By Northeast Community Center staff
For the Hollywood Star News
One morning in late 2004, the Northeast Family YMCA, a neighborhood fixture since 1925, surprised its members and the community by announcing it would be closing its doors within a month. The announcement was a catalyst for community engagement. A small group of community leaders immediately created a vision for transforming the tired but beloved 1925 building with strong bones into a home for the Northeast Community Center, a sustainable non-profit organization where people of all ages could achieve their fitness, wellness, recreational and cultural goals while being part of a diverse and welcoming community.
On October 23, from 6-8:30 p.m., the NECC will honor those community leaders in a special event. Everyone who works and plays in Portland’s Northeast neighborhoods is invited to join the NECC in thanking these leaders for their vision in creating an organization that will serve the area for years to come.
Affectionately dubbed the “Founders,” those leaders were not the only people whose ideas, sweat, and financial support, led the metamorphosis of the YMCA building to a vibrant gathering place for all ages. But these founders took responsibility for the well-being and improvement of their community. They harnessed the tremendous neighborhood energy, made personal commitments and sacrifices, and saw value in the unique role the NECC would have in strengthening the fabric of Northeast Portland neighborhoods. Their goal was that the facility would not close for a single day, and it did not. Their goal was to provide an egalitarian process to create a whole new organization, not just to put a band-aid on the old one. Their goal was to forge an organization with stated values that improved the community’s well-being: caring, inclusiveness, respect, sustainability and transparency.
Who are these founders? Business leaders, retired teachers, stay-at-home parents, union representatives – they came from all walks of life and from all areas of Portland. David and Sarann Benson, Linda Rasmussen, Jim Wrigley and Karyn Bertschi, Kieu-Oanh Nguyen, Dan and Sue Ellen Dolan, Fred and Kirsten Jewel, Sara and Tom Normington, Michael Roth, Jody Little, Don Waggoner and Eunice Noell-Waggoner.
Two Founders mortgaged their home to obtain the building, holding it until the NECC was in a position to buy it back. Others reached out to the community, including the Hollywood Boosters and the Hollywood Star News, and they tabled at the Hollywood Farmers Market to share their vision. They spread the word far and wide to engage others in fundraising efforts. They brought their own tools to remodel the lobby into a community living room. They implemented free Child Watch to support young parents in remaining healthy and connected to others. Their passion was unparalleled, and they led others through the process of coalescing around a vision of strengthening their community. Though the process was not always easy, these leaders built community ties through adversity. On February 1, 2005, the NECC came to life.
Ten years later, the effect of their leadership is apparent. Every year, more than 1,300 young swimmers take swim lessons; more than 400 girls and boys learn the importance of fair play and sportsmanship through basketball or volleyball classes and leagues; more than 1,800 members take Yoga, Pilates, Barre Fusion, Water Workout, Tai Chi Moving for Better Balance, and other fitness classes; and more than 1,500 other individuals take part in fitness and wellness classes, nutritional presentations and counseling, personal and group training, swim meets, blanket drives, parades, educational talks, and a host of other classes and special events. The NECC still benefits from significant volunteer efforts and financial contributions, and the spirit and energy harnessed by NECC’s Founders more than 10 years ago is alive in this unique non-profit organization.
Join others in the community to show our appreciation to the Founders of the Northeast Community Center on Friday, October 23, from 6-8:30 p.m. at NECC, 1630 N.E. 38th Ave. Tickets for the event are $40/person. Additional information is available by visiting the NECC website or calling (503) 284-3377.