Member spotlight on Nathan Engkjer with p:ear. It's not as if we needed more proof of the high caliber of our members. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: we love to hear from you, and we love the opportunity to share your stories. Some of you have mad mountaineering skills. Some of you travel the world. Others of you are software wizards. And some of you have big hearts and open arms for those around us who need a little help.

We caught up with Tmber member Nathan Engkjer to talk more about his big heart, how his work with p:ear makes a difference in the lives of homeless youth, and how being outdoors plays an integral part of this. Thanks for letting us in to your world, Nate. We look forward to swinging in and paying you a visit in the near future.

What is the story behind p:ear: who started it, what does it do, where is it located…and how did it get its name?

p:ear is a non-profit 501(3)(c) that started over 11 years ago in the heart of downtown Portland. The three directors, Beth Burns, Joy Cartier and Pippa Arend created p:ear after Greenhouse, the program they had been working for, closed. They saw and felt a huge need to continue serving the homeless youth population in the Portland area. p:ear provides programs through which we strive to creatively mentor homeless youth. This enables us to build positive relationships which in turn create more meaningful and positive lives. First and foremost p:ear creates a safe space for homeless and transitional youth to exist in. In doing so, relationships are allowed to unfold, mentoring takes place, self-perceptions change, self-esteem is built and growth occurs. Each of these provides life-changing transition: for example, our youth can obtain their GED or college acceptance through our Education program; their creativity is given an outlet through our Art program; they can reconnect with the natural world, allowing for self-discovery and a peacefulness that normally isn't seen on the streets through our Recreation program. p:ear stands for project: education art recreation.

What is your role at p:ear?

My current role at p:ear has me walking down two separate paths, as both the Transition Coordinator and the Wilderness Programs Director. While most of my time has been spent on the transitions piece and our housing program, I have spent an ever increasing amount of time in developing our wilderness recreation piece. Over this past year, our Executive Director Beth Burns and I have been developing budgets, writing grants, and working to secure corporate partnerships in order to fund this program. Last summer I took our youth out every week on various hiking trips up the Columbia Gorge. Things shifted in the fall to cyclocross racing and now as the snow blankets the Cascades we're looking to create some fresh tracks. I'm also currently working on strengthening our programs through individual donors and corporate sponsorships.

Tell us more about p:ear’s Wilderness Program, and what value it brings to the youth you serve.

p:ear's Wilderness Program has been around since p:ear's inception. Beth, an avid outdoors-woman herself, saw the incredible importance for getting out into and (re)connecting with nature. The Wilderness Program has seen many transitions over the years, from early trips to the coast, to hikes in Forest Park, to utilizing third party companies to help us get our youth outside. Our current Wilderness Program is finally coming into its own, bringing everything in-house and moving away from third party programming. We want to allow for greater depth in the activities we offer, so that our youth will be able to build an actual skill set, create personal goals, and challenge themselves both mentally and physically. One of the biggest benefits, in addition to those just mentioned, that our Wilderness Program provides is the opportunity for change; a change in scene, a change in perspective...moving away from the hard lines of bricks, mortar and concrete, from fear and the constant barrage of what life living homeless brings...to the inevitable softness that one finds in the natural world; where one can actually breathe deeply, laugh loudly and feel safe from the city left behind. Our focus primarily revolves around hiking / backpacking, climbing, cycling, and cross country skiing / snowshoeing.

What does an ideal hiking trip look like for p:ear?

Our ideal hiking trip is a day hike around the Portland area. Hikes vary in difficulty, but often are easy to moderate. This past summer we headed out to Sauvie Island, Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain (Mt. Hood), Angel's Rest (Columbia River Gorge), Mirror Lake (Mt. Hood), The Ape Caves (Mt. St. Helens), and Eagle Creek (Columbia River Gorge).

How can someone get involved with p:ear?

There are three ways people can get involved with p:ear: volunteering, financial contributions, and in-kind donations. We are forever indebted to our volunteers as they are an invaluable asset to making p:ear thrive. If you have the time, we would love to see you. Our next training date is Saturday April 6th. As a non-profit we of course are heavily reliant on our generous donors and the in-kind donations we receive to survive. If one has the ability to give financially, fantastic. We are currently raising funds to purchase a new van. New and used in-kind donations are also greatly appreciated, especially as we try to amass our ever growing gear closet. Most all of this information can be found on our website.  I can also be reached by email: nathan@pearmentor.org, or phone: 503.228.6677 with any questions. 

All photos courtesy of Nathan and p:ear