By John Pfeil
Last year’s Movie in the Park at Hamilton Park gave Summer Free For All’s program supervisor, Chariti Montez, goosebumps. “Our staff were like, ‘Okay great, we’ve got a band, we’re building a stage, we’re getting the microphones set up …’ But when the scheduled performers, Tongan group Mosimosi Koula, showed up the evening of the performance, they said, ‘We don’t do this on a stage!’”
Summer Free For All empowers Portlanders to create and cultivate community and celebrate our city’s growing cultural diversity through 1,800 free activities at 77 sites all over Portland. It includes free concerts and movies, as well as free lunches and supervised playtime for kids, all in parks. In 2017, the events attracted more than 200,000 Portlanders and provided over 100,000 free lunches for kids. The program is organized by Portland Parks and Recreation in collaboration with many community partners across the city, including Portland Parks Foundation. This year, PPF raised over $66,000 from generous donors including Columbia Bank, Juan Young Trust, Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Portland Trail Blazers, and KEEN.
Chariti Montez leads PP&R’s Summer Free for All team. Her personal story is reflective of Portland’s growing immigrant communities. Chariti was born in Salem with a Mexican immigrant father and a white mother. Her family worked in the fields, and when she was young, her father was deported. She did not see him again for 35 years. Her father eventually returned to live in the United States through an amnesty program in the 1980s. Among other things, her experiences while growing up, first in Salem, then in Portland and Vancouver have helped shape her perspectives on how parks programs can positively impact all Portlanders
In 2015, PP&R commissioned a study to learn more about who was being served by their flagship summertime events, and who was being left out. “It found that folks who came ... were largely from the dominant culture, college educated, and middle class. We weren’t reaching people of other groups in the same percentage that live in the city,” Chariti said. Since that time, Chariti has made it her mission to help diverse communities see themselves in the Summer Free For All schedule.
That Movie in Hamilton Park is a great example of how Chariti and her team have helped the program be more responsive to our city’s growing cultural diversity. Back at Hamilton Park, directed by members of Mosimosi Koula, the group dismantled the stage and set up a few microphones in the middle of a large circle. The group sat in front of the movie screen in the grass and performed. When it got dark, they finished and ‘Moana’ was projected onto the huge, outdoor movie screen. “It was amazing,” Chariti remembers. “These are different kinds of performances, the audience is a part of it.”
Another way that Chariti’s team has transformed the program is to actively engage new communities and groups who have not traditionally accessed opportunities for partnership and participation. “The way Summer Free for All works is that a community partner applies to host a movie or a concert series. Some of those groups have been doing it for years. They were the groups that knew about it. If you are a group that knows how to navigate the system, or how to apply, or how to fundraise, or that the program is even for you, then you’re going to choose the band and the movies that you like. That reinforces the programming. If it’s always the same community group picking the same kind of music or the same kind of movies, then the people who are not included don’t come, don’t see anything for them, and don’t think it’s for them.”
So when 12-piece Cuban dance band Pilon d’Azucar played the Washington Park Summer Festival on the famous Washington Park Amphitheatre stage last year, friends pulled her aside and said, “You had something to do with this. It’s a really big deal that these performers are in this garden at this venue right now.” Any day of the year you can see visitors from all over the world in the garden, but people from that community still didn’t feel like the space belonged to them. “It was a really proud moment for the performers, and to have so many people from the Latino and Latinx community community show up felt impactful.”
“There’s this ephemeral aspect to Summer Free For All that’s really fun, this sense of community and placemaking. All of the sudden there’s a stage that, for most of these parks, wasn’t there the day before, and the next day you’re not even going to know it was there.” The stages may come and go, but the inclusiveness and diversity resulting from Chariti’s work will have impacts for generations to come.
Our picks for Summer Free For All 2018:
Friday, July 20th at 6:30 pm at Harrison Park (SE 84th Ave. and Harrison St.)
Concert: Joe Kyle - Indie rock, classical, pop vocalist, and voilinst looper
Movie: Can (2011)
Wednesday, August 15th at 6:30 pm at Laurelhust Park (SE Cesar E Chavez Blvd and Stark St.)
Concert: DJ Prashant & Jai Ho! Dance Troupe - Interactive Bollywood and Bhangra dance
Movie: Chak de! India (2007)
Thursday, August 9, 6:30 pm at Dawson Park (2926 N Williams Ave.)
Concert: Eldon “T” Jones & N Touch - groovy jazz
Thursday, August 18, 6:30 pm at Dawson park (2926 N Williams Ave.)
