#108 Turning a Personal Life Experience into a Life Mission, with Alicia DeLashmutt Founder and President of Our Home

Dec 23, 2022

In this month of December, Sybil is focusing on the question of why people give, and she is very excited to share this interview with Alicia. Alicia is somebody who is focused on giving back and she's donating her time and her money to an issue that she cares personally about so much, and it's connected to her daughter and her family. Alicia is a great example of why people give and why you as a donor, might find inspiration in her story to continue to give to the world.


Episode Highlights:

  • Alicia’s journey as a mother of a special needs daughter
  • Giving to fill a gap
  • Special opportunity in the niche donors


Alicia DeLashmutt Bio:


Alicia DeLashmutt is the Founder and President of Our Home, Inclusive Community Collaborative, a non-profit whose mission is to promote, support, and develop inclusive and diverse communities. She is also the Founding Neighbor of Cathedral Park Cohousing, an inclusive and diverse cohousing community forming in Portland, Oregon. She is the proud mother of an awesome young adult daughter whose interests include baseball, Fritos, and opera. Her daughter, Neva experiences Mowat-Wilson Syndrome, a rare genetic syndrome whose effects are widespread and will require significant support throughout her life. Alicia is a Montana State University graduate and has a professional background in landscape, interior and architectural design. A 2007 Oregon Partners in Policy Making graduate she has participated in the Portland Public Schools Special Education Advisory Council, the Oregon DD Coalition, the OHSU Lend, and Oregon Pediatric Improvement Programs, and as Program Coordinator and advisor for the North West Down Syndrome Association Kindergarten Inclusion Cohort. She is a national speaker on the importance of community and connection for all of us. Alicia is an active advocate and parent mentor who believes that the inclusion of ALL, regardless of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, or gender identity is necessary for a vibrant and healthy community.




Our Home Website: https://www.ourhomeicc.org 

Cathedral Park Cohousing Website: https://www.cathedralparkcohousing.com 

E-Mail: [email protected]  or [email protected]


If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:

#95 When a Passion for Salmon and Reptiles Creates a Powerful Giving Strategy with Guido Rahr President & CEO of Wild Salmon Center

#87 A Climate Change Visionary Shares his Story and Tips for Donors, with Steve Kretzmann Founder of Oil Change International

#75 The Co-Founder of Earth Day Explains His Funding Philosophy with Denis Hayes, President, Bullitt Foundation


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Full Transcript

Hey everyone, I'm very excited to offer you this interview I did with Alicia. She's somebody who is focused on giving back and she's donating her time and her money to an issue that she cares personally about so much, and it's connected to her daughter and her family. I can't wait for you to hear all the details. 

And in this month of December, where I'm focusing on the question of why people give, I thought she was and is a great example of why people give and why you as a donor, might find inspiration in her story to continue to give to the world. 

And it's a reminder too that it's so, so, so important to focus on the passions that you have and the things, you care about before you decide on a good, concerted multi-year giving strategy. So have a listen. 

Alicia, I'm so happy you're on my podcast. And I recruited you to be on my podcast because I'm working with you, and I met you through our work together with the Fairview Trust and I'm on contract with you and a team of folks at Fairview Trust to sort of think through effective giving strategies. Fairview Trust is such an amazing program. I'm having such a great experience working with you on that. I think that's a whole other podcast that we should be talking about. Probably after I finished my work with you or we think about how can grantmaking be effective with community leaders leading the charge in grantmaking, that's a whole conversation in the future. 

Why I wanted you on my podcast today. He is in getting to know you I was so inspired by who you are. In the month of December in my podcast series, I'm focusing on conversations about why people give and what motivates them to give. You're such a great example of somebody who has had a personal life experience that you turned into an amazing life mission to make the world a better place for so many people. 

So, I'd love to 1st talk about your journey and how your daughters inspired you to like to do amazing things in the world. The organization you founded and the gap you want to fill, and then I want to talk to you in general about sort of your motivations for giving.

But Alicia, can you first talk about how you know your journey and what inspired you to do what you're doing today? 

Of course, first I want to thank you, Sybil, for asking me to be on this and for your kind words. As an advocate and Mom, it's just kind to hear what you feel about the work that we're doing, it doesn't feel like work, it's just the thing that needs to happen, I think oftentimes families. Know the lives that they want to see for their children and their families, but they don't know where to find them.

