What Our Mission Means...

"Marrow aims to empower teens to take ownership over their education, and to foster a community of youth who are visually, socially and culturally literate."

but - what does all that mean?

Ownership Over Your Education

Why do we learn what we learn in traditional school systems? Our communities are diverse - in skills, intellect, interests, learning style - but we are all (more or less) given the same information, in the same ways. Our culture is always changing, but curriculums are not. Things that often feel important to young people - relationships, current events, how to explore and follow their passions, how to get a job - are overlooked. When it’s difficult to see the purpose or relevant real world application behind what you’re learning, it can be difficult to be invested. 

We want to put your education back in YOUR hands. We want you to care about what you’re doing and learning. You should. This is your life. You get one. It doesn’t have to look the way you’ve been told it has to look. We support the teens in our community by providing opportunities to explore the things that aren’t typically offered in school, or to explore those things in more in-depth ways, and from more perspectives. We also provide one-on-one and group mentoring and advising, to help you begin to fill your life with the types of experiences and people that will allow you to build the life that YOU want.

Visual Literacy

Visual literacy is defined as the ability to “interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image”. Even if you aren’t an artist, visual literacy is important. Humans have always used images (drawings, photographs, memes) to communicate, and we believe it’s more important than ever that young people be armed with the ability to navigate through the vast sea of visual information that is being thrown in our faces. When you see an advertisement (on a billboard, in a magazine, on Instagram), who is directing it at you? Why? What is their true intent? So many images are put in front of us now, and so quickly, that sometimes we don’t even take the time to break down what we’re looking at.

We believe visual literacy is at the root of beginning to understand (and question) the world, and who’s “in charge” of the narratives we surround ourselves with. We gain visual literacy by examining these messages around us, looking at and discussing artwork, and exploring how to make our OWN narratives visible through visual storytelling.

Social Literacy

Social literacy is very similar to “emotional intelligence”. It is a person’s ability to build and maintain relationships with others, to navigate through the vast variety of interactions you’ll have in this diverse world, to understand where other people are coming from, and to be able to express your own emotions. As a community-based organization, we believe this is SO important, and it’s a little alarming that it isn’t covered in traditional schools.

We explore social literacy through discussion of current events, engaging with communities outside of our own, and delving into sometimes difficult discussions - which may include family dynamics, healthy relationships, race, gender, and sexuality (just to list a few). We also encourage our members to COLLABORATE! Meet your neighbors, talk to people outside your own interests, there’s almost always unexpected overlap, and it will STRENGTHEN what you’re doing!

Cultural Literacy

Just as visual literacy and social literacy address the ability to examine and interpret visual and social information - cultural literacy is the ability to understand and participate in a culture. It’s less of a learned skill, and more of a willingness to learn the complex web of any culture, including (but not limited to) their history, dialect, belief systems, politics, idiosyncrasies and even jokes (etc etc etc).

Cultural literacy is essential for the growth of empathy and the breakdown of gatekeeping. In a city that is rapidly changing and gentrifying - such as Portland, it is important that we are in open discussion with the communities that have been here the longest, and whose voices are being choked out by new, fast-growing communities. We need to know their stories, their names, what’s important to them. Our communities need to be inconstant dialog, so that we can form one diverse community - rather than a series of communities that are constantly butting up against one another. Cultural literacy aids in this.

Sponsor Spotlight: Finger Bang

We're starting a spotlight series on the rad local businesses who support us, and on International Women's Day it seemed appropriate to start with Finger Bang (which is run by some badass women full of heart).

For anyone who isn't yet familiar with Portland's #1 spot for nail art, it may seem surprising that one of our biggest sponsors is a nail salon (let alone a nail salon with a risqué pun for a name) - but really it makes a lot of sense.

Glynis Olson opened Finger Bang in 2015, out of a need that she identified for a different kind of salon experience - one where clients could be free, open, loud, and just themselves. In Gylnis' words, "I'm just a chick that wanted a different kind of nail experience. I couldn't find what I was looking for so I built it."

Let's read that once more... "I couldn't find what I was looking for so I built it"

What could be more aligned with Marrow's mission than THAT?!

When I made my first appointment at Finger Bang - right when they opened, I didn't anticipate going back. While I've always been a fan of fierce claws, I consider myself relatively DIY and I've always done my own nails (I'd had one manicure before, and it was in 9th grade for a semi-formal dance and my aunt paid for it). I made my appointment at Finger Bang because I loved what I'd seen on instagram of Asa's work (@asabree), and I was curious about the new business, so I figured it would be a fun way to treat myself after a sort of rough summer. I've been back every. month. since. And it's not just because of the artistic talent housed in their space, it's because of what they've built.

Glynis has truly created a unique microcosm within Portland. Before even coming inside you're confronted with their no-nonsense approach to supporting oppressed communities - their front door lists their hours, as you would expect, directly followed by,
"IF YOU ARE Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, Or An A**hole Don't Come In!"
After the recent election, Ryenne, who manages the shop (and who we stole the door pic from), said, "A lot of people walking by us take pictures of our sign because they think we're just being funny or shocking- we're not. It's not funny or shocking to want anyone who is not cishet and white to have basic human rights and equalities. Finger Bang loves you and wants you to know we will never stop fighting small minded bullshit and we will never stop contributing our time and money towards worthy causes."

