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Panel stresses importance of kids, families

OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Gresham Mayor Shane BemisGresham is taking big steps forward in providing support for families and children across all income levels within the city.

Recent findings by a commission formed to advise the City Council during their meeting Tuesday night at City Hall said the focus needs to be on providing and reinforcing safe neighborhoods, healthy lifestyles, clean environments and financial literacy. The group also reported that working with families and children creates connections and openings into communities that otherwise would have been difficult to reach.

In addition, narrowing big problems down to a smaller level helps motivate people to find solutions.

The seven-person commission, which was established by Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis earlier this year, was drawn from different areas of the community to ensure a diversity of ideas. Participants are parents, employees of the school district and community members. None had ever served on a commission before.

“Your task force is an example of involving those not typically involved with these projects,” said Councilor Karylinn Echols at the meeting. “It’s good to hear new voices.”

Assisting the commission through the process was Joe Walsh, senior manager for neighborhood prosperity and youth engagement, and Jessica Harper, assistant to the Mayor.

Many of the commission’s findings came as no surprise to council members.

To make neighborhoods safer, the group recommended hiring more police officers. This is something that the city recognizes as a problem, but due to budget issues is a tough fix. The commission also suggested encouraging involvement from the neighborhoods, whether it’s through the local association or websites like Nextdoor and the My Gresham App.

Another way the city can improve safety is through increasing signage around pedestrian crossings, especially in dense neighborhoods and near schools. During a May 23rd operation by Gresham Police, officers handed out 40 tickets to vehicles that failed to adhere to pedestrian right-of-way.

This operation occurred near Gordon Russell Middle School, where the crosswalks don’t currently have flashing lights to remind drivers to slow down. The Council has set aside funds to improve crossings, and they plan to first address the areas around schools.

The commission found the city ranks poorly when it comes to the availability of transportation, park access and healthy foods. In response, the commission stressed the importance of the planned Community Center, which would serve as a focal point for the citizens of Gresham. This proposal is being developed by Council and once finished, will be put before the community for a vote.

The commission also encourages schools to continue to expand health services and work to stem bullying and child abuse. They stressed the importance, and cost effectiveness, of mentors and the importance of keeping families financially viable.

“A modest investment in helping families stay together can have a big impact,” Michener said.

Other things, like the low graduation rate among high school students, were sad revelations to the commission. Through their research they learned that every year 500 students don’t graduate — something they identified as a key issue to resolve.

“Good attendance is vital; Gresham will struggle as long as so many students are dropping out every year,” Michener said. “The city of Gresham really needs to start working more with the school districts. We need to come to the table together more.”

The commission recommend creating a separate task force to focus on the problem of school attendance and implement a marketing initiative to show students the importance of getting to class.

“If we have students not graduating it will affect crime and many other things,” Council President Mario Palmero said.

The Council will now begin working through the recommendations and creating proposals based on the findings. All expressed pleasure over the job they had done, and for their part, the members of the commission want to keep meeting. Right now the plan is to keep the commission going.

“We need to keep focusing on kids and families,” Michener said. “That is the heart blood of Gresham. We need to prioritize them.”