MLS WORKS - Keith Palau - Portland Timbers

PORTLAND, Ore.—As nominations opens this week in the 2018 MLS WORKS Community MVP Contest presented by Wells Fargo, the ongoing work being done in Portland by 2017 winner Keith Palau and Embrace Oregon continues to brighten the lives of children and improve prospects for families throughout the city and state.

A year ago, Palau -- a leader in the Timbers Army who was named Timbers Community MVP after an effort to redecorate foster care and family visitation rooms at the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) offices -- earned the 2017 honor, which came with $25,000 from MLS WORKS and Wells Fargo to donate to Embrace Oregon. The organization efforts to offer volunteering opportunities to the greater community and outreach for prospective foster parents in the area.

“This $25,000 will positively impact more than 700 individuals: children in foster care, biological families, foster families and DHS staff,” Palau said.

According to Brooke Gray, executive director of Embrace Oregon, receiving the $25,000 donation helped the organization in a number of ways. First, it helped raise awareness of Embrace Oregon in Portland. Gray notes she saw an increase in the inquiries from people interested in volunteering and even getting more information about becoming a foster parent.

“It enabled more people to find out about the work Timbers Army and Embrace Oregon are doing in our community, and led to a fun few weeks of social media push,” Gray said.

“Financially, the Community MVP Contest provided the funds for Embrace Oregon to increase its bandwidth for children in foster care, to launch a new initiative designed to support foster families beyond the Portland area in 2017/18,” she said, adding: “Undoubtedly, we’re in the midst of a foster care crisis in Oregon.”

During the time since earning the award in August 2017, Palau and Embrace Oregon have helped redesign four Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns-themed DHS visitation rooms in the greater Portland area, and distributed a special scarf featuring both teams and the words “You are loved.”

Located in no-frills government buildings, the rooms themselves are often bleak, and often not so much decorated as housing a variety of hand-me down furniture, says Palau.

From there, Palau and those involved have moved into new ways to help foster families, including bringing several Timbers and Thorns players to two Foster Parents' Night Out gatherings, sponsored by Embrace Oregon, where foster parents can get a much-needed break once a month. The players spent the evening playing with kids. Other joint activities between Embrace Oregon and the Timbers included coffee bar and ice cream social events to support DHS staff.

Looking forward, Palau is exploring initiatives to help families who are at risk of losing their children because they are without the means to afford housing, in an effort to prevent those children from entering the foster care system. 

On a personal note for Palau, going to the 2017 MLS All-Star Game in Chicago and being honored as the MLS WORKS Community MVP was an unforgettable moment.

“This whole experience will remain a highlight of my involvement as a Portland Timbers fan, a Timbers Army member, and someone who cares about members of our community who need a little extra love and support," he said. "Thank you to my friends at MLS WORKS and to Wells Fargo for their support and encouragement.”