Editor's Note: Keith Palau, the Portland Timbers winner of the MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest and representative at the 2017 MLS All-Star Game, presented by Target, is up against representatives of the 21 other MLS clubs for the MLS WORKS Community MVP Grand Prize which includes a $25,000 donation to a charitable cause of the winner's choice.
Read and learn of Palau's incredible story below and be sure to vote for him to win the grand prize on behalf of his charity!
Over the past two seasons, Portland Timbers fan Keith Palau has been single-minded in his mission to bring more joy to the lives of children in foster care, their biological parents, and the hard-working staff of the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).
To do that, Palau has helped lead an effort to create Timbers and Thorns FC themed visitation rooms in DHS offices across the Portland area.
Those efforts have now earned Palau a nomination for the MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest and the honor of representing the Timbers at the 2017 MLS All-Star Game, presented by Target, at Chicago's Soldier Field on August 2 (5:30pm PT, FS1).
Palau's story, however, begins only a few years after joining the 107 Independent Supporters Trust (107IST) – a member-based non-profit for Timbers and Thorns fans – shortly after he first became involved with the organization's community efforts.
“Can I come up with a project that would be engaging of Timbers Army members and could make a difference and would be over on my side of town?” Palau wondered at the time.
The answer came in the form of Embrace Oregon, a non-profit connecting, in their words, “caring community members with vulnerable children and families in partnership with the Department of Human Services.”
Palau saw an opportunity to leverage the time, talents, and generosity of his fellow 107IST members to help Embrace Oregon and DHS completely revitalize the existing visitation rooms for children in foster care.
To understand why Palau and Embrace Oregon would get behind this endeavor and to get a better sense of the need for revitalization, picture a spare conference room. Its white walls are completely bare, save perhaps for a lone television set. The furniture in this room is functional, but not cozy. There are toys and games for the children, but they are not arranged in a particularly inviting way. The room feels clinical.
In 2016, the Department oversaw the care of over 11,000 Oregon children who spent at least one day in foster care and the staff of DHS have neither the time nor the resources to perform the kind of renovations necessary to making their workplace more inviting for themselves, for children, and for parents.
That's where Palau came in.
In only 48 hours, he raised over $8,500 for the project and received a major donation from La-Z-Boy Furniture. Soon he put together a team of 93 volunteers who dedicated some 800 hours of work towards the cleaning, priming, painting, and staging of the visitation rooms at two DHS offices in Beaverton.
He even got help from an unlikely place.
“Anything I can do, I want to do it,” Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri told Palau.
Palau thought Valeri's words were a kind gesture, but he didn't think to follow up on it. Valeri, though, was insistent.
“No seriously, we want to help. Tell us what we can do.”
Earlier this month as part of the Timbers and Thorns FC’s sixth annual Stand Together Week volunteer event, Palau's team – including Valeri and daughter Connie, paintbrushes in hand – got to work transforming the visitation rooms of the Beaverton DHS offices.
The result of all this hard work is stunning.
Each room is painted in Thorns red or Timbers green with a special mural designed by artists from the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters. There are photographs of the teams on the wall, signed jerseys and balls, team scarves, leather couches, and all the toys and games that a child would want to play with. The rooms' bright colors and positive messaging imbue the space with warmth.
The Timbers mural even features a detail that's also close to Palau's heart. One of the children in the mural holds up a scarf that reads: “You are loved.” Earlier this year, the Timbers Army sold “You are Loved” scarves as part of a buy-one-give-one campaign. For every scarf sold, one would be donated to a child in foster care, with the proceeds going to foster care projects.
Palau's nomination for the MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest means that fellow Timbers fans can vote to have Embrace Oregon become the winning recipient of a special $25,000 in prize donation grant.
That $25,000 can make a huge difference for both Embrace Oregon and DHS, allowing them to expand opportunities for the over 7,500 Oregon children who routinely find themselves in foster care.
“I really just wanted to continue to do more in every practical way possible to help short-term and long-term the kids and families in foster care,” says Palau. “We can't fix the challenging issues that have [put children] in foster care, but we can come alongside the [DHS] staff and encourage and bless them. We can do practical things [like renovating visitation rooms].”
Palau doesn't want this campaign to be about him. Instead, he insists, this ought to be about the work that DHS and Embrace Oregon are doing in Portland and across the state.
“I can do this one little thing and I can rally others to care and get onboard,” he says. “That I can do and love to do. [I'm] happy to leave the complexities to people who know what they're doing.”