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Donors tour new Friends of the Children building

Mentor group holds grand opening for 8,000-square-foot facility

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Ezra, 6, enjoys a chemistry experiment Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Friends of Children building open house. Friends of the Children held a grand opening for its donors and community leaders last week, showing off its new space in East Multnomah County.

Just a few months ago, the building was still a dusty construction site. But on Thursday, Jan. 21, it was filled with people milling about and taking part in many different activities.

"We are pleased to welcome Friends of the Children to the city of Gresham," said Mayor Shane Bemis. "The services of this highly respected organization will fill a crucial gap in services for children in our community, and we are thrilled to partner with them."

Rockwood is top among a handful of metro-area neighborhoods that face issues such as low-income, high unemployment, low voter registration, higher teen pregnancy and gang violence, according to a 2014 Multnomah County report.

Friends broke ground on its new site, 424 N.E. 172nd Ave., the footprint of the former Police Activities League (PAL), in January 2015. The new, 8,000-square-feet facility makes use of the existing PAL gym.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Teens shoot hoops in the gymnasium at the new Friends of Children building. The organization's mission is to break the cycle of poverty for children by providing students intensive and long-term mentors starting in kindergarten and continuing through graduation.

"For too many children in our community, their ZIP code determines their opportunity to succeed in life," said Megan Lewis, Friends' executive director. "While we have already been making an investment in East County — more than tripling our presence since 2010 — this facility will continue that momentum and allow mentors to spend more high-quality time with the young people in our programs."

Friends is leasing the new property from the city of Gresham for $1 per year and received $5 million in donations to make the project a reality. It's been open to children in the program since November.

Donors were invited to tour the site on Thursday, Jan. 21. The facility features a media room, science room, and a teaching kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment. The gym has shiny new floors and an electronic scoreboard. A small library offers private reading nooks. A living room area feels homey with its fireplace and shelves stocked with board games, and an outdoor courtyard has rocking chairs and picnic tables for when the weather gets warmer.

“It’s been amazing,” said Mel Allen, a mentor to nine children. “The kids love it.”

During the open house, friends led experiments in the science lab while "Blaze," the mascot of the Portland Trail Blazers, played basketball with the kids.

Kayla, 11, and Katie, 7, munched on sandwiches while sitting with their Friend, Hillary Miller.

“It’s bigger and has a lot of room,” said Kayla of the new environment.

“Oh my gosh, I love it,” said Miller. “It’s beautiful and in a great location.”

Proximity is a key reason Friends wanted to relocate to Gresham. Many of the children come from East Multnomah County, and mentors said having a building near where their children live is better for everyone.

“It’s nice having a space out here because most of the kids we serve are out here,” Miller said.