In 2001, Warm Springs leaders created a community development organization called the Warm Springs Community Action Team. The project was officially established as a nonprofit in 2008 and has been serving the Warm Springs community ever since.
WSCAT is putting successful, supported programs into action and empowering individuals living on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
- Photo courtesy of WSCAT
- Hacker Architects is Warm Springs Community Action Team's architectural partner and created their design for the new building, expected to be completed in 2025.
Chris Watson is the executive director of WSCAT and has been with the nonprofit since 2013. When Watson joined the team, he was managing the Individual Development Account Program, which serves to assist people living with low incomes and low assets move toward financial independence and self-sufficiency. The program helps people achieve those goals by helping them accumulate savings, manage finances wisely and purchase long-term assets. The IDA program is operated by Oregon Housing and Community Services and has grown to be the largest IDA program in all Indian country, according to Watson.
After determining which programs they qualify for, participants of the program are responsible for depositing savings into their accounts, and for each dollar deposited, the IDA program will match $5 to go toward purchasing an asset. Funding for this program comes from state, federal, and private funders. To receive the 5:1 matching in savings, participants must also attend financial skills courses and asset specific education.
"Participants gain not just financial capital to operate a business, but also intellectual capital to enable them to be really successful and have a fighting chance," Watson said.
Many IDA program participants are looking to open and promote businesses. Watson said land access makes it hard for people on the reservation to acquire brick-and-mortar locations. Almost all the land on the reservation is federal trust land, and it is difficult to acquire and maintain. Right now, there are only 12 brick-and-mortar businesses on the Warm Springs reservation, according to Watson.
"It's a leasing system," Waston said. "So, people get these long-term leases, but they actually don't own the land on which their homes (or businesses) rest, which means they don't build that asset in the same way someone does in Madras or Redmond or Bend, towards their home."
That's where the idea for the Commissary Project came to life and into action. Because of complications with geographic isolation, commercial codes and outside entities setting up businesses, WSCAT decided to construct a commissary building that is expected to be completed in 2025.
"Why does a nonprofit organization decide that we're going to build a business incubator with retail and office space and a food cart pod and a commercial kitchen?" Watson said. "It is because really, it's such a hard process for individuals."
This project will provide a space for Warm Springs businesses to start, grow and thrive without the stress of finding a piece of land to start a brick-and-mortar, according to Starla Green, tribal member and general manager for the project.
Green is involved in every piece of making the building a success, from the building of the structure to the interior design to the policy writing to all the operations of businesses entering the final project.
After WSCAT met with tribal leaders about what the community wanted out of this project, they decided the historic 5,000 square-foot historic wooden commissary structure should include a food cart pod, shared workspace, business office rentals, a full commercial kitchen, a coffee shop/deli, pop-up business space, public bathrooms, a salon and a gathering space.
Green is also the food cart manager/trainer for WSCAT. She founded, owns and manages a training program for the popular food cart in Warm Springs, the Twisted Teepee, which serves traditional foods from the region, including huckleberry butter, dried wild game, canned salmon dishes, fry bread and more. The cart will one day be a part of the commissary food cart pod.
Another area of focus for WSCAT is expanding its youth programs. Over 40% of the population on the Warm Springs reservation is under the age of 18, and it's a growing community, according to Watson.
For the past two years, WSCAT has held summer youth programs to provide a safe learning space for children and access to outside opportunities. Last year the program learned about financial skills, CPR training, cooking traditional foods and future careers. Participants also went to the Moda Center for Trail Blazers games, visited regional organic farms and attended the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs Conference where kids got to do their own micro business planning and pitches.
With more funding and planning, WSCAT expects to have more youth programs next year, according to Watson.
More information on the Warm Springs Community Action Team Commissary Project is available on its website at wscat.org.