Two heavily used Inner Southeast Community Centers seem saved again for a while

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - On Valentines Day, toddlers in the Woodstock Community Center Messy Art class made valentines for their families. Cassandra Sloan-Nicholson, at center, wears proudly the title of Messy Art Teacher.In January of this year, amid the snow and ice, Portland Parks and Recreation announced that it was required by the new Mayor to cut its budget by at least 1%, up to 5%, right across the board. Included in the "small community centers budget reduction package" were the Woodstock and Sellwood Community Centers. You read about that in last month's BEE.

In Woodstock, this announcement led to an emergency meeting of the Friends of the Woodstock Community Center (FWCC), a group that has helped keep the center open during the past fourteen years. FWCC volunteers help raise money for custodial work (through the annual plant sale – see this month's "Letters" column), and work with community volunteers to help with landscape maintenance.

FWCC has also overseen, and helped to fund, kitchen upgrades and some interior painting. Tax deductible contributions from the community made it possible to have new laminate flooring installed several years ago.

After the announcement by the Parks Bureau in January, FWCC volunteers and others were hopeful that the work they do to reduce Parks' expenses would help keep the center open. Indeed, they were told in late January that they and the Sellwood Community Center had been taken off the cut list.

Then came a subsequent announcement in early February – that preschools at the centers continue to be in jeopardy.

FWCC responded with incredulity: What? Cut WCC's wildly popular preschool? Parents depend on the school for its quality, its neighborhood location, and its reasonable tuition. In addition, this preschool is the WCC's financial backbone. Without it, the center would be much more dependent on a public subsidy.

What would be the effect of a closure? WCC pre-school parent Annie Shepherd says her young son is diabetic – a fact which led her to have some reservations about her son being away from her during a two-hour preschool class. To her relief, she found both the WCC preschool teacher and WCC staff to be "wonderfully supportive." She says that, in her support group for parents of diabetic children, some parents don't have such happy reports, and often the criticize other preschools, which are much more expensive.

In November, Dawn Haecker moved to the Woodstock neighborhood from Minneapolis with her partner, and her four year old son Arlo. It's her first experience as a stay-at-home mom. "Being new in town, it was a struggle to meet friends. But one of the golden things about Woodstock is that there is a Community Center nearby. It provided one of the first ways to plug into the neighborhood."

Arlo is enrolled in the preschool, and also takes Messy Art, tap, and pre-ballet classes. "It's a huge part of his enrichment," says his mother.

As Haecker mentioned, aside from the preschool, the Woodstock Community Center does not lack for other interesting and stimulating classes: "Messy Art – Little Picassos" for 1 ½-5 year olds, "Movement – Gotta Dance", tap dance, pre-ballet for children five and under, and guitar & bass for ages 8 and up, are popular. Tae Kwon Do classes for age 7 and up have been held at the center for many years.

Other classes for older neighbors are Antique Clock Repair (which has met at the center for over twenty years), Zumba, Hula Dance for ages 60 and up, and Writing your Memories.

In addition to these enrichment and exercise activities, the Center is an important meeting space for Woodstock Neighborhood Association meetings on the first Wednesdays of each month, and Al-Anon meetings on Sundays.

FWCC members are unanimous that "all of the functions of the Woodstock Community Center underline the word COMMUNITY. The Center provides an important part of the fabric of the community for Woodstock and other nearby neighborhoods. To close it would be a great loss."

Supporters and users of the Sellwood Community Center are equally passionate about their Center – a century old, and listed on the National Historic Register – which similarly serves that community.

And supporters of both Centers continue to ask BEE readers to send letters and e-mails of support for the both Community Centers. E-mail may be sent to City Commissioner Amanda Fritz – at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – who oversees the Parks Department, as well as to all other City Commissioners and the Mayor. Future city action/proposals will take place in April and May, so any comments should be made by mid-March.

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