Police Activities League moves to shutter Gresham site
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Staff members, along with parents of kids who attend the Police Activities League of Greater Portland after school program, were shocked, frustrated and angry when they were suddenly told last week that the non-profit’s Gresham Youth Center would be closing down due to financial shortfalls.
“It’s like the rug has been pulled out from under us,” said Danielle Wells, the youth center’s art director who is studying to become a teacher. “These kids depend on us. Parents depend on this place. If this place closes, where are they going to go?”
Open since 1989, the Gresham facility provides after school programming Monday through Friday for up to 150 mostly minority and low-income kids aged 8 to 18-years-old.
Officials announced the Gresham facility may remain open for two more weeks giving parents a chance to find alternative childcare and the organization a chance to secure at least $20,000 from a Friday fundraising event. For now, PAL’s Beaverton facility will stay open with funding help from the city of Beaverton and their police department.
PAL’s Gresham Youth Center Executive Director Patricia Day TenEyck told staff Thursday that she was also shocked after a three hour meeting on Monday when the non-profit’s board of directors made the decision to throw in the towel.
PAL’s administrative offices in the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct are also planning for closure.
Gresham’s PAL staff were upset that they were not involved in the board’s decision.
“We were left to tell these kids,” said Wells. “To me it feels like nobody cares about these kids. It shouldn’t be tolerated. It’s human life. How could you go to sleep knowing what you’re doing to these kids?”
Two members of the PAL board, including Executive Committee Chair Colleen Domenech, resigned.
Day TenEyck told the Portland Observer that the Gresham center was “a financial mess” when she was hired in 2011. In July 2012, she called a meeting to alert board members that PAL was financially “in the red” for the next six months, she said.
In August, the non-profit’s corporate committee pledged to raise $50,000. By the end of December, they had raised nothing.
Since the economy tanked in 2008, money from donating organizations had fallen through. Federal funding was cut for PAL’s summer sports camp in 2005. PAL recently lost funding for their late night basketball previously budgeted by the Portland’s Mayor’s office of Youth Violence Prevention.
As county, state, and federal funding fell through, Day TenEyck said the budget got tighter and tighter. PAL proposed cutting both summer camp programs and their football program to save money. Money PAL staff and police officers earned volunteering this summer for Safeway’s LPGA golf tournament kept the non-profit afloat until the end of the year.
Damon Miller, PAL’s associate director, was heartbroken when he heard about the closure. “The community will feel this,” he said.
Miller, who began working for PAL as a youth counselor in 1995, is hoping to sustain PAL’s football program, now in its 14th season and serving up to 1,200 kids. “Whether it’s PAL or not it’s a community program and Portland should take responsibility.”
Day TenEyck said if PAL can make it to April, they have six to seven fundraisers planned through September. “I think we have a solid funding plan,” she said, including a goal to secure more corporate support.
A group of staff, parents, kids and others from the community held a rally to save PAL late Friday afternoon near the center on Northeast 181st and Glisan.
Izaya Glover, a 14-year-old Walt Morey Middle School student and PAL’s new youth president rallied more than 200 signatures to give to the board to save the youth center that he has been attending for three years. “This is home to very many,” said Glover.
Other kids made glittery signs that read, “SAVE PAL,” and “Don’t Take PAL away from us.”
“This is the only place I can be,” said Jesse Dunn, 12. “Both of my parents work until 5 p.m. I can’t just be waiting on the porch. It’s my home away from home,” he said.
“This is the greatest place for kids,” said D’Shawn Bogan, 13, a PAL regular since age 9. He had plans to continue coming to PAL until he was “at least in college.”
Seventh grader, Antonia McSwain, 12, was angry, yet reflective. “I think it’s stupid because it’s such a good place. It brings such positive energy into kids’ lives who don’t come from a good past. It brings hope. So many kids would be struggling without it and they would have a negative impact on the world.”
A little girl was overheard saying to her friend, “It’s so sad that PAL is closing.”
PAL will host “The Right Move,” a fundraiser to keep PAL open at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23 at their youth center, located at 424 northeast 172nd Ave. in Gresham.
Hosted by PAL staff member, Lance Waddy, the event is $5 admission and will feature performances by rapper Mighty, Horizun, Swagged Out Boys, Queen, and Work Dance Company. All donations will go to keeping PAL open to serve kids at the center.