Riverside Community Outreach plans move to bigger St. Helens space
A nonprofit supporting foster kids and their families plans to open a hang-out space on Columbia Boulevard in St. Helens.
Riverside Community Outreach, founded by executive director Abby Olson, recently signed a long-term lease on a vacant building on Columbia Boulevard and South 15th Street, next to the future home of the Columbia Pacific Food Bank.
The organization supports children in the foster care system, foster families and biological families.
Riverside currently leases space in a former tea shop a few blocks away, but the larger space, with roughly triple the square footage, will allow the organization to host events for youth and families.
In the 12-month period ending September 2021, 150 Columbia County children spent time in foster care.
Riverside works with children and families who are already in the foster care system, but Olson said she and Riverside's board of directors wanted to look at the prevention side, too.
"If (the building) was large enough to also be a place where youth could gather and hang out and we could build relationships and interactions and provide opportunities, then perhaps we can do a whole cultural shift, and kids in our community wouldn't find themselves repeating these generational patterns," Olson said.
Opening day is still far in the future, though.
A former owner of the building had planned to turn the building into an arcade and cafe. Though that project was never completed, much of the remodeling work is halfway done.
"We're working on updating the plan with a local architect and we are applying for some grant funding. We're hoping that in a year or two, it would be fully operational," Olson said. "One part of the building has already got the plumbing and things to have a cafe … (so) we can have a place where kids come in and hang out and eat."
The large open space will lend itself to karaoke nights or performances, while also having space for the racks of clothing the organization already provides for foster children, who often leave home without much clothing or quickly grow out of their clothes.
"Then while the kids are there, so are our racks of clothing, so are our shoes, winter coats, school supplies," Olson said.
She describes it as "a central hub where families can get their needs met."
Olson started Riverside Community Outreach after a decade of being foster parents with her husband, Matt Olson.
With five biological children and five adopted children — four of whom were adopted out of foster care — the Olsons reached the state's capacity limit and weren't able to continue fostering.
Riverside is the fiscal sponsor for the Columbia County branch of Every Child, a statewide organization supporting foster children and families in partnership with Oregon's Department of Human Services.
Riverside has hosted dinners for foster families, delivered monthly boxes of activities and treats to foster families during the pandemic, gathered gifts for foster children ahead of Christmas, and gathered backpacks before school started.
Another nonprofit, Youth Era, had looked into renting the Columbia Boulevard building back in 2019 to use as a drop-in center for the youth mental health-focused nonprofit, but it did not follow through on the plans.
Youth Era has operated remotely through the pandemic with events like remote art nights, where supplies are delivered to participants before a virtual meet-up to complete a creative project. In the future, Olson said she hopes to offer Riverside's future space to groups like Youth Era to hold events.
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.