Will work for play
At his Fairview City Hall office, Jairo Rios-Campos enjoys the standard trappings of an administrative job: a desk within a cubicle, a stapler and tape dispenser, a desktop computer and a lunch break roughly between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
But these workaday amenities and perks belie the true nature of what Rios-Campos, as program manager of youth recreation program Play East!, does from day to day — and often beyond that.
"I don't feel this is a typical job," he says, laughing. "The job never ends, at (the office), home or anywhere else. I think I am fully invested in this program. I answer phone calls and emails at night, drop by classes and talk with parents if they have questions. Most of the programs happen locally, so I'm usually close by."
In other words, the line between Rios-Campos' occupation and home life is a bit blurry — and that's all right with him.
"I take a lot of pride in the program we put out and how we're being portrayed in the community," he says. "I think we just have that (special) connection with the community. It doesn't allow us to take breaks sometimes."
The 33-year-old was hired in 2018 to guide Play East!, a multifaceted youth activities partnership between the cities of Wood Village and Fairview. Since its launch, Play East! — with help from collaborators like Wood Village Baptist Church and Reynolds Middle and High schools — has attracted more than 2,000 residents. They take part in 133 activities and classes — from volleyball and futsal to jazz dance, piano and ukulele.
With the three-year pilot portion set to expire this spring, the cities are preparing to shift PlayEast! to an ongoing, regularly-budgeted program starting in June.
Rios-Campos, who grew up in Hood River playing soccer and other sports, seized the opportunity.
"Sports, for me, is one of the best ways to get youth involved in the community," he says. "I would never think in a million years that doing that would lead to the position I'm in."
After working more than a decade at the Safeway store on Cherry Park Road, it was quite a switch for the married father of two.
"I was always looking for something better to fit our ultimate family goal," he says, referring to his wife, Victoria and children, Joselynn, 12, and Jairo Jr., 5. "And I had developed this passion to help my community and provide opportunities for youth."
That passion was sparked soon after a 16-year-old Rios-Campos moved from Hood River to Wood Village. He quickly noticed a difference.
"To this day I remember a huge recreation program there," he says of his Columbia River Gorge hometown. "That's how I got started, at a young age, getting involved. Sports through the recreation program, for me at least, was easier. My parents knew about it, and I would get involved in the different programs they were offering."
As a newcomer at Reynolds High School, Rios-Campos says he "didn't know who to connect with" to get involved in soccer and other activities.
"It was a barrier, and why I didn't proceed more in sports (in) high school," he admits.
Rios-Campos found more of what he was looking for as a member of Wood Village Baptist Church. There, he brought enthusiasm and vision to help expand and enhance its recreation offerings.
"I was one of the ones who started the conversations, one of the movers and shakers on it," he says. "I just don't think we were quite prepared on how to formally organize something that needs a good structure around it."
That changed when the city of Wood Village, following Fairview's lead in establishing a recreation program, started partnering with the church. The collaboration spawned a neighborhood sports camp and a range of organized activities.
In 2017, a collaboration with the U.S. Soccer Foundation brought a futsal court to the church at 23601 N.E. Arata Road.
"I think they saw we were filling a void in the community that was really desired by community members," Rios-Campos says of Wood Village leaders.
Pastor Tom Miles credits Rios-Campos with a lot of the synergy between Wood Village Baptist Church and the community it serves.
"As a church, you want your community to prosper," he says. "That's where his heart is ... When you put find people with good hearts and passion and the right mindset — if you can enable them like Jairo, it's amazing what you can get done."
Wood Village City Manager Greg Dirks says Rios-Campos is all about clearing pathways for youth involvement.
"Jairo has an ability to instantly connect with people, which has been great for both increasing enrollment in recreation programs as well as expanding the offerings," he says. "Jairo clearly has a heart for service and wants to provide recreational opportunities for everyone regardless of ability to pay."
As he hones his administrative skills and looks forward to Play East! finding a permanent place in the community, Rios-Campos marvels at what engaged residents and leaders can accomplish in a relatively short time.
"It's great to see that (city leaders) are listening to their community," he says. "I think this is a small piece of where the relationship between communities and cities can go. I hope this can be something of a bridge to get more community input on other issues."
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.