A typical March day would see them at their desks at Providence Park, the views from the highest level of the stadium’s northwest corner allowing Stand Together’s staff to look down on the entire field. On game days they’re closer to the action, interacting with the various people and organizations that make up the team’s day-to-day life, but for much of their existence, the project’s four-person staff is out in the community, among those partners, executing the various ideas that define the Portland Timbers’ and Thorns FC’s community outreach arm For Stand Together, reality is usually an in-person one.
Reality changed for Stand Together two weeks ago, just as it changed for us all. Now, with employees at Providence Park set up to work from home, the offices above the field are largely empty, with Stand Together’s full-time staff working remotely. On occasion, the need to pick up supplies and equipment sees the group back in Goose Hollow, but for the most part, Stand Together has adapted its job to our temporary world.
“We were planning most of our main programs and activations for the season,” Kristel Wissel, head of Stand Together, says, “like Girl Strong Clinic, Stand Together Week, OMSI Science of Soccer, as well as a special 10th anniversary Fields For All project that combined both local and global elements.”
The projects were part of Stand Together’s normal, early-spring buildup, though unlike the Timbers and Thorns, Wissel’s team doesn’t get a true offseason. While players begin transitioning into their down period in late fall, Stand Together’s work persists, with a series of events and activations bridging the time between the final whistles and, in late January, the Timbers’. When players are back, Stand Together kicks into high gear, able to reincorporate the club’s biggest names into some of its most important work.
“We were also looking to build on our social justice pilot program, PDX x ATL, that we started last fall,” Wissel explains, alluding to the visit from a group of Atlanta-based students toward the end of the last MLS regular season. “We had planned to travel a group of students from the Boys & Girls Clubs from the three clubs in the Greater Portland Metro area to Atlanta in April for a long weekend focused on leadership, filled with great speakers and visits to the museums.”
When the world around Stand Together shifted focus, their team had to shift focus with it. Many of the events Stand Together had planned for March, April, and May were put on hold. Instead of existing in a world centered around games, practices, and community events, Stand Together now exists amid social distancing. Its efforts have adapted to meet the current needs of the community.
“We immediately shifted our focus to identifying who needed help and how we could best assist,” Wissel remembers, when asked about her group’s initial reaction to the COVID-19 precautions. “In an ever-evolving situation, we are working with our teams, our sponsors, and our nonprofit partners to determine how we can best support.”
Some of that support centers on little changes, like Timber Joey moving reading sessions he’d normally do in-person, as part of Rose City Readers, into the digital space. Twice a week, those sessions are posted to YouTube and the club website. The organization has also donated 61 soccer balls to AC Portland with the hope such equipment can help local youth stay active while they shelter at home.
In addition, the organization has distributed an initial round of funding through the Stand Together Relief Fund. They have also completed an initial round of Community Fund grants and made a contribution to the Oregon Community Foundation’s Recovery Fund.
“While most of our messaging is digital, we realize that not everyone has access to those resources ...,” Wissel explained. “We continue to follow safety protocols and once opportunities to volunteer are available, we will be ready to help each other even more.”
One of those new opportunities centers around those on the front lines: those tasked with helping the ill.
“We are donating shelf-stable, individually wrapped snacks to healthcare workers and hopefully to local school pantries soon thanks to our partners,” Wissel said. The donations should benefit an estimated 400 healthcare workers at six different locations, with an upcoming delivery of food to Reynolds Middle School’s SUN program potentially helping over 360 families.
“Overall, we want to use our platform to shine a light on the strength and resiliency of our collective community and the beautifully creative ways people are supporting each other,” continued Wissel. “Responding to these challenges with empathy and kindness is what will continue to propel us all forward, so when sports do return, we will be ready to fully appreciate the experience of those unique connections again.”
One day, sports will return. In the interim, Stand Together must tweak its approach. Be that in the digital space, as a supplier, or just a go-between between partners, the project has continued to reach out.