12 min read
Seven Degrees of Strangers: Sixth Separation
If you’ve been keeping up with me for this long, that means I have some loyal readers out there. Hi, it’s been a while. Haven’t spoken about this project in forever. I’ve had this aching feeling of completing this project for months. Every time I would start, I’d get distracted by something else. A new job, obligations, travel. Needless to say, I had trouble with time management for creative pursuits.
And now I’m back. Ready to tell you about the last two people I interviewed for “Seven Degress of Strangers”. This week, I’ll recall a conversation I had with Raina Evans, last September. Yikes. Raina, if you’re reading this, I’m truly sorry this took so long.
Enter Raina Evans
After speaking with Julie, I asked for someone diverse, with a varied background. Enter Raina Evans.
Raina and Julie’s ex-husband used to work for a youth organization in the mid to late 90s. Her daughter and Julie’s oldest son used to play together and were the same age.
On the day I spoke to Raina, she had finished a nice brunch with her daughter and grandchild at Black Bear Cafe. Raina was radiant. This woman was full of energy, excited to talk about what she does and what she’s accomplished.
Raina’s worn many hats. She is the current owner of Ready to Rent, a program to train residential renters. As the owner of the program, Raina trains the instructors of this program. After speaking to Raina, I only found a glimpse of how rich her life really is.
She adds so much detail through her language and exuberance of how she talks. It showed in our conversation in the tiniest details, like her mention of how her brunch went. I knew this was going to be an interesting conversation.
Ready to Rent
In the early 2000’s, Raina was working at the Portland Housing Center. This organization she worked for ran a training program for first time renters. They called the program “Ready to Rent”. In 2006, the board wanted someone to run this program. They asked around, but couldn’t find someone with the right skill set. They kept getting candidates with social work backgrounds. What they were looking for than management and marketing backgrounds. Putting two and two together, and they looked at Raina’s background and saw a great fit. But the first time the board asked her, Raina refused. They came back a few days later and asked again. And again, she refused. On the third try, Raina relented. She just got married a few months prior and lost her position on the board. The new marriage came with their own children. Raina thought this was the third time, and perhaps this might be her calling.
Raina gave the board one year to try it out. And then it turned to giving it a second year. By the third year, Raina stayed at this position. But the board came back and told Raina they would be cutting the program. The board chair asked Raina if she might want to run “Ready to Rent” as a private entity. Ready to Rent’s curriculum is one of a kind. There isn’t one quite like this. Raina, with the support of the chair, spun this out on her own. To her surprise, the program grew. A lot. Raina took this operation across the US and Canada. She trains instructors to be certified in the program.
By 2010, Raina took the IP from the commission. She’s been working at this for a decade and still going strong.
I asked Raina what were some memorable moments she’s had training adults. She gave me two stories.
On the big island of Hawaii, the mayor of Hawaii country was amongst the group Raina trained. Raina doesn’t jump into the material on the first day of training. She focuses instead on how adults learn. After that first day, Raina jumps into the program.
The mayor spoke with Raina after the class was over and said, “Now I get it. We’ve been communicating wrong this whole time. We’ve been communication with our people and with clients the wrong way. You taught us how adult learners learn.” The course changed the policy on communicating with others. This was an eye opening experience for the mayor.
Raina came out to teach in Sacramento, California. During the first week, she taught city and county workers. The second week, she taught a consortium of agencies. Today, about 100 trainers in Sacramento delivers this curriculum. But it didn’t stop there. The woman who first asked Raina to teach in Sacramento moved to another county. She asked Raina to teach people in the county over as well.
Raina continues to thrive by a viral effect. The cirriculum is effective from years of iteration. People take away a lot from the course. All in all, Ready to Rent continues to grow through word of mouth. As Raina puts it, “the program markets itself.”
Raina’s niece and boyfriend had a baby shower. The family’s mother came out from the other side of Mt. Hood. Essentially the boonies. They may be the only African American family in their town.
The mom was talking about how they send clients to Ready to Rent. She asked Raina if she heard of it, and Raina revealed she’s behind it. “You are ‘Ready to Rent’?” Raina proves word of mouth is one of the best techniques in marketing. Also, Raina’s right. The curriculum is so good, it does market itself.
One of the requirements of teaching the course is distributing class evaluations. At the end of the course, students fill out class evaluations and get sent back to Raina. This helps Raina gauge how the students and teachers are doing and if the classes are of quality. One of the questions on this evaluation asks the students how prepared they are in renting. The students always respond with similar answers: Yes, they are ready.
There’s also freeform text where the students can give back general feedback. Raina was blown away when she read the student “no longer has to lie on housing apps”. Ready to Rent was taught in prisons, and the inmate had that profound realization.
To circle back to the viral effect, 80% of evaluations show they would recommend the course to a friend. Raina often sees the same feedback. “Everyone needs to take this course”. Former students bring “Ready to Rent” up at church, AA meetings, at work. All over.
Raina’s takeaway message was “you never know what your calling is. Leave yourself open to everything”.
After each interview, I realize I want to continue the conversation. Each person I’ve spoken to for this newsletter have more stories to tell. Many more than could ever fit in a one hour time slot or 300 page biography. And, as I truncated an hour-long interview for you, dear reader, I have no doubt I could write so much more.
At the end of our conversation, Raina told me about a talk show she hosted on local broadcasting. This was back in the late 80’s, and it was called “Let’s Talk with Raina”. Raina was talking about inclusion and diversity. I have a huge interest on teaching diversity to youth and Raina and I could talk for hours about this.