As parents and as families, need to make it happen. We are the doers on the ground so. But we don't often get the accolades, so I'm a little. I'm a little on the blushing side. Just like she got. It's just what we do. 

That's great. 

It's just Thursday, you know, this is just what we have to do. 

I love that I love what you're saying. It's so true. 

So, talk to me about your daughter, and talk to me about your inspiration for doing what you're doing. 

Well, my daughter, Neva is going to be 21 in February. When she was born, I had not had a lot of experience with people who experienced disabilities. I grew up in the Midwest. There were still institutions for people who experience disabilities. Kids... You know you… don't have to raise her, go try and have another one who will take her, and she sort of disappears and goes into more of a mental care medical care model than being raised at home. 

All the folks that I had grown up with at that time didn't grow up with people with disabilities and then this beautiful human being came into my world, and I realized that I never wanted her to leave my sight as a child. I had she yeah, my daughter. 

Your daughter. 

She was the right person to be born to me. And she had a right to be in any room that her feet or her wheels took her into and that sort of started me down there is no separate equal place for childcare, education, community, church, or recreation. She belonged with her peers and with the world and that realization from the very get-go started me into school advocacy on how to help other families make sure that their children are educated with their nondisabled peers following the IDEA, the Disability Education Act, how to build collaborative teams, how to know what the law is. 

But you know, do things from a more personal level than a legal one. Adversarial level. And then. One morning I had a bout of illness that was one of those close calls that make your world…. makes you think a little bit about what the world is like moving forward without you, and is everything set up in the way that you want it to be set up? You are your things in place, yeah? 

Right, right, and your daughter who are you so much supporting too and thinking about that too, right? 

Yep, what is her world like if I am not as present as an advocate? So that started me thinking about, well, we've spent a lot of time in schools, and you know, working in classrooms and helping form. Peers, peer relationships, and connections work in general education and collaborate with special education. What does it look like for the rest of her life? 

There's a whole lot more life outside of school than there is in the time that you're in the school. And that is community and housing and friendships. And you know the purpose of life after. That got me thinking about it. Not only for her life but for other people who are in the same situation and have care providers who are going to be aging. People who want to be a part of the broader community and whose families want them to have a full life outside of just the family. Little, not the little protective, you know, nest. 

And I also start thinking about my mom and my grandma, my grandma, who was in her 90s. My mom, who's now in her 80s. What do houses and communities look like for people who are aging? I'll start thinking about what housing and community look like for people that are below income because people with disabilities often don't make it, they aren't at market rate, they are in a median income individual and so affordability and housing and building community around you know people from a diverse and inclusive background. 

And of course, those issues affect everyone. You know whether you're from a biopic background or a community LGBTIQ community. Income, age, and ability are that intersectionality between all of us. It's a common thing. That we all experience. 

Can I just stop you for a second because I think it's cool how you're talking about personal experience with your parents and your grandparents and then your daughter. And you're bringing it to a bigger level. Right away you're thinking about OK, so here's my experience and I know that other people are thinking about it too. So how do I support the community in being more inclusive? 

I love that and you're saying you know you have this protective, not a family, but like how can we expand? And that to a protective community, a supportive community. So, I just, I don't think that's regular. That's not always what people think when they're thinking about how to help folks. And so just that's why I wanted to like feature you here because I just think that this is why a lot of people do decide to give when they start thinking about the things that motivate them. But then how do they make a difference beyond their community to support ground their own family? Excuse me to support the community well as a whole, you know. 

So anyway, keep going. I just had to reject that. 

Thank you. Well, we're all interdependent. Do you know? I mean, we aren't all there's no silo of 1 family or another. We're all interconnected, and you know the rising tide lifts all boats. How do we bring these issues to the forefront so that it's a more formalized way of living? You know to think about us as a broader community, as opposed to. Just a community of individuals. 

Yeah, and so now let's talk about the very specific community that you're fundraising for and sort of…. It sounds like you created it and your own in your, you know, on the ground. I think it's in Saint John’s right in Oregon. 

Yeah, in Cathedral Park which is right, Cathedral Park and Saint Johns’ neighborhoods are sides by side in North Portland. So, I formed a nonprofit about five years ago called our Home Inclusive Community Collaborative. 

