Homeless kids 'in the swim' over the summer
Good Neighbor Center residents enjoy KCCA pool one hour per week
Every Thursday morning like clockwork this summer, a school bus arrived at the King City Civic Association parking lot, and a group of excited kids rushed out, making a beeline for the swimming pool.
Waiting for them was Jim Armour, who years ago came up with the idea of allowing the homeless kids residing temporarily in Tigard's Good Neighbor Center to enjoy a swim once a week.
"About six years ago, I got on the KCCA board," Armour said. "The Good Neighbor Center was looking for a place for the kids to swim as part of the summer activity program. I first took the idea to a Good Neighbor Center volunteer who lived on Bull Mountain and had a swimming pool, but there were problems with the bus getting up the steep driveway and the noise.
"A year later, the Good Neighbor Center sent a letter to the KCCA requesting to use our pool one hour a week. The board posted a notice that it would be discussed at a meeting, and only a couple people showed up to complain."
The board approved the plan, and it was set in motion with the provision that a KCCA resident be present while the kids were swimming.
"It struck a chord in my tender heart, and I volunteered to be here," said Armour, relaxing in a lounge chair while the kids happily played under the supervision of a couple of GNC staffers. "Now we are doing it for the fifth summer."
Supervising the kids was Elizabeth Schmidt, the GNC's student/parent advocate, who handles the center's children's programming for pre-school to college kids. The center provides housing, food and counseling to homeless families, who stay there about six weeks as they are helped to transition to subsidized housing.
"The kids' ages change, and the dynamics are always shifting," said Schmidt, who is a licensed teacher. "But we always offer a summer program for the kids that starts right after school gets out. While we keep the kids busy with activities, it gives the parents time to look for work."
The swimming program is offered to kids aged 6 to 14, and the highest number ever participating was 22.
Meanwhile, Armour, who is a member of the King City Lions Club, said he talked to club members about providing snacks for the kids following the swim sessions.
"We buy them sodas, and they can drink them on the patio by the pool before they leave," he said. "Sometimes they get a snack too - a lady brought ice cream cones last year. On the last day, which is Aug. 22, I buy them pizza to celebrate the end of the year."
Armour added, "We've never had a problem with the kids, and there are lifejackets on hand. It's fun to see them improve and learn. One kid swam across the pool for the first time, and a kid came last week with a broken leg and took off the cast and went in."
He said the experience has been "really rewarding, and I have learned to be patient."
Armour added that the kids say "please" and "thank you" when they receive their snacks, "and they leave happy."
For activities on other days of the week, the kids visited Cook Park or Summerlake Park on Mondays, went to $1 movies at Tigard Cinemas usually followed by trips to the Tigard Public Library on Tuesdays, and went on field trips on Wednesdays to such places as the Children's Museum or the Sherwood Ice Arena.
"So many families who come into the Good Neighbor Center have zero," Armour said. "People have no idea that the Good Neighbor Center does so much. There is so much need out there. Everyone has a story."
And every kid had something to say about the opportunity to swim every week in a heated pool.
"We like swimming," Keoni said, and Kobe added, "I like ice cream and the Mug root beer."
Dallas said, "I like going to the deep end and touching the bottom," and Robert said, "I like the pool and that it's heated and not too hot or too cold."
Perhaps Zeke summed up the experience best when he said, "I like everything."
The Good Neighbor Center is a 36-bed facility that serves up to nine families at a time who are provided with three meals a day.
The center is supported by volunteers, donations, grants and various government funding programs. More than 1,400 volunteers cook, babysit, do service projects and serve as overnight hosts, which saves the facility more than $80,000 per year and three staff positions.
The Good Neighbor Center operates without a food budget, which makes food donations critical. In addition to food, donations of household items are always needed, and donations can be dropped off daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 11130 S.W. Greenburg Road, Tigard 97223.
People may visit GoodNeighborCenter.org or call 503-443-6084.