For years, children of the Portsmouth and Columbia Villa neighborhoods had no club to call their own.
The opening of the Regence Boys and Girls Club will change that.
Built on the south side of the New Columbia development at 4430 N. Trenton St., the club will serve the estimated 1,200 children living in the immediate neighborhood, as well as hundreds from the surrounding area.
On Friday, Feb. 15, the club's founders celebrated the halfway point of construction.
You could still hear circular saws and smell freshly cut drywall in the air Friday, but the construction wasn't the only excitement. Representatives from Regence BlueCross/BlueShield presented an oversized, ceremonial check for $500,000 — the largest contribution in the company's history — to the Boys and Girls Club during Friday's celebration.
"(This community) is a vision where lots of people from different backgrounds can come and raise their families," said Steve Rudman, executive director of the Housing Authority of Portland, whose agency coordinated construction and design efforts.
The club, which shares space with Rosa Parks Elementary School, will offer a variety of amenities to children 6 to 18, including a music room, weight room, literacy center, computer and art rooms and a teen lounge. And the adjoining Rosa Parks School lets students utilize the club's amenities as soon as the last bell rings. The newest addition to the Portland Boys and Girls Club will also be one of the biggest, with a total of 21,000 square feet — roughly half of which is shared with the school.
The facility takes the place of the North Portland Boys and Girls Club, which operated inside the St. Johns Community Center until shortly before last summer, said Blazers Boys and Girls Club Director Steve Woytko.
Woytko added that having a North Portland facility would lessen the transportation burden on families and benefit the community because of its geographic location.
Looking out the front window of the facility, Daniel Laurendau, campaign administrator for the Boys and Girls Club, pointed to a lone tree directly across the street. This was the site of Portland's first drive-by shooting in 1988, Laurendau said. Now, this site could be the place where thousands of young men and women go to escape the streets.
Speaking at the event, Multnomah County Judge Keith Meisenheimer says he hopes that his job handling juvenile court cases could become much like the fabled Maytag repairman – nearly obsolete. He said without the influence of responsible adults, juveniles seek the advice of other peers. A Columbia University study found that youth living in public housing and participating in Boys and Girls Club had fewer behavioral problems and performed better in school.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he said. "We need to look at ways to be effective with crime prevention. If you make me a benevolent despot, there will be a Boys and Girls Club in every corner of this state."
With a local and active club in the area, Portland's largest public and Section 8 housing project stands to benefit exponentially from a decrease in crime. Currently, 31 percent of relocated Columbia Villa residents have returned to public housing. The project contains 556 properties for rent that are qualified as either public housing, section 8 assistance and non-subsidized units. Of the for-sale properties, 156 of the 232 homes have been sold. And more than 66 percent of senior living units have been filled. In total, 85 percent of New Columbia's housing units are full.