Tag: Jamal Dar

AYCO Secures Dream Center on SE 82nd

The African Youth & Community Organization (AYCO) moved into the group’s Dream Center at 2110 SE 82nd Avenue in January 2023. This new location is the first permanent space for the 501c3 nonprofit organization. It moved from a temporary office on NE Glisan Street, where two affordable housing units will soon break ground, prompting their relocation after only two years. As the first long-term occupants of this modern building on SE 82nd Avenue, the youth-focused group has plans to build out the unfinished space but still needs further funding to implement those changes. However, investing in the culturally specific community center is already expanding services for an often overlooked segment of Portland’s population.

Executive Director Jamal Dar founded AYCO in 2009 with an emphasis on athletics and mentoring. Thanks to the helpful staff and donors, he continues to grow the organization to support entire families and the wider community. This new building is the next significant leap for the organization, which already serves thousands. “AYCO serves over 25,000 community members every year, with youth development, skill building, environmental education, workforce development, mentorship, and leadership. We serve over 11,000 students every year,” recounts Dar. His group partners with six school districts with 575 students enrolled in its after-school program. In-school staff called Cultural Navigators are available to students in the participating districts. They offer educational support and mentoring with an understanding of the challenges faced by immigrant and refugee youth.

Jamal Dar at the new AYCO Dream Center

Jamal Dar explained that serving the children alone is not enough to build success for students. The family’s situation influences a child’s future. This realization is why AYCO expanded to support parents, providing them with tools to participate in the education process. “We’re dealing with a multi-generational model where our children will grow up here in the culture, creating a barrier between them and their parents,” said Dar. In some cases, the child acts as the family translator and can take advantage of the situation to filter out the negative aspects of their behavior at school. AYCO informs parents of their right to receive translation services from the school and helps them interface with educators successfully. Dar also emphasized the cultural difference in American education, explaining that many African communities will not require parents to participate in school matters. However, in Oregon’s schools, parental involvement is an ingredient for academic success.

When AYCO moved into the NE Glisan Street location two years ago, it provided a needed boost in facilities, helping expand their support services. Similarly, this latest relocation will also help grow the organization. However, the move was faster than Jamal Dar had planned. When they took the short-term lease from Metro in 2021, Dar hoped redevelopment plans would include AYCO in the new affordable housing project as part of the ground floor programming. Ultimately, Metro did not select the development proposal that included AYCO as a service provider at the site, forcing them to relocate permanently ahead of the building’s demolition. Fortunately, several funding sources materialized to secure a new space. However, not all funds were available in time, prompting the need for a bridge loan to help AYCO buy 2110 SE 82nd Avenue. The nonprofit community development organization Craft3 stepped in to fill that financial gap, which Dar hopes to repay later this year.

Draft plan for 2110 SE 82nd Avenue’s fist floor

As the AYCO staff complete the acquisition phase of the Dream Center’s development, they must consider how to shape the raw space into the community center that they envisioned. Working with an architectural firm, they’ve crafted a draft proposal for the interior configuration. Dar has those building plans displayed on the back wall of the 82nd Avenue building, letting visitors imagine where the new walls will land in the open room. It features an ample event space at the front of the building allowing for organization lead gatherings and rentable space for personal celebrations. Plans call for segmenting the reaming two-thirds of the building to serve specific programs. 

Ahlam Osman, the Youth Environmental & Workforce Development Coordinator at AYCO, explained that this transformation will take years. “So we have the outer shell built, but they’re going to continue building it, building walls and making it into an actual center. That’s going to take about two years for it to be complete.” Osman described how each area would enhance the organization’s offerings. “We’re going to have an adult daycare—a space for the elders in our community to come together and drink tea. Just having a space where they can relax and connect is important for our community. We like to talk and discuss,” said Osman. “We’re also going to have a childcare area, that’s a huge need in our community, and we currently don’t have any childcare facilities that’s culturally specific.” The plans have designated rooms for homework assistance and training classrooms. AYCO leadership envisions an organization that can serve pan-African youth from kindergarten to college. They’ve also planned space for a media room to foster podcast productions, giving voice to their community.

