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Willona Sloan, Strategic Storyteller02/16/2021

Tasha Oliverson is a fighter. She stands up for what she believes in. She fights for the powerless. She works to give a platform to people who feel they have no voice. Through her activism, leadership and volunteerism, Tasha has helped to build a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in Roseburg, Oregon, a small city located in the Umpqua River Valley in southern Oregon.

Tasha Oliverson is a community leaderIn 2018, Tasha started the first PFLAG chapter in Roseburg. According to the PFLAG's website, this national organization is the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families. "Somebody in the community put out feelers to see if anybody wanted to start a PFLAG group here," says Tasha. "There is not a lot of support for the LGBTQ+ community here, so I jumped on that train really fast. I have been highly involved in that community ever since." 

That same year, Tasha was part of the committee that planned and hosted the first Pride event in Roseburg. At Umpqua Community College, where Tasha studies Human Services, she became president of the on-campus Queer Students Advocacy (QSA) club. Together with club members, she has planned social and informational gatherings to help build a sense of support and social connectedness. One of their most popular events is the monthly Diversity Dine Out event.

Tasha says that her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community comes from a very personal place. "It started back in the 1990s when I became very good friends with a man who was gay and dying of AIDS. Watching him suffer, I started to become more aware of that community. And then, my youngest daughter came out as bisexual when she was 15," says Tasha, who adds that she herself came out as an asexual woman at 40. 

As a parent, Tasha says that wanting to create a safe space for her own child has motivated her activism. "My daughter is a very special girl. I just always wanted to be there to support her," says Tasha. "I had a hard time understanding how anyone could push their child away because of who they are. It was my goal to get out there and support those children whose parents do not support them."

In 2019, Tasha was recognized for her work at the World AIDS Day event hosted by a local church. "It was a small event, and a lot of the people that were there are older and were involved in the AIDS epidemic … nursing and helping the AIDS patients during that time," says Tasha. "It was really interesting to hear their stories. I felt like I was among a great group of people."

As Tasha focused her efforts on activism, she also became more involved with volunteering in the Roseburg community. She learned about NeighborWorks Umpqua from her neighbor who worked for the organization, and Tasha often volunteered to help out with their activities. 

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"Whenever NeighborWorks had their block parties or whatever they needed volunteers for they called me, and my daughter and I were there," says Tasha. Her neighbor encouraged her to apply for NeighborWorks Umpqua's first local Community Leadership Institute (CLI), which was being held in 2018. "I kept thinking, I'm not a leader, that's not me. Should I even try this?" says Tasha, who applied and was accepted. 

The CLI was a new experience for Tasha, but it was also a new approach for NeighborWorks Umpqua. Michelle Martin, Director of Community and Economic Development with NeighborWorks Umpqua, explains that the goal of this first local CLI was to home in on local resident leaders, offer them leadership training, and then bring them back to teach and mentor the next cohort.

After attending the local CLI, Tasha was stunned to learn she was accepted to attend the national CLI as well, where she had the opportunity to further develop her leadership skills. "I learned a lot about engagement, and listening to people," says Tasha. "That has very much put me on my way to my degree  —  learning how to listen to people and to be a voice for people."

Michelle says Tasha is a natural leader, and she has enjoyed watching Tasha's skills and confidence in her leadership abilities blossom. "I have known Tasha as long as I've been engaged with NeighborWorks Umpqua," says Michelle. "I could see that she was a hidden gem. She just had this amazing skill to just engage with people that would sit on the outside otherwise."

"While she felt that she didn't have a voice, she would encourage others to have a voice," Michelle continues. "To be able to bring her into that space, and give her the power to have that voice, [is] really what the Leadership Institute is about — it's about giving that power."

Tasha, a 2020 Dorothy Richardson Award winner, has continued to take on new leadership roles, including serving on the board of NeighborWorks Umpqua. She plans to keep fighting and to keep leading. "Michelle always talks about how she watched me grow. I was very reserved; very shy," says Tasha. "Now, I'm all out. I've got my hands in everything, and I am just taking on the world."


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