And we'll have it in the show notes the link to it. 

Great thanks and its mission is to support, promote and develop inclusive, inclusive, and diverse communities. One of their first programs in focus is to help a community called Cathedral Park Co-Housing. It's an inclusive and diverse cohesive community to help it get up and running in the Cathedral Park neighborhood in North Portland.

And we have about 20% of our homeowners will experience an intellectual disability, so the homes will be owned by somebody who either experiences an intellectual disability or their family member. And then we've got 6 units that we're working to subsidize below median income. So, there's affordability, and diversity as well. And then we are a multi-generational community of all ages. 

And we want people to be able to bring their authentic selves and be in a place of belonging and connection and community and something that we are all looking for. And we wanted to make sure we weren't building housing for a particular population, but we were building a community around everyone because we all Need reciprocal give and take from our neighbors, there are times that we can reach out and give and there are times that we need a little bit more help and that's what this community is about being around each other so that the ebbs and flow of life are a little less bumpy than if we're all alone in our own single-family homes. 

That's great, now tell me a little bit about your journey in creating this idea on the ground. And where are you in the process right now? 

The journey I've called it over, under, around, and through this. 

Love yeah over under around and through. 

So, it has been. It's been an unusual process. The nonprofit Once this community is built, we'll go forward and help other communities get off the ground, and we'll have a much more streamlined process. Now that we've sort of built the road as we were walking. 

But we did a lot of outreach with other families, asking them what they were looking for in the community. Both interviewed a lot of people in cohousing, just in general, and then people both in aging. People you know from diverse incomes and abilities you know really, what does home mean to you? What does home feel like? That's what started with that research. 

We partnered with a couple of really wonderful nonprofits in town. A proud ground which is a Land Trust here in Portland is helping us with some of our affordability and making sure that we keep some of our homes affordable in perpetuity. We partnered with a nonprofit called Community Vision which does support work with people who experience disabilities and in the early days, they helped us secure land. 

The community has now purchased that land from that nonprofit, and we've formed our own nonprofit. The Cooney Foundation was wonderful in helping fund some of the early work that went into making this. Project possible. Same with Metro and I think OCF also did some funding. 

Oregon Community Foundation's, for folks who may not be from around here, is that people listen to this all over the world. 

Oregon Community Foundation. Thank you 

So, the nonprofit, partnered with professional partners, a developer, an architect, and some legal advisors. To make sure that this type of project could move forward, you know the land that we were looking at wasn't viable. The performer that we were going to be creating does it. Does it pencil to talk development language? Does it make sense financially? Does it function in the way that we want to, and so before families started coming in and giving their funds and time to make this project go forward, the nonprofit helped it get off the ground?

Now we've got community members. Our families are all coming in at about 1/3 of our people pulled together and we're working to get about 3/4 of them before we break ground. So, we are in a community gathering phase of if people are interested in being a part of the type of world they want to see. And being a community member of that type of community now is the time to get in touch with the cohousing aspect of it. It’s nonprofit helped to get going and now the people the community members are helping it move forward and get built. 

Wonderful, so in this process what's kept you up at night? What are the things the hurdles you've tried to overcome? 

Well, I don't know if you've noticed, but we had a pandemic. 

That pandemic had some effects on supply chain demand and labor shortage. And of course, you know interest rates. Money costs more money now, so just. His kind of interesting ebb and flow of life has been an interesting challenge. 

But one of the things that it like cemented in all of us is we don't want to have to go through these types of things alone. You know, if you've got people around you who care and have your back. It's so much easier to go through these bumps in life when, when you've got support and we've got that connection with a broader community. 

So, in a way, COVID has brought some gifts as well as some challenges. I think that's been, you know, the biggest challenge is just the timing of things and weathering through this and continuing to move forward. And while we haven't moved forward as fast as I would have liked when we first started talking about this, there's been progress made steadily, and it is still making progress, and frankly, we're in the last push here to get the rest of the community members together. And then we're over that hill. Up into building and moving in and making this happen, and then the nonprofit can highlight it as look. 

See, it's an inclusive and diverse community. It's self-sustaining. It’s on its own. It's not systems dependent, there's actual reciprocity in natural supports, and the people that live there. Let's go do this a few more times. 

