When Jesus Valdez was growing up in East Multnomah County, he and his friends had to carve out their own spaces for fun.
On a weekend or after school, Valdez said they would make their way to some corner of the community to create an impromptu playground. The location and situation was always uncertain — and for some, it led to bad situations and getting in trouble.
"My playground was on the streets," said Valdez, who is now 20 years old and living in Fairview.
That is why he was excited to dive into the opportunity of interning with the city of Gresham to provide children across the community with a safe place to play every weekend. He now organizes and referees an Indoor Sunday Futsal youth recreation night that takes place weekly in Rockwood alongside Ricki Ruiz, the community services coordinator for the city.
"It would have been amazing to have something like this when I was growing up," Valdez said.
Sunday Futsal is open to all East Multnomah County students in grades 6-12. Anyone who registers is welcome to swing by the gym from 5-7 p.m. at Friends of the Children, 424 N.E. 172nd Ave., to take advantage of the safe space to play. The event is made possible with city funds.
The gym night is free and open to both boys and girls. Attendance varies, though usually there are between 12 and 20 kids, with the majority coming from Centennial, Reynolds and David Douglas high schools. No experience is needed, as Sunday Futsal is a great place to learn new skills, make friends and be active.
"This isn't about winning a competition — everyone is welcome," Ruiz said. "Some of the kids play for club teams or for their schools, while others learned here."
Throughout the evenings, which run year round, there is adult supervision and mentorship by Active Children Portland volunteers. The event is dedicated to supporting those who attend. Organizers even have extra gym shoes on hand in case someone doesn't have the proper footwear to play.
"The best part about coming here is knowing you can change these kids' lives and make a huge difference," Valdez said.
Sometimes Valdez jumps into the games if the teams are unbalanced.
"It's a lot more fun playing than being a ref," he said with a laugh.
Ruiz said he often notices a participant may show up in a bad mood or struggling from a difficult week at school or home. But after a few minutes running and being surrounded by the laughter of their peers, their troubles fade away.
"This type of event can change a lot in the community," Ruiz said. "It is an accepting place to let out and work through your emotions."
To fill out a waiver and participate, visit greshamoregon.gov/Futsal/
"This provides a place for kids to play and not get in trouble," Ruiz said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.