Osman appreciates the new space’s potential and how it benefits the African immigrant and refugee population. They can expand beyond the established youth programs, educating adults on navigating all the systems of American society. Recently they hosted a discussion about renter’s rights. “Our communities are [mostly] renters, not homeowners. So a lot of them want to learn more about what their tenant rights are and how to talk to their landlords because their landlords are not receptive to the issues that they bring up,” explained Osman. Much of this information is available from other sources but not as accessible to everyone. “There’s a lot of Somalis who live in this county and who live in this neighborhood. I don’t really see there being options for translated materials,” remarked Osman.

According to Osman, that barrier to information extends into political participation. “We’re definitely not as engaged [as others], and I think a huge reason for that is because of a lack of education. They all know what the problems are and what the issues are. They just aren’t aware of how to solve those issues on a structural level. Not understanding the system, and the language barrier, are all contributors to the lack of civic engagement. I also feel like our elected officials and local politicians don’t do a great job coming to our community and meeting us where we’re at. I just think there’s a huge disconnect between our local politicians and our community,” said Osman.

Part of the disconnect comes from a structural difference in how this community communicates. “We collect data differently than the way it’s traditionally collected through surveys. We as an organization collect qualitative data through storytelling, dialogue, and conversation,” explained Osman. This approach is a culturally specific method for imparting experience and often clashes with established techniques used to quickly harness data and normalize it to appear on a chart. “It’s really hard to capture quantitative data, and that’s usually what’s being asked for,” said Osman.

Although information-gathering approaches differ, pan-Afican community members face similar income and living expenses issues as many Portlanders. “Housing is huge and the main issue that gets brought up. We do a lot of wrap-around support and assistance, but it’s not really sustainable because there are a lot of underlying issues like a lack of employment. It’s really hard for the elders in our community to even find jobs because of the language barrier. You have to know fluent English to get a job, or they’re being mistreated and abused by their employers because they don’t know English, and they get taken advantage of,” explained Osman.

As with other population groups in the area facing rising housing costs, the African immigrant and refugee community must move further east. That can further isolate children as they relocate away from services. “Transportation is a huge barrier for our youth, they have to ask their parents for rides, but their parents work. We used to have a van, but it got stolen. We’re also trying to encourage our students to take the bus, but safety is a huge issue. A lot of our youth are black and Muslim and just don’t feel safe taking it,” said Osman. Jamal Dar reiterated that sentiment, saying the 2017 stabbing on the MAX train was a significant moment for his community. That attack began as a verbal anti-Muslim assault on two black teenagers, ending with two dead and one person critically injured. That incident still makes some Muslims hesitant to ride TriMet. This new center is closer to the people they serve and on a busy bus line. However, several changes are needed to make this center more accessible by public transportation. AYCO staff are looking forward to TriMet improvements to bus safety and a greater acceptance of headwear worn by some Muslim women. Osman also hopes to see a permanent student free-ride program for Portland Public and David Douglas School Districts. 

Ahlam Osman began working with AYCO seven months ago while studying community development at Portland State University. She is excited to work in this position within her chosen field. “My job is very much tied to what I’m studying and what I want to do in the future after I graduate,” said Osman. “I lived in Portland my whole life. I’ve never felt like I had a place to call home outside of my actual home. I never imagined us having our own Community Center. So I’m really excited to see this building fully built because it makes me want to stay here in Portland.” AYCO is still searching for funding and volunteer support. People interested in helping develop the program and donating to this group can find more information on the organization’s website.

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AYCO Seeks New Home on 82nd

African Youth & Community Organization (AYCO) is in the process of buying the Flex Building located at 2110 SE 82nd Avenue. The youth mentoring organization currently operates out of the former Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) building on NE Glisan Street. Developers will soon transform the TBN site into affordable housing, prompting AYCO’s move to a new facility. However, the group needs to raise $5.5 million to purchase and renovate the new building.

In January 2021, AYCO relocated to 432 NE 74th Ave from SE 122nd Avenue. Although the group knowingly committed to a short-term lease for the property on NE 74th, they hoped to become a partner organization in the supportive housing planned for the site. Unfortunately, Metro did not select the development group they partnered with, making another move inevitable.