Also admirable is Glynis' pride in and support for Finger Bang's artists, as well as her extended community. On more than one occasion I've seen Glynis look one of the artists in the eye and say, "I appreciate you". She's commissioned a local artist (Allison Bartline) to create silver Finger Bang necklaces and cuffs for them. The salon doubles as a gallery, where she showcases the work of local artists and makers (including another of our sponsors, Cemetery Gates). When Marrow moved into our new space, she went out and bought us all the essentials - toilet paper, soap, dish towels - you name it, even though it was snowy and she had a surgery coming up - because she wanted to make sure we had what we needed. The woman doesn't mess around.

She's offered to come speak to our teens about who she is and the journey she took to get to where she is now - so expect to see more of her around Marrow.

If you're looking to get some artwork on your hands, and if your idea of the ideal relaxation environment isn't necessarily "tranquil" - get yourself to Finger Bang. They support us, and we love who they are and what they do.

Also did we mention that Asa donated this AMAZING leather jacket that she spent hours and hours working on, to benefit our recent Reopening Celebration? Because that also happened. She's featured on Nike's home page right now, too. Just saying. Go take a peep.



We know that not everyone is into prom (for whatever reason - I can think of a dozen off the top of my head and I *went* to my prom) and that not every teen even gets the opportunity to stress over whether or not to go to prom (for instance, our unschoolers) - so on the night of Roosevelt High School's winter formal, we hosted a winter INformal.

We (the staff and volunteers) didn't want to creep on the relaxed vibe and take tons of pics, but over 20 teens showed up and danced, played twister, ate pizza, drew on balloons, played video games, and just looked generally fabulous while hanging out. Those who weren't feeling camera shy captured that fabulousness in our DIY prom photo booth - and we want to share those photos with you!


“The world hasn’t been a very kind place lately”. These are the words of Cash Askew’s stepfather, Haire. Cash was one of the humans whose life was lost in the recent Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, and was a musician and a friend to several of our friends in the Portland community.

It’s true. The world hasn’t been a very kind place lately, especially to those who face a tougher experience already - people of color, queer and trans communities, victims of assault, Indigenous folks… sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether we’re actually moving forward or if we’re on some surreal Westworld narrative loop.

If nothing else, the past six months have proven that when we’re talking about alternative spaces, “safe” has to mean two things. It has to mean that the space is actively fighting against systems of oppression and creating an environment that is inclusive and intersectional - and it also has to mean that it is physically safe.

This issue of safety - both physical and mental, was the reason we put programming on pause in late July and started looking for a new location. Marrow’s old building wasn’t unsafe, but to be honest it wasn’t entirely up to code either. And not having windows or a proper door could be unnerving sometimes, too - allowing anyone to walk in, regardless of their agenda or what programming we were running inside.

Our members actually loved our old building. As a product of volunteer repairs, donated materials, and furniture from Craigslist, it had a decidedly DIY feel to it. It’s a familiarity that anyone who has deviated (willingly or not) from the “norm” understands. It’s a learned affection that we have for these spaces - because the other spaces are never truly ours. They belong to people with money, people with power, people who belong to the 1%. They belong to adults.

This is why we moved out of a converted garage and into a more “traditional” space (a former office building). The new space is a stretch on our budget, for sure. We can’t do it alone. But it will belong to our teens, just as our last space did. They set the tone. They decide what goes on our walls, what our values are, what programming we offer, what we fight for.

And the space doesn’t have to be unsafe to be theirs. It doesn’t have to be cold, poorly lit, without bathrooms, lacking a proper door or windows. It doesn’t have to be a fire hazard. It can be bright, and warm, and safe. It can be expensive. And in a traditional building. And THEIRS.

And it will be. The people behind Marrow, and behind these teens - myself, my fellow staff, our volunteers, our donors - they get it. One experience we ALL share is that we were all teenagers once. 

Inclusive, all ages music venues don’t have to be unsafe. Alternative education programs don’t have to be in converted garages. We have the power to stop relegating vulnerable communities to crappy spaces. It isn’t on these communities alone, but on the community at large. We can occupy these spaces that would belong to the majority otherwise. Together we ARE the majority. These spaces can be ours.

“The world hasn’t been a very kind place lately”, but I’ve seen the teens in our community hold one another up. On election night I drove one member to another member’s house so she wouldn’t have to be alone as our country took an unsteady step into a precarious future. They deserve this space, where they can learn, study, rest, create, plan, grow, relax, breathe, vent, exist, and come together - and be safe doing it.

- daylynn lambi, program director/founder


As a part of our first ever fundraising campaign, we're collecting and sharing stories and perspectives from our community. It seemed like the kind of thing that deserved to be here on our website, as well as something we'd like to continue beyond our 2 months of fundraising.

So this blog will serve as a space to showcase our community - beyond our typical social media posts - more personal and more in-depth.

- daylynn lambi, program director/founder

ps. you can see our fundraising campaign here: