An Incredible Year with the ROP Fellows!

The inaugural year of the ROP Rural Organizing Fellowship has come to a close and we are amazed by the fellows’ passion, curiosity, and commitment to help their communities thrive.

The fellows met for quarterly organizing retreats in different communities around the state to build a collective understanding of what our rural communities need and to strengthen their change-making skills. Fellowship convenings explored tribal sovereignty and indigenous histories of resistance with community leaders on the Warm Springs Reservation, building power for the Queer community with the Rainbow Falls Coalition in Klamath Falls, and much more! In between retreats, fellows carried out local organizing projects in their home communities. Read on to learn more about their projects and the impact of the Fellowship.

We are excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for the 2nd Rural Organizing Fellowship. Learn more and apply for the 2020-21 Rural Organizing Fellowship here or read on for more information.

Impact of the Rural Organizing Fellowship

Sahla Denton, Cottage Grove, Lane County: Sahla is a leader with the human dignity group Cottage Grove Community United (CGCU). She also created and facilitated two anti-racism workshops focused on supporting community members in understanding and confronting racism.

“I’m really glad that I got to be a part of the fellowship. I got to meet people I wouldn’t have met otherwise and learned a lot from all of them. Since moving to Oregon, I’ve often felt isolated from my age group, other people of color, and social organizing/activism. The fellowship definitely helped break that isolation; connecting regularly and working with like-minded people puts a better perspective on everything.” 

Zachary Stocks, Astoria, Clatsop County: Zachary created and leads Oregon HORSE (Heritage Organizations for Rural Social Equity), a growing network of 6 rural museums and heritage organizations across each region of Oregon, committed to equity and access. The network leverages its role to support the health and well-being of its community and its residents.

“I learned a lot more than I thought I would about museums from the Fellowship. I learned that museums are really craving this work. That many are looking for a framework for how they can be socially responsible. And they are seeking encouragement that this is something they can do. For rural museums especially, the models being proposed by urban museums just don’t fit. Sometimes just making the trip to visit a site in person was enough to encourage them to dive into this project. Sometimes at home, I’d be working away on writing and signage and emails and worrying if my project was going to succeed or collapse. But then I’d get an excited email from a museum telling me that their board just approved their new diversity, equity, access, and inclusion policy, or they put up signs in their window in English and Spanish saying that “this museum doesn’t tolerate bigotry”. And that’s rad! When I started, I wasn’t sure if any museum in rural Oregon –or anywhere– was ready for that. And I wasn’t sure if I had what it takes to guide them through that process. But now I know that we are all capable.” 

Briana Spencer, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation: Briana is in process of getting outdoor drinking fountains installed around the reservation where young people are most likely to walk, skateboard or ride bikes. There are no outdoor drinking fountains available and the alternative is to pay for single-use plastic bottles of water. The tribal youth council identified this as both a financial and an environmental issue. Briana has been busy working to implement a plan to place fountains in strategic locations, find the money, get the engineering and other technical know-how in place and engage the youth in these plans.

“From the first time we met, I felt so inspired because there were people my age or a little younger or older doing this work. It was good to widen my scope and to figure out what I want to have passion about. I’m always the first person doing the work in my age group. It is good to know that people are doing work out there and lighting the fire for others.” 

Juan Navarro, Corvallis, Benton County: Juan engaged with groups who were organizing around his highest priority: passing the “Driver’s Licenses for All” legislation and preparing to defend it if it goes to the ballot. He collected several hundred signed postcards to legislators for the campaign! During the fellows’ week of legislative action at the Capitol, he spoke with legislators on why we need “Driver’s Licenses for All” and testified at a hearing on the importance of tuition equity.

“One of the things I learned from my project is the power of connections and turning those connections into action. You can name any city from Wilsonville to Eugene and I know people – but utilizing that and transitioning that into action was the biggest change I got to do working on the driver’s license legislation.”

Maria Mejia Botero, Culver, Jefferson County: Maria formed the Dreamers Club at Central Oregon Community College for immigrants and allies working to support the rights of all Oregonians no matter their immigration status. During the fellows’ week of legislative action, Maria came with a van full of students from the Dreamer’s Club to meet with legislators to advocate for “Driver’s Licenses for All”.

