Best Practices Case Study

Organization: Umatilla Morrow Alternatives

Capacity Building Area: Leadership Development

Organizational profile

Umatilla Morrow Alternatives (UMA) is celebrating its ninth year as a human dignity organization dedicated to promoting equality and increasing the ability of People of Color (POC) and GLBT individuals to advocate against discrimination. The organization is led by a Founding Director and Board of Directors, and enjoys the support of an additional staff member (Fundraising Director) and strong volunteer corps. Programs include:

  • Free HIV rapid testing.  Provided in over 17 towns, volunteers of the UMA are certified by the State of Oregon to perform free rapid HIV testing at community events and local bars.
  • Needle Exchange Program.  UMA maintains a mobile unit that travels to areas of known drug activity and to health fairs.  In addition to needle exchange, HIV/AIDS education is offered and rehabilitation encouraged.
  • Sexually Transmitted Disease Education Program.  This program includes a speakers bureau, community event outreach, and advocacy at community planning meetings, town halls and school board meetings.
  • HIV and GLBT Social/Support Groups.  This program includes monthly support groups, as well as low-key events at GLBT friendly businesses and BBQ’s in the park.
  • Anti-Racial Discrimination Program.  Working to educate town leadership (Mayor, Chief of Police and School Board), the organization is creating community change by offering a comprehensive cultural competency curriculum and flexible trainings, doing a community survey, videotaping and documenting victim’s stories, and recruiting new supporters. This work is currently happening in Boardman, Oregon.
  • Freedom to Marry Campaign. UMA’s program area typically only votes 25-30% in favor of GLBT issues.  The organization’s aim is to move that number up by at least 5 % by January 2013 to help the state average.
  • GLBT Youth Support Groups for Participants 24 and under.  The UMA Currently sponsors the youth group in Hermiston with around 15 youth.
  • Annual Multicultural and GLBT Event.  This celebratory features music, food, dancing and education about HIV/AIDS and equality. In 2011, over 150 people participated.
  • UMA is the only organization of its kind in eastern Oregon, and has been honored with Basic Rights Oregon’s Equality Champion Award in 2008, the Rural Organizing Project’s Advancing Democracy Award in 2007, and Portland Gay Pride’s Spirit of Pride Award in 2009, as well as receiving numerous media exposure opportunities.

Organizational situation

While UMA provides many valuable programs to its communities, it also serves a very strong community organizing function for people to come together and work collaboratively to create justice and a safe community for everyone. UMA believes civic engagement is vital, and giving everyone the skills and information they need to advocate for themselves is a key part of that.

UMA’s staff had many experiences (and they still do) of being at the supermarket, the bank, the park or other public spaces and hearing people talk about their frustrations or community concerns. When they introduce themselves and talk about UMA, they occasionally engage a new volunteer, but often they are hesitant to get involved in advocacy or civic engagement. UMA staff realized that this work doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that there may be some who don’t think they can advocate for themselves: they don’t have the skills to do it.

Given this, UMA began to look at outside resources and available leadership curriculums to see what they could offer in their community. Many of these curriculums, they found, were developed by and for an urban environment, and though there were many valuable concepts, the curriculum needed to be adapted for their audience.

In 2008, the organization made a decision to create a leadership curriculum that is directly relevant to the people they serve. UMA had collaborated with the Rural Organizing Project on an advocacy project around addressing immigration issues in the Latino community. There had been strong turn-out for the initial activities, but the momentum fizzed out. Frustrated, UMA decided to develop a curriculum that would both the skills and information they need to advocate for themselves, as well as have that advocacy grow over time, rather than a one-time event.


The result of this work has been the culmination of a comprehensive leadership curriculum that has been developed specifically for a rural audience, and is flexible in its approach.

The curriculum took nine-months to develop and consisted of the following activities:

1)      UMA conducted a needs assessment of barriers community members were experiencing regarding advocacy. This was done by talking directly with others, and reviewing lessons learned from the advocacy initiative with the Rural Organizing Project, and other programming UMA provides.

2)      UMA is a multi-issue organization, primarily because of their uniqueness as an organization, as well as their rural context. Because there are no other organizations who do what they do to create community and advocate against discrimination, they knew the curriculum would need to be applicable to a range of issue areas. These issues were explored and integrated into a comprehensive curriculum.

3)      UMA looked at other curriculums that had already been developed and pulled out pieces they thought were relevant to their community.

4)      UMA adapted curriculum ideas to make them more relevant to a rural audience, including language and activity changes, as well as delivery ideas.

5)      UMA created a curriculum that is presented in modules, and can therefore be adaptable to different audiences and timeframes. It can be a full-day training, or a one-hour training, dependent on needs, and can be done in formal meeting environments or someone’s backyard.

6)      The curriculum follows the same basic structure throughout:

  1. Define the issue you need to address and break it down, asking, “What’s not working, and what do I need?” so the person gets the results they are looking for.
  2. Create an action plan to create the change desired.
  3. Act.
  4. Tell others about it so they can learn from your experience.


As a result of this work, UMA now has a curriculum that has been offered in dozens of locations, and has been well received by the community. They have presented in diverse environments, including colleges, the Department of Human Services and other City buildings, as well as multiple community spaces, including churches and other organizations.

Specifically, UMA has provided a multi-pronged advocacy effort in Boardman, Oregon, in an effort to end racial profiling. This effort has included advocacy meetings with the Mayor, and community mobilizing fueled by the curriculum. The results have been strong: the Police Chief has recently resigned, and a positive, high quality relationship has been established between the City and UMA and other community members.

Resources you used and/or recommend

  • Rural Organizing Project
  • Western States Center
  • Nonprofit Association of Oregon

Best advice and recommendations

  • Be clear about your audience and make sure you are speaking to them in their language. This includes literal language, but also style of presentation, and environment. Making a high personal connection is key.
  • Adapt larger, established curriculums to your own environment. Don’t be scared to use your own community knowledge to make it fully relevant. And keep updating as things change.
  • The only dumb question is one that is not asked.
  • Serve on other organization’s Boards of Directors for the purposes of studying the inner workings of the organization as well as serving the community.