Center to reopen Friday, March 1, when Boys & Girls Clubs takes over operations

It's been a chaotic week for children and teens who attend the Police Activities League center, affectionately known as the PAL center, in Gresham.

The suppers they rely on for food after school were not provided on Monday and Tuesday, leaving parents and staff scrambling to supply meals for roughly 100 children and teens.

Buses that transported children from local schools to the center stopped delivering kids, cutting typical attendance in half.

Yet, other school buses that include the center as part of their routes, continued the practice of stopping at the center to drop children off — unaware that the center was closed Wednesday and Thursday as part of the transition to new management.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metropolitan Area announced late last week that it would be taking over operation of the Gresham youth center as of Friday, March 1. Just two weeks earlier, officials with the Police Activities League of Greater Portland put out a call for donations so it could make payroll. Otherwise, the doors to Gresham's PAL Center, at 424 N.E. 172nd Ave., would have closed on Friday, Feb. 15.

Instead, the community raised $16,000, or enough to stay open through the end of the month, officials said.

As reported in the Tuesday, Feb. 19, issue of The Outlook, the agency used its endowment fund to shore up a $336,000 budget deficit during its 2011-12 fiscal year, but still operated at a nearly $200,000 deficit. Executive Director Patricia Day TenEyck, who was hired as the new director in late 2010, said the agency struggled to secure increasingly scarce grants from government agencies and foundations. Previously successful fundraisers also failed to make much money.

So last week, PAL's board of directors approved returning Beaverton's youth center to the city of Beaverton, which used to operate it before the city transferred it to the Portland league in 2006. It also announced on Friday, Feb. 22, that the Boys & Girls Clubs would take over management of the eastside PAL Center on March 1.

But with a week to go before the proverbial passing of the baton, there was a possibility the center would close for a few days while the management details were ironed out. For example, PAL staff would have to be interviewed in order to be rehired as Girls & Boys Club employees.

PAL officials, however, did not notify parents whose children attend the PAL center about the changes or a possible closure.

Rebecca Hamilton, whose daughter attends the PAL Center, was shocked on Monday, Feb. 25, to learn that the center would be closed Wednesday and Thursday, but could possibly reopen Friday under new management.

In addition, the after-school meal PAL provides had been suspended. She delivered nine pizzas to the center on Monday, so that her daughter and the other children and teens wouldn't go hungry.

Leftover hotdogs and chips from a Saturday fundraiser supplied the Tuesday meal. At the end of the day, staff hugged the kids goodbye not knowing whether they'd be back on Friday as Girls & Boys Clubs employees.

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, staff returned for hiring interviews. Meanwhile, a few PAL kids came by only to discover the center was closed. Javier Coyt, 16, got off a school bus from Reynolds Learning Academy, ambled over to the doors and staff told him about the temporary closure. By then his bus had already left.

He's been coming to the center since middle school, mostly to play basketball. It beats the courts near his family's apartment off Northeast Sandy Boulevard. “We don't have to worry about getting jumped or shot at or nothing,” Coyt said.

The center is a haven for teens with gang ties who want to avoid trouble, he said. “This keeps us off the streets doing bad things,” he said. Some kids at the center don't even have a place to live, let alone a place to go after school, he added. The center and its staff is their safety net.

“They really care about you,” Coyt said.

Sierra Moyer, 13, agreed. On Wednesday, after getting out of school at H.B. Lee Middle School up the street, she bounced her basketball in the center's parking lot, unable to go inside. “There's really no place like it,” she said, adding that she's been going there since she was 8. “I hope they hire all the staff. They're not just like my friends, they're like my family.”

Recently, she found herself in a bind. She was supposed to meet her basketball coach at the center for a ride to a game. But the MAX was running late, so Moyer missed her ride. A center staffer saved the day by driving her to the game.

“They help me with my homework, too,” she said.

As Moyer wandered off bouncing her basketball, three top officials from the Boys & Girls Club, including Chief Executive Officer Erin Hubert, toured the center.

They were checking the place out, seeing what kind of maintenance is needed now — paint — and what would be a waste of money — roof repairs and asbestos abatement — if the organization is successful in raising enough money to replace the center with a new building.

Later that night, Hubert met with parents whose children go to the center to answer any questions and address concerns about the transition.

That meant a lot to Hamilton, who attended the meeting.

“They have great heart and great ideas to make this center even better,” Hamilton said.

Although she's sad to see PAL go, Hamilton said she's excited about the potential for the center under its new leadership. The Boys & Girls Clubs will embark on a capital campaign to raise money to build a new state-of-the art center, hopefully on its existing footprint, Hubert said. During construction, the organization hopes to partner with local churches to provide a temporary club for kids.

Kimberlee Peterson — whose son Bradley, 9, goes to the center — said her frustration about how PAL handled the center's transition and its financial problems is now giving way to optimism.

“I'm really excited about the possibilities,” she said.

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