December 21, 2015

Career Day at New East County Site

About a dozen smiling faces lined up to get fitted with hard hats, high visibility vests and gloves before getting an early look at their new youth center under construction in East County. For the children, it’s a fun-filled trip to the place where they will be spending so much of their time in the coming years. For Friends of the Children, it’s a culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of planning, fundraising and work.

Right after a picnic in the grass at Pat Pfeifer Park, Friends of the Children program youth and mentors stepped up for a tour of their future facility, an 8,000 square foot, state-of-the-art community kitchen, garden, gym and technology center.

“This is your place,” said Mark Young, Friends of the Children Chief Operating Officer. “We built this building for you.”

The tour was also part of Career Day for youth, where they got to hear first-hand from the construction contractors who are building their new facility. Plumbers, electricians and HVAC installers shared their experiences working in the skilled trades.

Efrem Ferrera, an electrician, told the program youth, “I’d encourage anyone to pursue a career in the trades. It’s affordable to become licensed, and after that, you can make a very comfortable living doing good work.”

Youth also got to hear from Mike Larson, a plumber.

“I never went to college. After high school, I knew it wasn’t for me, so I got my certification to be a plumber, and now I make more than $30/hour without a four-year degree”, said Larson. “There are opportunities in Oregon and all over for anyone who wants to work in the trades.”

Program youth, Andrew,* 16, said, “I’m excited about today. This is what I want to do when I grow up.”

While Career Day was a success, it also marks one of the first times Friends of the Children youth had a chance to imagine what their new youth center will be like. The entire facility is being built as a response to population shifts in the Portland metro area.

“About 8 or 10 years ago, we were looking at the budget and noticed transportation costs were going through the roof. We started asking our mentors why and found out it was because we had so many program youth moving out to East County”, said Mark Young.

As gentrification continues in Portland, Friends anticipates that by 2018 three-quarters all youth served by the program will live east of I-205.

Mark adds that Friends of the Children took note of the limited services in the area and decided something needed to be done, “We thought it was critical for us, because our youth are in this community, that we have a location near them. As importantly, we felt it was really important to have an asset for the Rockwood area.”

For one Friend, Justin, it’s a chance to come back to the place that shaped his childhood. Justin grew up in the neighborhood and spent his youth playing sports and spending time with his mentors at Pat Pfeifer Park, long before Friends of the Children decided to build a facility on the site.

I used to play basketball in this gym,” said Justin, “I hit my first home run over on that baseball field. It’s great to come full-circle and mentor kids in the place I was mentored.”

A big thank you to:

ACME Construction for supplying the group with t-shirts, key chains, hard hats

HardCore Contractors for giving the youth t-shirts

American Heating for providing the group safety glasses and gloves

HeckTec Technical for installing security equipment on the construction site