This week the developers submitted a type 2 Land Use Review for the first of two buildings planned for the Glisan and 74th housing project. That four-story wood-framed residential building will contain 41 units of permanent supportive housing above a ground floor commercial kitchen, cafe, and retail incubator space. Additional amenities include resident services, laundry rooms, bike parking, and a community room.

With the permitting process underway, securing a new home for AYCO takes on a new sense of urgency. The Flex building on SE 82nd Avenue is several years old but has never found a tenant. Constructed in 

Flex 2110 SE 82nd Ave

2017, the building’s owner anticipated demand for high-end office and commercial space on 82nd Avenue near SE Division Street. Lower demand and the pandemic kept the building vacant except for a short-term popup COVID testing site. Crews only constructed the basic shape of the space, waiting for tenants to dictate the placement of interior walls. This unfinished condition will add to AYCO’s overall costs for the project. “The building is a shell and needs huge construction [and] tenant improvements,” explained AYCO Executive Director Jamal Dar.

The Flex building will cost $3.6 million to purchase. AYCO staff have allocated the remaining $1.9 Million to cover construction and furnishings. Fortunately, they have already received commitments for $1.5 million from supporters. An additional $2.5 million is expected to come from Federal funds and contributions from the City of Portland. Now, AYCO is seeking donors at any level who can help bridge the $1.5 million gap. They must find those funds within six to ten months or incur debt from loans.

The Flex building offers many benefits to the AYCO community, and buying the building will provide the permanent home this group has sought for many years. Dar explained that the building is centrally located near the community his organization serves. He feels its proximity to several schools, shopping, and transit options will be an invaluable benefit to the immigrant and refugee community using this resource center.

At 18,682 square feet, the increased building size means AYCO will continue to offer all existing programs with room to expand. “[The building] will allow us to conduct all of our programs, including establishing early childhood education and many other programs we currently don’t have,” said Dar. Buying the Flex building has the potential to take AYCO to a new level and secure its space in the supportive services community.

People or groups interested in investing in AYCO’s future location on SE 82nd Avenue should visit the group’s website www.aycoworld.org and click this Donate Now button at the top of the page. Jamal Dar and his staff are available to talk to groups interested in large sponsorship opportunities.

Promotion: Montavilla News has a Patreon account. We invite those who can contribute to this local news source to please consider becoming a paid subscriber or sponsor. We will always remain free to read regardless of subscription.

Halal Meat & Grocery Closes on Glisan

Afgoye Halal Meat & Grocery recently moved out of its storefront at 7202 NE Glisan Street after seven years in business. The grocery store suffered several setbacks during the pandemic, prompting the owner not to renew the lease. This store was one of only a few reaming retailers serving the Islamic community in the area.

Owner Abdullah Shareef started the business in June of 2014 under the namer Bakaal Halal Meat & Grocery Store. However, by November 2014, the store changed its name to Afgoye Halal Meat & Grocery Store. Afgoye is a town and region in southwestern Somalia. The store offered foods and ingredients from Asia, India, and Africa. The shop also specialized in fresh-cut Halal meat. Halal is Arabic for permissible. Halal meat is butchered in accordance with Islamic law, as defined in the Koran.

Jamal Dar, Executive Director of the nearby African Youth & Community Organization, provided some insight into the business closure. “They were struggling due to the pandemic and lack of economic stability. That being said, they have closed the business and are looking for another opportunity for future business.”

1924 Sanborn Map

This two-story wood-framed building contains two storefronts and six apartments. Supposedly built in 1890, this unassuming building has a long history of accommodating renters. The actual date of construction is uncertain as the 1909 Sanborn map does not show any structures on the property. V. Cladek, a notable Montavilla figure, owned the rooming house in the early 1900s according to a 1918 plumbing permit when it had an address of 1840 E Glisan Street. Portland renumbered its streets in the 1930s to create a consistent address structure throughout the city. The 1924 Sanborn map shows the building in its current footprint with a label of “Housekeep’g R’ms” at the 1840 E Glisan address, suggesting that a later remodel added the storefronts to the ground floor.

