Featured Stories

PAL's closure stuns, stings community


Financial shortfall leads to impending closure of Police Activities League center in Gresham

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Children who attend the PAL center in Rockwood after school protested Feb. 13, a day after officials announced the center will close at the end of the week.It seems that all of East Multnomah County is reeling from the announcement that the PAL center in Gresham will close Friday, Feb. 15.

From politicians to police officials to parents whose children depend on the facility for after-school care, many were caught off guard by the news that due to financial difficulties, the center — at 424 N.E. 172nd Ave. — is closing.

But for the children who consider PAL a port in the storm of gang violence and poverty that mark their neighborhood, it’s a disaster.

“I really want it to stay open because it’s really like a lot of our homes,” said Izaya Glover, 14, of Gresham, who was just elected the PAL Center’s student body president. “It’s going to be really hard to leave this place.”

The Greater Portland Police Activities League Program late Tuesday, Feb. 12, announced that without additional funding it will be forced to close its Gresham center and its administrative office in the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct building on Friday, Feb. 15. The Beaverton PAL center will remain open.

“The ongoing reduction of governmental funding and the economic times have placed the organization in the position to need to make this difficult decision,” reads the program’s press release. It reportedly needs $20,000 to remain open, but ultimately would like $100,000.

Gresham’s center opened in 1994, building upon efforts already under way in Portland to provide after-school care, academic help and personal guidance for children and teens. Through a grassroots, community-based effort, it grew to include partnerships between all law enforcement agencies in Multnomah County, as well as the Beaverton Police Department.

The police partnership provided a steady stream of mentors that not only served as role models, but also showed children that police are people, too.

It also kept children in poverty-stricken, gang-plagued communities off the streets, with everything from sports camps to art programs.

Gresham also championed the cause by charging PAL just $1 a year to lease the city-owned building that became the PAL center, as well as the surrounding property.

“This partnership has undoubtedly helped cultivate productive lives for young people who may have otherwise turned to gangs or criminal activity,” Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis said. “PAL has played an important role in nurturing the lives of at-risk youth for many years.”

The building, originally an elementary school, became the Bud Monnes PAL center. Monnes was a longtime teacher and coach at Gresham High School known for looking out for and assisting students who needed a little extra attention, whether it was a new pair of shoes for basketball or lunch money.

His daughter, Laurie Monnes Anderson, was shocked when an Outlook reporter told her the center is closing.

“PAL was put there for a very important reason — to take care of those kids who really didn’t have a place to go,” said Monnes Anderson, who is now a local senator representing Gresham and East Multnomah County. “That’s so sad. I’m really sad to hear that.”

The closure narrows already limited options for after-school activities geared toward local at-risk youth. Gresham has entirely cut its recreation offerings. And with no city-funded community center, once PAL closes, it will leave little more than the Salvation Army’s Gresham Corps Community Center and school-based SUN programs to fill the void, Monnes-Anderson said.

“We really need to provide services to our youth,” she said. “We can’t just have one or two other resources. We need more.”

Former PAL Center executive director Maura White, who left the Gresham center in 2010, said she was stunned by the news.

“It just breaks my heart because we all know how great the need is out there, which is why we developed the youth program in the first place,” said White, who now volunteers at the Molalla PAL Center.

Back when White helped launch the Gresham program — what is now called the PAL Center — it was a city-owned building used to store records and files. Before that, it sat vacant as a fire-damaged elementary school after a molotov cocktail destroyed the gym.

In the nearly 20 years since the PAL Center opened its doors, Gresham’s Rockwood neighborhood, where the center is located, has become one of the county’s most densely populated areas with 70 percent of residents living in poverty. Its apartment complexes have become a haven for gangs and people displaced by gentrification in North Portland.

Through the years, children have come to rely on PAL for meals. The center daily serves breakfast and lunch to 80 to 100 children and teens, according to PAL’s press release about the pending closure.

“PAL has been a tremendous partner for many years,” Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger said. “They have played a critical role in helping engage at-risk youth in productive activities, and we will certainly notice PAL’s absence if they are not able to find a way to navigate through their recent financial difficulties.”

Bemis said he is both deeply saddened and surprised by PAL’s abrupt announcement earlier this week regarding its financial struggles.

“It is still unclear to me how the organization got to this point, and because of that, it is not clear exactly what it would take for them to return to financial stability,” he said.

But the services PAL provided are vital to area youths, so the city is open to partnering with the program, or other youth-services organizations “that can demonstrate an actionable, sustainable, transparent long-term plan to make a positive impact on the young people in our community,” Bemis said. “If PAL cannot provide these services, we will actively work to find other partners who can step in to meet this critical community need.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 12 — the day after the news hit — PAL patrons lined 172nd Avenue holding painted signs and chanting “Save our PAL.”

Gresham resident Marvel Smith stood by, pumping her fist in unison with the children. Her four grandchildren go the center after school until their mother gets home from her job at a cell phone company.

“Without it (PAL), I can just see all these kids out here right now hanging out on the streets,” Smith said.

Tommy Rudd, who works at the front desk, said news of the closure brought the children to tears.

“I had one kid tell me yesterday that if PAL closes, he’s going to join a gang,” Rudd said. “Where are the kids going to go? We need help. We need help bad.”

And that’s where the newly elected student body president comes in.

Like a true leader, Glover has drafted a petition in the hope of keeping the center open.

“Maybe if I get enough signatures, someone out there will help us,” he said.

What if his efforts fail?

What will he do then?

“I really can’t tell you,” he said.

Like many of the children and teens who call the center a second home, Glover’s mother works until 5 p.m. So he needs somewhere safe and constructive to go when Walt Morey Middle School gets out.

“I’ll miss all my friends and the staff,” Glover said. “We’re all kind of a big family. It’s going to be hard to let this place go.”