Helen Leong helps build community for LGBTQ+ elders by vetting queer-friendly housing and hosting community events like parties, group activities, and socials.
Helen recently agreed to block out a few hours in her busy schedule to chat with us about her work, so we took a stroll down Thurman Street to catch up with her.
In speaking with Helen, it doesn't take long to recognize her passion for helping people. When we ask what a typical day of work looks like for the Co-Director of Community Services, she laughs, saying, “Every day is different. I just go where I'm needed.” It's this willingness to provide support to Friendly House's clients in whatever way possible that makes Helen's commitment to our community clear.
Above, left: Helen in our Novi necklace and Nuwe necklace. Above, right: Helen in our Redundant Chevron ring, Nitor ring, Vis ring, Tambor ring, Robur ring, Basio ring, Lita bangle, and Fremont Bridge cuff bracelet. Shop Helen's look.
Helen oversees Friendly House's Senior Program which includes SAGE. The program name stands for “Service and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders” and is an initiative that advocates for older LGBTQ+ adults in the Portland Metro area. Much of her work is focused on supporting staff members that venture out in the field to do the deeply important work of designating LGBTQ+ friendly housing for seniors. This seems like a daunting task to us, but Helen explains the designation process with confidence and ease. The key, she tells us, to determining whether or not an assisted living space or retirement community is LGBTQ+ welcoming lies in their written policies.
“We create opportunities for folks to connect and build their own tight-knit community.”
“We often see folks in the LGBTQ+ senior community hiding their identities due to fear of discrimination from property managers. That's why our knowledgeable and compassionate SAGE staff and volunteers thoroughly vet properties to ensure that LGBTQ+ folks live in a safe environment as their true selves.” SAGE also coordinates community events such as holiday parties, group activities, and socials. Helen beams when she tells us that over 100 clients attended a recent SAGE Valentine’s Day party at the Hollywood Senior Center.
Above, left: Helen in our Robur ring, Pirum ring, Basio ring and Mollia cuff. Above, right: Helen in our Mirum stud earrings, faceted gold ring and Bellus ring. Shop Helen's look.
Helen's passion comes from helping people, especially those individuals who have been knocked down by life's many challenges. She tells us that although she worries about senior clients who are at risk of losing their housing or facing health decline without support, organizations like Friendly House give her hope for a better future. She stresses that none of her work would be possible without the members of her amazing team, who are just as passionate and determined as she is.
When Helen's not supporting her team, she might be found serving meals at Friendly House's Meals on Wheels meal site, sitting down with a senior participant and listening to their story, or organizing partnerships with local nonprofits and businesses (like us!). As Helen says, “Our motto is 'Building community, one friend at a time', so yes, I'm out trying to make friends!”
Learning more about Helen’s work makes us proud to be a long time Friendly House business partner and supporter.
We see the amazing work that this organization does on behalf of the community, and we’re honored when we have the chance to pitch-in in our own way, whether that be by hosting donor shopping parties here at the store, cash donations, or making the special pins pictured below.
Eager to get involved, too?
Check out Friendly House’s Spring Auction on Friday, March 13th! The Auction's theme is “Our Corner of the Universe”, and it will be a great chance to meet Helen and learn more about Friendly House. Beam us up, Helen!
Find Friendly House just (literally) down the street from the Betsy & Iya flagship at FRIENDLY HOUSE / 1737 NW 26th Ave. / Portland, OR 97210.