Is a model I just love the conversation because not only are you a wonderful example of somebody who has, you know, decided to give your time and money, and resources in a place that means so much to you personally.

You also are somebody who's trying to fill a gap. So, you see the gap. You're trying to fill it. You're working with community members, foundations, and others, and I talk a lot about that in my teachings too, about how it's important to think through how you want to present yourself in the world if you want to give, you know there are lots of different ways to do it that are all positive and your way was to say, oh look, there's something that's not here yet and I want to lean in and make this happen. So that's wonderful 

For anyone else the in the world that's listening to this. And is inspired by your work. Work what words of advice do you have for others who sort of see a gap that they're passionate about in their life that they want to fill? What would be your words of wisdom for them in terms of thinking through Moving forward

I think what was helpful for me was finding others that share a similar passion, and combining efforts because voices together are so much stronger than a single voice, and that was helpful to not…. Also, to not just be the one crazy person in the room to know that other people were thinking that this was necessary, that this was needed. 

Not everybody can commit as much time or focus, but they still show up as they can, and that’s helpful to build a team.  I'm finding what your passion speaks most to you because this is not a sprint, it is a long marathon of advocacy and work. Being tenacious and knowing that this is … this resides true passion and in it is such a raw feeling that has to happen. It's very vital and finding that very vital piece of purpose.

I had a mentor in the early days. I call him my spirit animal. He told me he said, you know, he decided to move forward with this, never waver. And just, keep it in your mind, never waver. You might have young moments of panic but never waver. And that has been just by mantra for years that it's been off. Yeah, I check in occasionally. Does this need to happen I know it still needs to happen because it doesn't exist and so you know that never wavering is you know that that champion is Important.

That's great. I love that I asked you for those last words of advice because those were fabulous. They never waver. Part I actually in particular relate to that as I move forward on the things I care about too and I just really appreciate it. Like I said before, your vision and your interest in making this happen. So best of luck to you. 

So, for all my listeners out there, definitely check out the show notes because the links to the organizations that Alicia referenced are going to be in there. Anything else you want to let my listeners know about it before we go? 

I think I think one thing that I feel is important is. It's not always the big boys that have the right answers and deserve to be funded or moved forward in the work that they're doing. I think there's room for innovation and modernization so, to speak. You know we're families on the ground living the life and we're trying to make things happen for our children and our families so that we know what, and how they want to live because we're living it. 

Often, I think funding and support go to organizations that have been around for decades because that's the way that it has been done and there's comfort in how things have been done. But how things have been done isn’t always the way that new families coming up want things to be done, and so getting behind more innovative, risky, new, untried from the gut projects, helps change our future. And helps become what today's kids and families want for their futures versus what's always been or has been for the past decade. 

So, I would just be thoughtful with just because somebody is new on the block doesn't mean that they're not the innovation that's going to change the world. Or bring it up to date for folks that want to see that happen. 

And that's so important to say. 

And also, it's a special opportunity for the niche donors who may not have the multi-millions of dollars to give but the dollars that can help some of these smaller more innovative folks on the ground. So, there's a place for all sizes of donations, and this is like a special place where smaller donations, I think can make a big difference at this stage to then. I mean you quoted some big-time players there at this point where you're getting funding from but. The smaller donors can help start the conversation going forward to set you up to then have success with the larger donors, so yeah. 

Oh my gosh, yes. And then the amount of effect a small donation has on a small organization. We know who you are, and we are grateful because you have just paid for the bookkeeper for a year or the lawyer, or for you know this capacity growth or you know the strategic plan that we needed. You know the little donations add up substantially in these small organizations. Make a huge difference. 

Right, right and it's so great that we hadn't talked about that before, so I'm glad you brought that up. A lot of my clients that's this is the space they inhabit, which is they always, say, Sybil, look for those smaller organizations that we can help with our smaller donations. It's one of the places I spend a lot of time, so that seems true to me. 

Well again thank you so much for your time. And I am hoping, and I am sure that my listeners will get as much out of this conversation as I've gotten out of these conversations with you in the past. Thanks for letting me record it, and I hope you have a great rest of your day. 

Of course. Thank you, thanks Sybil 

I hope you are as inspired by Alicia's story as I was and am, and I just really, really appreciate everything she's trying to do for the world, and I hope that leaves you inspired to continue to give to all the things you care about so much so until next time, do your good and be well.