Concert: EMBRACE - contemporary Christian and gospel
Saturday, August 18 6:30 pm at Gateway Discovery Park (NE Halsey St. and 108th Ave.) Tonga Day 2018
Concert: Tongan 101 - Tongan/Pacific Islander music and dance
Movie: Moana (2016)
Photos courtesy Ben Brink, Fred Joe, and Luceil Rice and Portland Parks & Recreation and John Pfeil of PPF
Meet JR Lilly, PPF's newest member of the Board of Directors. JR brings with him a deep connection to the Native community as well as a true love of parks and respect for the value that they bring to life in an urban setting. PPF is honored to welcome JR to our team.
Civic Engagement Coordinator, Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA)
What is your favorite neighborhood park? My favorite park is Peninsula Park which is always worth the drive across town no matter where I live. I just moved and my neighborhood park is going to be Thomas Cully Park (opening Jun 30).
What is your favorite thing to do in a park? Growing up I was in all the sports, so anything active is great. Some of my best memories are with friends playing kickball on a nice sunny day. Our parks are always great for a simple walk or to toss the football with family.
What inspired you to join the Portland Parks Foundation's board? I love our parks! And I want to make sure that everyone in Portland has access to a place that is safe, fun, and welcome. The Portland Parks Foundation does great work and I look forward to supporting those efforts.
"Even if you don’t go to a park every day, you can still recognize the value that it has." - Gary Maffei
Our board chair, Julie Vigeland, recently sat down with Charles Jordan Circle member Gary Maffei to learn why he supports public parks.
Tell us about your upbringing and how it’s influenced your relationship with parks.
Well, I’m a native Portlander—I grew up in Southeast Portland—and our closest park was Mount Scott. I used to spend all summer there. As a child, I remember that the parks system was a center for the neighborhood. We couldn’t afford to go to the beach or to the mountains or on vacation, but we could walk over to the park and have a picnic or play on the playground. I also used to do Little League in Lents Park. My brother did the Babe Ruth league for high school and my dad was a coach.
What has your relationship with parks been like as an adult?
For 20 years of my career, I lived near Council Crest, and I’d go for walks there. We’d take the dog out for runs because there were beautiful hills for playing fetch—the ball would just keep going and so would the dog! In my career years, I was on the City League for tennis, so we played in all the city parks: in North Portland at Peninsula Park, at Grant Park, up at the Rose Garden tennis courts… It was lots of fun.
In your view, what makes parks important for cities?
It’s a gathering place for the neighborhood, especially the parks that have community centers. The community center at Mount Scott had a roller rink in the basement that we used in the winter, and of course the pool opened in the summer for all the kids. The park near where we live now has the farmer’s market and movie nights in the summer—they have a man-made hill where people put their blankets out, and a big screen so everyone can watch the movie.
How can we make parks more accessible for Portlanders in every neighborhood?
I think it’s important to promote the use of existing parks, and also maintain the existing parks so that people want to use them. Maintenance isn’t as exciting as big new projects, but it’s necessary so that parks and sports facilities don’t fall into disrepair. The Parks Foundation has a unique position where you can really advocate for maintenance within the parks, or even for a bond measure to make improvements.
Do you know of any parks advocates who are doing inspiring work?
Any civic leaders that are in love with Portland are going to be in love with the parks—I mean, who isn’t? Even if you don’t go to a park every day, you can still recognize the value that it has. Anybody who’s donated to parks is supporting parks.
You’ve mentioned a number of parks. If you had to choose a favorite, which would it be?
I’d say Mount Scott. I grew up there—20 years of my life was spent in that park, whether that was hanging out with friends, swimming in the summer, or bicycling there. As an older person, my favorite has been Gabriel Park, because I play tennis there. I’ve spent so many evenings playing tennis there, with friends or in the League.
PPF Programs and Partnerships Intern
We are delighted to introduce our new intern, Heidie Ambrose, to our team at PPF. Heidie is hard working, insightful, and a very thorough researcher. As an intern, she offers fresh perspective and a new voice to our discussions.
What is your neighborhood park?
Rockwood Central Park
What is your favorite thing to do in a park?
I love to go hiking with friends and exploring playgrounds with my nephews.
What inspired you to join the Portland Parks Foundation?
I'm interested in the non-profit sector, and care deeply about Portland's green spaces.
What are you most excited to learn about during your internship?
I'm excited to learn more about development, as well as the grant application and review process. It's especially helpful to be a part of the grant program that PPF facilitates. I'm starting to understand what an organization is looking for in an application and getting excited about the proposed projects.
Thank you to everyone who came out to support Portland's parks at the Community Budget Forums on April 3rd and April 17th along with those who submitted written testimony. On April 3rd PPF's Executive Director, Jeff Anderson, had the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Foundation. Below is the text of the testimony he read from. You can also access the video version of the testimony here (Jeff's testimony begins at 1hr47min).