“The Fellowship was an amazing experience and I’m a different (better) person because of it. It’s taught me skills such as initiative, courage, and strategizing and has also taught me to be compassionate, empathetic, and to be more considerate of other people’s perspectives and how actions that benefit one group of people may affect another group of people in a negative way.” 

Brenda Flores, Stanfield, Umatilla County: Brenda collaborated with other young leaders to form Raíces, a group focused on organizing for immigrant rights and supporting the growth of powerful new community leaders. Raices got out the vote to defend Oregon’s sanctuary law and pass “Driver’s Licenses For All.” They also jumped into action after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detained community members and brought people from across the county together to participate in deportation defense and Know Your Rights workshops.

“I was looking at this post I did a year ago on Facebook about a meeting I went to on my own where I challenged the sheriff and it’s amazing how much things have changed in that short amount of time. Since then we have started Raíces, we got people out to vote and to work on the Driver’s Licenses for All bill, and we have groups wanting to work with us. I felt like I didn’t have connections but I learned that I do… now I’m more connected in our area and also have support from outside of our area and people around the state, too.” 

Rossy Valdovinos, Bend, Deschutes County: Rossy became an active student organizer and a leader with the Oregon Students of Color Coalition. She worked with Maria and Juan to develop and lead workshops on immigrant justice at the statewide Students of Color Conference and the Statewide Northwest Student Leadership Conference.

“I learned a lot personally this year. I’ve had a lot of personal growth and become very aware of how I am feeling and what is going on around me and how I talk to people about those issues. I’ve done a lot of connecting with people and I’ve learned to make sure to acknowledge those connections. I used to overlook that, the follow-up to meeting people, and follow-up is so important to good organizing and building relationships with people.” 

Jaylyn Suppah, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation: Jaylyn brought together a group of women to form Unite Warm Springs. The group planned a workshop series called “Awareness Through Art” that uses traditional and modern art forms to aid in the process of restorative justice and healing for tribal adults and youths who are currently in the parole and probation system.

“The fellowship allowed the Unite Warm Springs leadership team to really look at some of the needs and gaps in our community and develop that into a community project. The project brought a cross-sector of ladies together who are passionate about their work and provided a space to co-create an indigenous-led project and model. This grassroots effort and indigenous model is now being looked at for implementation into our tribal programming and services within our justice system and health and human services branch. Sometimes all that is needed is the support of an idea, and that is what ROP and this fellowship did for us!”

Courtney Neubauer, Klamath Falls, Klamath County: Courtney took the lead and facilitated the formation of two new groups in Klamath Falls: Rainbow Falls, a coalition of organizers, health care providers, educators and community members working to build power for the LGBTQ+ community and the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Committee, who are advancing conversations about racial justice and equity in the Klamath Basin.

“Before the fellowship I had decided to move back home after a few years living in a big city and the relationships I developed through the ROP fellowship helped me dive into organizing in my hometown. It helped build my confidence, get the tools I needed to be a thoughtful organizer, and introduced me to people doing the work around the state and in my home. The fellowship helped ground me in a larger network and history of movement work and I’m so happy that now ROP is part of my home.”

It is Time to Kick-Off the 2020-21 Rural Organizing Fellowship!

There are several ways you can support the 2020-21 Rural Organizing Fellowship:

Apply to be a Rural Organizing Fellow

Are you looking for a cohort of peers to exchange ideas and build your change-making skills? Do you have ideas about how to make your small town or rural community thrive? Are you compelled to take action but not sure where to begin? Apply now to join 15 emerging leaders from rural and small-town Oregon between the ages of 16-30 who are eager to organize and make change in their community! Applications are available online at or email Hannah at to request an application form. Applications are due January 31st, 2020.

Nominate for the Rural Organizing Fellowship

We are so excited for our next cohort of ROP fellows! Can you help us find them? Do you know a young climate activist planning walkouts or actions? Are there emerging leaders heading up groups or clubs at school who would be eager to build their skills as an organizer? Is there a young person who has all the instincts of a community organizer who would thrive in a community of peers from around the state? Make your nomination online at or email Hannah at Nominations are due January 1st, 2020.

Sustain the Rural Organizing Fellowship

Become a monthly donor or give a one-time gift to ROP to help fund the fellowship. The financial support of the ROP network is what makes the fellowship program possible. You can donate online here or mail a check to PO Box 664, Cottage Grove, OR 97424.

Thank you for believing and investing in rural leadership!