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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 13 October 2011

When Joanne Alaniz saw a woman prostituting on the street in her neighborhood, she didn't reach for a phone to call police. She went up to the woman and offered to help. "I've been where you're at," she said.

Alaniz learned the woman was drug addicted and desperate. So she helped the woman find an in-patient drug center and shared her own story, telling how Narcotics Anonymous had helped her stay off drugs. The woman was accepted into treatment immediately and Alaniz plans to be there for her when she returns to the community.

"I walked her down there," she says. "Sometimes you need to have somebody take you by the hand and help you get help. I wish somebody had done that for me. "

Alaniz is co-director of RISE a new nonprofit group of community activists in the Rosewood area, about 15 blocks around the Max hub of 162nd and Burnside Street. The area known as Rockwood, but residents prefer Rosewood. RISE, which stands for Rosewood Initiative Sisters Empowerment is part of the Rosewood Initiative, an action hub for neighborhood residents who want to improve the neighborhood, home to almost 6,000 people.

"There are a lot of people who are struggling in the neighborhood, so poverty is an issue," says Jenny Glass, a RISE board member who works with the Rosewood Initiative as a community builder through the AmeriCorps program. "People here have less access to resources such as transportation, and less money."

The Rosewood Initiative operates out of a building at 609 SE 162nd Ave. A grant from Multnomah County will pay the rent for one year. The building is open to everyone in the community, although it's still under construction. A café, still waiting for organizers to take it on, is slated for that space.

"We have water and ginger ale, chips and salsa, and a chessboard, and a ping pong table. That's all you need, right?" says Glass.

Valerie Salazar, executive director of RISE, said the community-based organization will tackle the areas problems, drugs, gangs, lack of opportunity and crime, from the grassroots up.

"We have a passion and a heart for this," Salazar said. "We come from the streets and we want to make a difference. We address human trafficking, gangs and we mentor our youth."

Antoine Thomas, creative director for the Rosewood Initiative, says the café offers a safe place for young people to find support and fun activities. Often parents are working hard to provide for the family's basic needs and they are not at home, leaving children and teens without an adult for long periods.

"Kids need reassurance and they need to know people are concerned about their wellbeing and that they want them to thrive," he said.

"I see so many kids who go to school but after school they are on their own and have nothing to do and nowhere to go. I'm talking about 18 and up too. That is where the focus should be. "

Alaniz wants to focus on empowering women and girls, often left out of outreach efforts because young men are seen at most risk of committing crimes and hurting one another.

"All those outreach workers are men," she says. "And women who have been battered and abused and prostituted, they resent men. It's a circle of sickness.

"I come from that lifestyle and when it's a woman who reaches out, then you can say, 'I've walked in your shoes, but you can be where I am now."

Katherine Anderson, a crime prevention specialist at the city who volunteers with the police crisis team, says she too believes that women and girls need more attention. "The women's needs don't get addressed," she said. "When you think of a gang member you think of a man, but right behind that man there is a woman. I've seen so many women, who are behind the scenes and they are taking care of children, and you can see where it is going for those children."

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