school supply drives.
She spruces up apartments for incoming refugees, connects them to resources, and helps them perform tasks like setting up a doctor’s appointment or communicating with teachers. She was named the volunteer of the year by the Catholic Charities of Oregon in 2019.
“We like to make sure we set their house up, so they have a sense of pride in what they have,” Park said. “When donating, I tell people ‘quality equals dignity.’ It’s really important they maintain that sense of dignity when they’ve lost everything else.”
Locally, she keeps tabs on refugee families. One of them is the Imbis, a Wilsonville family that emigrated from the Central African Republic due to sectarian violence in the country and included two middle school children and a young adult. When they moved here, Park helped the Imbis shop for groceries, register for school activities, acquire shoes for sports and find rides home after school activities.
“The kids are doing great. They’re doing really good in school, their English is great, they’re super hard workers,” Park said. “The older son is actually in Astoria training to be an engineer. That’s super exciting.”
Park also enjoyed interviewing refugees for World Refugee Day recently.
“It’s really difficult for the refugees. They’ve been through things that we can’t even imagine,” Park said. “I’ve learned that we’re all God’s children, and it doesn’t matter who we are or where we come from. We all deserve the same respect, and all deserve a fighting chance. We all deserve to have a roof over our head and be safe at night.”
Along with her efforts assisting refugees, Park has also helped set up around 10 free libraries in the community over the last few years to provide easier reading accessibility. She and the Wilsonville Public Library are also in the middle of collaborating on a project to bring the free libraries to the most needy populations in town. She helps individuals acquire the permitting to get the libraries approved and collects donated books to place in the stands.
“Reading is the gateway to all education. It’s the gateway to information. You can learn anything if you read; you can do anything, be anything. You have to enjoy it. It’s really difficult to go through college if you don’t enjoy reading. … Your imagination can go crazy with reading. It’s magical,” she said.
Wilsonville Public Library Director Pat Duke has been impressed with Park’s efforts and can-do spirit.
“She’s the person that says I’m going to do that and take care of that and make it happen,” Duke said. “That’s who Kristi is.”
Duke also said the free libraries were even more beneficial during the time when the library was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Knowing that those are out there feels really good from the public library standpoint,” Library Services Manager Steven Engelfried said. “We want books in as many places as we can get them, and if they’re done from the community, that’s a great thing.”
Park is also a teacher at Victory Academy in Sherwood, a school for autistic children. She got inspired to go back to school and become a teacher in her 40s while raising an autistic child. Like her volunteering efforts, she finds her work meaningful.
“I just love the kids,” she said. “I love them to death.”