Although Afgoye Halal Meat & Grocery’s time at the building was cut short, they added to the property’s extensive history and provided specialty foods for the community. The property owners have not yet listed the vacant retail space as available to lease. Expect to see a new shop in that location sometime in the future.

Presentations at Next MNA Meeting

Next Monday, three groups will present information on projects that are shaping Montavilla’s future. Representatives from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT)African Youth & Community Organization (AYCO), and Metro will discuss their plans at the February 8th Montavilla Neighborhood Associations (MNA) meeting. Attendees will learn how they can participate in the process and hear details regarding the neighborhood improvements.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 PM via Zoom. Event registration is found at the MNA website or directly through this link

The first presenters are sharing plans for an improved NE Halsey street, from 68th to 92nd Ave. Nicole Peirce, Capital Project Manager for PBOT, will present information regarding safer intersections and better access for non-motorists. Joining Peirce is the project manager for the 70s Bikeway project. Both projects cross through Montavilla and will vastly improve universal mobility in the area.

Jamal Dar, Executive Director for AYCO, will share information about his group’s mission to offer support services and youth mentoring for the African immigrant and refugee community. This organization serves a growing population of people with East Africa origins in their recently opened center on NE 74th Ave.

Metro representatives Choya Renata and Patrick McLaughlin will present information regarding proposed low-income housing at the former TBN Site. Two years from now, Montavilla will gain 120 to 150 new households on NE Glisan Street. In a partnership between Metro and the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB), the former Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) site will transform into affordable housing. Metro will present their community outreach process at the meeting and further outline the project’s scope.

Disclosure: The author of this article serves on the NMA Board

AYCO Opens Center at TBN site

African Youth & Community Organization (AYCO) recently relocated to Montavilla on NE Glisan. Located at 432 NE 74th Ave, the group offers support services and youth mentoring for the African immigrant and refugee community. The expanded space obtained through this move allows their programs to grow, even while social distancing during COVID-19 restrictions.

Executive Director Jamal Dar founded AYCO in 2009 with an emphasis on athletics and mentoring. Over its first decade, the organization expanded its offerings to include health and education services. Added support for families continued the programs’ growth trajectory, supporting parents and people caring for special needs children.

AYCO seeks to strengthen a sense of cultural identity within the immigrant community while facilitating integration. Like the community they support, many of the team at AYCO immigrated from East Africa. Staff leverage that personal experience to guide newly arriving families adapting to this country. Their youth programs develop academic and team-building skills in a culturally familiar environment. Health services provide assistance navigating healthcare and disability resources, understanding the language and culture of those seeking support.

In 2015 AYCO opened its first location at 1390 SE 122nd Ave. That space allowed the organization to expand the services offered substantially. However, with increased community need, that location became too small. The building on NE Glisan offers the room need to grow the organization further. The new Center’s increased footprint will feature a gym to help the children embrace athletics beyond soccer and basketball. The new location also allows for a clinic to support children of all ages and abilities.

AYCO leased part of the single-story building from Metro, which acquired the site from Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). The previous owners used the building as a TV studio and broadcasting facility before selling the property in late 2019. Metro plans to develop the site two years from now and sought short term tenants. “The building where AYCO is leasing space will eventually be demolished, and the new housing that will be built in its place will prioritize families and households with very low incomes.” Said Constantino Khalaf, Senior Communications Specialist with Metro.

Metro happily made space in the building available for AYCO, reducing the rent to support the group’s efforts. “We’re excited that such a great, community-serving organization can use the space during these early stages rather than let it sit vacant.” Explained Khalaf.

Regardless of the short-term lease on the space, Dar looks forward to the site’s pending development. He intends to become a tenant within the new development’s commercial area when completed. NE Glisan Street is close to the community AYCO servers, and Dar feels it will be an ideal home for his organization.

When the pandemic’s risk has subsided, Dar hopes to interact with the Montavilla community more. Until then, his organization plans to continue to their outward community engagement through support for the hungry and unsheltered. Look for the location to become more lively with youth activities over the coming months, and visit the AYCO website if you want to know more about the organization.