Rosewood Initiative trades tiny storefront for huge space to be used as coffee shop and community hub

After nearly two years in a tiny storefront in outer East Portland, the grassroots Rosewood Initiative has made a small move to a huge new space.

The Rosewood Initiative — an effort to create a sense of community in the crime-ridden, high-density area centered around Southeast 162nd Avenue and Burnside Street — began based in a 1,000-square-foot space tucked next to a laundromat in an L-shaped shopping plaza on the southwest corner of Southeast 162nd Avenue and Stark Street.

On moving day, Wednesday, Feb. 27, a band of six volunteers shuttled the organization’s meager assets around the corner and into the cavernous 7,100-square-foot space previously home to Cue’s Billiards at 16126 S.E. Stark OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jenny Glass, Rosewood Initiative executive director, receives a box of certificates from Chris Lord, manager of the nearby Papa's Pizza. The certificates will be used for free mini pizzas, lunch buffets and cookies for volunteers.

Jenny Glass, the Rosewood Initiative’s executive director, is calling the new space the Rosewood Center.

“This has so much more potential for activities and events that we can have on-site,” she said, while a couple of volunteers rolled an upright piano through the front doors.

Glass joined the nonprofit organization in 2011. That spring, it moved into its original space, which the organization planned to turn into a café. The goal was to build a warm, inviting, safe place that would serve as a community hub, a gathering spot where local residents, merchants and others who work in the Rosewood area could relax and get to know their neighbors.

And those relationships would create the kind of network needed to combat the crime and poverty plaguing the area.

But as is the case with many dream-based start-ups, the project didn’t take off exactly as planned.

The space opened its doors and people from the neighborhood flocked to it.

“We outgrew it before we even started construction,” Glass said.

Rosewood Initiative volunteers hosted hip-hop parties, bringing local teens in off the streets to dance. They worked with a home-grown talent to create a colorful mural on the back of a gas station.

Most recently, volunteers collaborated with local students on a multi-media art show.

Community involvement grew so much that there wasn’t enough room in the Rosewood Initiative’s space to hold events. It instead became a landing spot for events held off site — either in the parking lot, at a nearby community garden, a local church or at Papa’s Pizza. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Glass stands in the new, larger space currently being remodeled. The new space will allow for more outreach and community involvement.

Meanwhile, estimates for what it would cost to build the coffee shop/café snowballed. Glass encountered one stumbling block after another in her quest to open a café that would provide job skills and stability to nearby residents.

But Glass came to a pleasant realization.

That network of involvement the café was designed to create had knitted itself together already. It was the space, the coffee shop, that hadn’t gotten off the ground.

Other than some initial demolition work on walls and the like, it remained largely untouched — stymied by jaw-dropping estimates for electrical and plumbing work.

Surveying the initiative’s new space, Glass called it a blessing in disguise.

“Now that this is happening, this is why the café really didn’t get any traction there,” she said.

Now, those investments can be made in the new Rosewood Center.

With the larger space, Glass would like to reach out to more community partners to bring additional resources to the area.

Two bike fairs are already planned for May and September.

The initiative is strengthening its partnership with two local elementary schools, the Metropolitan Family Service’s SUN program and the Sunshine Division to provide weekend food supplies for low-income students.

Plus, the Portland Development Commission recently named the Rosewood area one of six neighborhood prosperity centers earmarked for economic development.

“A lot of people and organizations know they need to be working out in this area,” Glass said. The extra space provided in the Rosewood Center could make that easier for them to head east, she added.

The long-term vision is for the center to operate around a nonprofit café, which could take up about a quarter of the space.

But that’s a long time off.

Until then, a coffee pot and mugs will await members of the community who will use the remaining square footage.

The possibilities for community partnerships are endless, Glass said.

Art projects.

Birthday parties for residents in nearby apartment complexes that don’t have a community room.

Workforce development.

After-school classes on everything from ballet to Zumba.

Movie nights.

Landlord/tenant workshops.

As if on cue, in walks Christy Hagman, who lives in an apartment across the street.

After a long hug, Hagman explained to Glass she’s been too busy dealing with a property manager who thinks Hagman is at fault for some water damage in her bathroom to come by and pick up her son’s new bike.

Izaiha, 6, was one of about 18 children who applied for the donated bike. Each child filled out an application stating why he or she should get the bike. Glass said the exercise teaches the life skill of filling out an application form, but also teaches them they need to earn things and not expect a handout.

The benefactor who donated the bike was so moved reading the applications — it was up to him to select the winner — that he donated three more bikes to the Rosewood Initiative.

It’s just one example of how the initiative helps the community, Hagman said.

“It gives the kids in the neighborhood a more positive thing to do instead of fighting and other ungodly things,” she said. Then with a loud sigh, the mother of three added, “The things that kids do today.”

Before the initiative started informally in 2009, neighbors routinely failed to call the police if they saw a crime being committed. Some feared retaliation from neighbors. Others just thought it was a hopeless endeavor, so why bother.

Hagman said in the past two years, crime — especially near the shopping center on 162nd Avenue and Stark Street — has dropped. An alley next to where the Rosewood Initiative opened its doors in the spring of 2011 used to be a haven for drug users, pushers and prostitutes. She once saw firsthand a woman being beaten there one night.

“Since Rosewood, I haven’t seen any kind of violence like that,” Hagman said. “Just having this kind of positive presence deters that. ... The kids have changed, too. This whole Rosewood Initiative has changed 162nd for the better.”

Before leaving, Glass made sure Hagman had a helmet big enough to fit her son. And Hagman invited Glass to her daughter Arianna’s first birthday party on Saturday.

“I’m watching the neighborhood grow up,” Glass said.

What is the Rosewood Initiative?

The Rosewood Initiative is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the Rosewood neighborhood, a 15-block area centered around Southeast 162nd Avenue and East Burnside Street. Its boundaries are between 157th and 165th avenues, and Northeast Holiday and Southeast Alder streets.

The area straddles Gresham and Portland city lines, and is home to about 5,000 people. Between 70 percent to 80 percent of residents live in apartments.

With such high density and so many people renting in large complexes, the Rosewood Initiative aims to provide a sense of community while combating crime, improving public safety, engaging young people and working with police, property managers, churches, neighborhood associations, social service agencies and business owners to improve the area.

For details, email Jenny Glass at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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