Community Budget Forum - April 3, 2018
Statement to City Council
Jeff Anderson, Executive Director
Good evening, Mayor Wheeler and members of the Council. Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the proposed 2018-19 city budget.
My name is Jeff Anderson. I’m Executive Director of the Portland Parks Foundation. The mission of the Portland Parks Foundation is to mobilize financial and popular support to ensure a thriving and accessible parks system for a healthy Portland. The Foundation was created by the city in 2001 as Portland’s chief private fundraising partner for parks.
The Portland Parks Foundation is extremely concerned about the ongoing general fund cuts for PP&R in the proposed 2018-19 budget.
Public parks are very likely our most popular city service. 86% of Portlanders rate their parks as good or excellent. More than 9 out of 10 residents use our parks. Parks advance community wealth, community health, and community culture. They are not an expendable amenity. They are as essential as any other service supported by city budget dollars. Yet the City Budget Office’s proposed cuts to parks are disproportionately high. In fact, it appears that 40% of ALL the recommended ongoing cuts target our parks.
Parks are integral to our core character as a city. Parks host major music festivals, diverse cultural events and holiday celebrations, and a variety of events promoting local businesses. A recent study estimates the economic impact of local parks in Oregon at $1.9 billion dollars and over 17,000 jobs. Portland’s a big slice of that pie.
Portlanders routinely give some 470,000 hours per year to volunteering in the parks—an annual value of $5.5 million or more. The City of Portland’s budget should signal appreciation for that contribution and should reinforce—not undermine—the efforts of volunteers. In fact, the city should be looking for every additional opportunity to leverage the good will and private resources that have already contributed so much to iconic parks all over Portland.
We already have a backlog of $430 million in deferred major maintenance for parks. The proposed budget cuts accelerate a downward spiral that the City Council has started with its cuts to general fund support for parks over the past decade. Other cities have found to their sorrow that massive disinvestment in parks is nearly impossible to make right. It’s also a huge deterrent to success in the Parks Foundation’s own work to encourage private contributions to our public parks.
This year the city is projected to have record tax revenues. This is not the time to put parks’ ongoing general fund support on the chopping block. As PP&R’s Budget Advisory Committee letter to you observes, “After multiple years of reductions, the cuts now dig deep into core PP&R services and values, have significant service-level impacts for the public, and further erode employee morale.”
In closing, I urge you to support the public parks the way Portland’s public wants you to. Invest in what makes Portland not only livable, but exceptional. The Portland Parks Foundation stands ready to help. Thank you for your attention.
By Julia Benford
Here at the Portland Parks Foundation, we love to see people enjoying their neighborhood parks as often as possible. But we also understand that in the winter, Portland’s rainy, wet weather can make outdoor activities seem a bit less than ideal. One great way to avoid the rain while still taking advantage of Portland’s parks: visit your local community center! PP&R’s community centers offer tons of different amenities, from fitness classes to swimming to kids’ activities. Here, we break down what makes some of Portland’s community centers awesome.
Montavilla Community Center: 8219 NE Glisan Street
If you’re a teen (or have one in your household), Montavilla Community Center is the place to go. The center offers unique and interesting classes specifically for tweens and teenagers, including spoken word poetry, weightlifting, and gymnastics. If your teen has a busy schedule or just wants more flexibility, there are also drop-in classes (breakdancing, anyone?), movie nights, and homework help. Best of all, every class for teens is FREE thanks to Portland Parks & Recreation’s TeenForce program, which helps teens get involved with their local parks.
Matt Dishman Community Center: 77 NE Knott Street
The Matt Dishman Community Center truly offers something for everyone, from empowerment programs for young women to van trips for seniors—including a coffee and chocolate tasting tour that’s perfect for Valentine’s Day! The center also offers a wide variety of affordable, inclusive classes for people with disabilities or special needs, including dance classes, winter crafts, and button making. It’s the perfect place for all your loved ones to socialize.
Peninsula Park Community Center: 700 N Rosa Parks Way
Located in beautiful Peninsula Park, this North Portland community center has lots of fun activities for both kids and adults. Parents can enjoy adult/child dance, music, and gymnastics classes together with little ones. Or if your 4-6 year old loves the circus, they might enjoy the center’s circus arts class, where they can learn improvisation, clowning, and juggling! For adults, it’s never too late to learn a new skill—you can learn to play guitar, piano, ukulele, or violin with private music lessons.
