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Youth services follow kids to Rockwood

Boys and Girls Club and Friends of the Children plan to open East County facilities


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: FRIENDS OF THE CHILDREN - At the former PAL site, Friends of the Children will focus on mentoring Rockwoods most vulnerable youth.More kids growing up in one of Gresham’s most densely populated, crime-ridden communities has prompted two Portland youth organizations to expand services in Rockwood by late 2015 or early 2016.

The city is working with the nonprofit groups Boys and Girls Club of Portland and Friends of the Children to build on two independent properties, respectively — the former Drake’s 7 Dees retail locations at 165th Avenue and Stark Street and the former Police Activities League at 172nd Avenue and Glisan Street.

“Teens and youths are the fastest growing sector in East County,” said Erin Hubert, CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Portland.

With 29 percent of the population in Rockwood under the age of 18, Rockwood is lacking in services available to youth compared to any other metro-area community, Hubert said.

High poverty, increased public housing, low graduation rates and escalating gang activity are among a number of issues that have plagued the neighborhood in the past decade.

In response, city leaders and law enforcement have joined the community, public agencies and nonprofit organizations to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in Rockwood.

Last week, Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis announced the opening of Rockwood’s new public safety facility, which will join other new high-profile buildings in the area, including a courthouse and social service hub.

Bemis made it clear that reaching out to Rockwood children before they become caught up in the criminal justice system as adults and teens is a city priority.

“The services of these two highly respected organizations will fill a crucial gap in services for children in our community and we are thrilled to partner with them,” Bemis said.

Just blocks from each other

The new Rockwood Boys and Girls Club will be the organization’s seventh facility in the Portland area.

Originally, the Boys and Girls Club and Friends of the Children planned to build together on the former PAL site, Hubert said. But when the 7 Dees site became available, the Club and Friends, along with the city, decided it made more sense to have separate facilities that could share and overlap services.

“We realized that we could still not only work together, but there were all sorts of upsides for the community,” Hubert said. Enhancing services to kids and saving money were factors in the decision, she said.

The new Rockwood Boys and Girls Club is anticipated to be a 30,000-square-foot facility on 1.7 acres. To save money, the club will repurpose the garden center’s building to use for its program space.

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Boys and Girls Club of Portland plans to open a new facility at Southeast 165th and Stark.Like its other facilities, the Boys and Girls Club will have a full-size gym, kitchen, cafeteria, space for arts and music programs, games room, teen center and ideally, a garden and large outdoor green space, Hubert said.

She said the former 7 Dees location will give the club room to spread out and become a space the community can use.

The club will share its amenities with kids at Friends of the Children, and vice versa. They will be just blocks from one another.

Founded in 1993 by Duncan Campell, who grew up in a poor Northeast Portland neighborhood, Friends of the Children serves the community’s most disadvantaged youths by fostering development of long-lasting, one-on-one relationships between mentors and youths.

Friends of the Children’s current headquarters is at 44 N.E. Morris St. in Portland, but in recent years, the organization has noticed the young people it serves have been moving in droves to East County.

“More than half of the program’s youth live east of 82nd,” said Megan Lewis, development and marketing director at Friends of the Children.

By 2018, the program anticipates nearly three quarters of its youth will live in Gresham, where it plans to build its second major facility.

“We need to be where our kids are,” Lewis said. “The new facility will be a place for our mentors and kids to touch base.”

Friends of the Children will build its new facility in the footprint of the former PAL site, which closed last spring after it failed to come up with funding to stay open.

Because of its state of disrepair, Lewis said the old building will be demolished and replaced with a new 8,000-square-foot building, but the existing gym will stay.

Joining forces to serve kids

Friends of the Children and Boys and Girls Club of Portland are teaming up to improve the lives of Rockwood children and families, but in terms of service, the programs they offer are different.

“It’s important we make sure we are not redundant,” Hubert said. “We want to make sure we are expanding the array of services that are provided to the children.”

The Boys and Girls Club’s after-school and summer program, which costs $5 a year, serves children on a much broader scale, hosting up to 400 kids a day. The club is also more activity-based.

Kids learn from mentors how to be successful in school, stay out of gangs, make healthy choices, and build good character and citizenship.

“Our services really compliment each other,” Lewis said. “Boys and Girls Club can serve a large number of kids in their facilities,” she said. “Friends of the Children focuses on a core group of the most vulnerable kids.”

Beginning at age 5, kids work with a professional mentor through high school graduation.

Over the span of 12 years, kids develop deep, long-term relationships with their mentors.

The goal of the program, said Lewis, is to break generational cycles of low education attainment, incarceration and early parenting.

“We do that by helping a child find their special skill or talent,” Lewis said. “Whether it be in dance, art, music, writing, sport or whatever.”

Friends’ mentors are professionally trained, full-time and salaried, she said.

Friends of the Children and Boys and Girls Club plan to spend the next year doing major fundraising.

The organizations will seek pledges from board members, individual donors, corporations and foundations to raise the money needed to break ground on the new facilities proposed for Rockwood. “We rely on the community to support our work,” Lewis said.

Both hope to be up in running sometime in 2015 or early 2016.

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