Saving at-risk young women in Portland

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The Salvation Army White Shield Center provides more than rehab.

Two-thirds of the residents at The Salvation Army Portland White Shield (PWS) are pregnant teens or teen moms, while the remaining third are teen girls with  high-risk emotional and behavioral issues—all have experienced significant trauma through abuse, neglect, abandonment or exploitation. Here, they find a stable center of support and healing.

The Salvation Army maintains the facility for adolescent girls in custody of the State of Oregon through the Department of Human Services or the Oregon Youth Authority. The center has provided residential services to marginalized girls, women and their children for nearly a century.

“One of the things that strikes me most is how powerful White Shield Center is in the lives of girls and women who have passed through its doors,” said Diana Brandsma, executive director since 2009.

Nicky, a former teen mom resident, explained that before coming to PWS she envisioned a limited future for herself, one involving victimization and exploitation for her and her daughter. PWS changed her perception of what was possible. The center opened “a whole new world to me,” she said, a world offering safety, security and access to resources.

Spiritual counseling is a vital service at the center that helps bring the healing process full circle, and provides tools for the young women in transition to a healthy lifestyle.

Annie came to the center after attempting suicide. Her father abused her from a young age and her relationship with her mother was strained. While at PWS, she learned new ways to cope with her negative life experience. Her relationship with her mother improved, and Annie is now excited about the future and is on a path to attend college.

The daughter of a past resident recently called PWS seeking information on her mother who had entered the facility as a pregnant teenager and received a new start to life. “My mother went to a Christian college, got married and had several children and grandchildren—all steadfast in the Lord,” the daughter said. She ended the call by thanking The Salvation Army for its positive impact on her family.

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