Charles Jordan Community Center: 9009 N Foss Avenue
Are you an older adult looking to get more involved in your community? Charles Jordan Community Center has plenty of options just for you, with classes for ages 55 and up. From inclusive fitness options like Yoga in Chairs to floral design classes to van trips to the coast, there’s something for every interest. For the younger set, the center offers before and after school care and birthday party rentals—you can even rent a bouncy castle for extra fun!
Woodstock Community Center: 5905 SE 43rd Avenue
Woodstock Community Center offers some of the most unique classes of any community center in Portland. If you’re a senior interested in recording your family history, the center offers genealogy and memoir writing courses, which let you share your history with younger generations! For people of all ages who want to pick up a new skill, there are classes for calligraphy and antique clock repair. Finally, adults ages 60+ who want a relaxing fitness class can give hula dancing a try for a unique workout.
East Portland Community Center: 740 SE 106th Avenue
For fitness buffs and people looking to keep up their New Year’s resolutions, East Portland Community Center is ideal. They offer exercise classes for all ages and activity levels, as well as family fitness classes perfect for keeping the whole family healthy. Take a break and enjoy swimming in the pool—swimming lessons and water fitness classes are also available! And finally, for those with homeschooled kids looking to socialize, the East Portland Community Center offers sports and art classes specifically for homeschoolers. It’s a great place to branch out and try something new.
Sellwood Community Center: 1436 SE Spokane Street
Feeling crafty? Sellwood Community Center might be the place for you. They’ve teamed up with the Portland Lace Society to offer low-cost lacemaking and crochet classes—try it out and you might discover a new hobby! Little ones can also discover their creative sides with baby and toddler art classes for children 10 months and up. If you have school-aged children, check out the Sellwood Community Center’s Grow after-school program, which helps children build gardening and cooking skills and find physical activities they enjoy.
Southwest Community Center: 6820 SW 45th Avenue
If you have a child who’s looking for a new hobby and some new friends, the Southwest Community Center is a great place to go! They offer some amazing classes that will build lifelong skills, including cooking, rock climbing and skateboarding classes. Adults can find unique ways to get active too—take advantage of the community center’s rock wall, or try out a barre class. Finally, if you’re the father of a daughter, consider taking her to the center’s Daddy Daughter Night on February 24th or 25th! The $20 cost includes pizza, salad, frozen yogurt, and plenty of fun bonding time.
Board members are critical to our success as a foundation. Over the last three months, PPF has had the honor of introducing four new board members to our team. We are very appreciative and grateful for their time and guidance. Today would would like to introduce each of them.
Founder - Executive Director, Vive Northwest
What is your neighborhood park? Director Park
What is your favorite thing to do in a park? I enjoy hiking or simply sitting down and enjoying the fresh and clean air.
What inspired you to join the Portland Parks Foundation? My goal is to support the great work Portland Parks Foundation is already doing by providing a diverse and inclusive perspective.
Sales Manger - West, Sorel Footwear
What is your neighborhood park? Forest Park (photo from snowy Christmas hike 2017)
What is your favorite thing to do in a park? Hike, run, think, and de-stress!
What inspired you to join the Portland Parks Foundation? Desire to contribute to the community & ensure that as the city of Portland grows that access, maintenance, improvement, and development of city parks in all communities continues to happen for future generations.
Retired Attorney, Portland City Attorney's Office
What is your neighborhood park? Irving Park
What is your favorite thing to do in a park? My favorite things to do in a park are walk, ride my bike, and enjoy the plantings throughout the seasons (and imagine them growing in the garden of my dreams). What makes me happiest is to see people of all ages engaged in all sorts of activities--recreational sports, picnics, family celebrations, relaxing, and enjoying the respite a green or natural space provides--in a park.
What inspired you to join the Portland Parks Foundation? I joined the Portland Parks Foundation Board of Directors based on my deep appreciation for the role public parks play in Portland. In my past work for the city, I helped support the Parks Bureau in creating and preserving needed parks and community centers. I saw first-hand how important they are in knitting neighborhoods together and providing places for all Portlanders to play, relax, enjoy nature, celebrate, and gather with others. By serving on the Foundation's board, I hope to help maintain these vital public spaces for all Portlanders to enjoy both now and in the future.
VP of Development - Western Region, Fore Property Company
What is your neighborhood park? Healy Heights is our neighborhood park, but we love roaming throughout the hills.
What is your favorite thing to do in a park? We like to hike and walk our dog on the trails in the hills. We also enjoy attending events in our great public places like the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
What inspired you to join the Portland Parks Foundation? Portland’s parks give all of us wonderful places to engage with nature and one another. They make the City beautiful. While we are relatively new to Portland, we want to help preserve and enhance the things that make it special.