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Ghassemi, Frazier bring passion, experience, and bevy of family-friendly events

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Marcell Frazier and Emon Ghassemi are Greshams new Youth Services Division. A dynamic duo in Gresham is harnessing the power of a diverse mix of community-based organizations to create new opportunities for youths to keep them active, happy and out of trouble.

Emon Ghassemi, youth services manager, and Marcell Frazier, youth violence prevention coordinator, are helming the Youth Services Division and filling the calendar with a bevy of free events for kids.

"With what our youth have gone through in the last years, and how much the population has grown, they need services, especially recreation and athletics," Ghassemi said. "This is very much needed and long-overdue."

In just three months on the job, they already have scheduled a community cleanup at Rockwood Preparatory Academy, a summer sports day, a Reynolds High School football camp, and have become involved in the Gresham Arts Festival, Play Ball, Juneteenth Celebration, Rock the Block, and more. They are also working to restart the Youth Advisory Council by next fall's school year.

"I am listening to our partners and youth, and finding ways to build on successes and alleviate challenges," Ghassemi said.

One common refrain — there is not enough transportation options for youth to safely get them around the community. Ghassemi has been talking with TriMet, rideshare companies, and others to figure out solutions.

The program was created last December after Gresham City Council approved one-time funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to kickstart the program. The city also received a $2 million grant for youth violence prevention, outreach and intervention to be used by June 2023. Those dollars are funding those culturally specific programs and recreational activities.

"Our youth need outlets and pathways that lead them to productive and fulfilled lives," Frazier said.

The main goal is youth violence prevention, which is offering alternatives and support before kids slip into violence or bad situations.

"Sports, art, murals, music, volunteering, after-school and summer gatherings — that is prevention," Frazier said.

Ghassemi came to the city as the program coordinator for Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), while Frazier was working for a university in Missouri as the academic liaison for the football team. Both have worked extensively on the eastside — Frazier grew up in the area and went to school at David Douglas — and knew they could make a difference.

"It is about keeping kids out of knucklehead behaviors," Frazier said with a smile.

The new team is powered by referrals, as community members, schools, police and fire all can direct the pair toward any youths in need of support. After learning about the unique situations and making an initial connection, they can then connect the kids with the appropriate community organization. All together it is breaking down some of the silos that were preventing East Multnomah County youth from receiving proper support.

"I am the funnel and can get them to culturally specific organizations," said Frazier, whose main task is fostering those connections with community groups like POIC, Play Grow Learn, IRCO, Latino Network, New Avenues for Youth and more. "We are getting all the players together in one room."

One concerned community member directed the pair toward The Groves, an apartment complex in Gresham. They met with the property managers to set up a Memorial Day BBQ, including donated gift bags by the city for the kids living in the complex.

"In the past, outside of police, I don't know if Gresham would have had someone available to visit and help," Frazier said. "Now we are here."

Keep an eye out for events in the coming weeks and months. The group is working on putting out a dedicated webpage on GreshamOregon.gov, but for now events will be listed on the city calendar.


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