Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Daren McCormick and Amy Clouse work with Traneesa, 6, and Ashante, 9, at the Child Development Center at Catholic Charities.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Daren McCormick and Amy Clouse work with Traneesa, 6, and Ashante, 9, at the Child Development Center at Catholic Charities.

Three years ago, the board of directors of Catholic Charities was at a crossroads. 

The 76-year-old organization needed a new home — to centralize its services and offer clients one location for their needs.

Next week, Catholic Charities will dedicate its new building, the Clark Family Center.

Strategic planning had led to the development of 132 units of low income housing on a piece of property on Powell Blvd., that Catholic Charities had purchased in 2004. 

Near that property was the site of the former empty St. Vincent de Paul retail store and create a central location for Catholic Charities operations but fundraising was at a standstill. 

Kim Randles, a longtime Catholic Charities volunteer and former vice president for development at Jesuit High School stepped in.  She organized the effort and with the leadership of Archbishop John Vlazny, Dennis Keenan, executive director and Mark Ganz, capital campaign chair, they began to spread the word of their vision for the future of Catholic Charities. 

For more than 75 years in Oregon, Catholic Charities has adapted to serve the poor and vulnerable in Portland.

Programs were previously spread across five locations. The need for an integrated service center was quickly recognized by prospective donors.

In less than 18 months, 145 individuals, corporations and foundations, along with funding from investors from a special federal tax credit program brought the project funding to completion. 

Major gifts came not only from individuals such as Robert Franz and the Clark family including, Maybelle Clark Macdonald, Mary Clark and Mike and Tracey Clark, but also from many of the major foundations in the area including the Joseph Weston Public Foundation, the Collins Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Regence BlueCross BlueShield and Providence Health and Services. The response was an affirmation of the positive impact of Catholic Charities in our community.  Community Funding Group also helped Catholic Charities get a large tax credit for the new building.

In June 2010, the staff and clients of Catholic Charities began to occupy their new home and the activity in the building is teeming. 

On the basement level, chronically homeless women, who are assisted by the Housing Transitions program, now have space for meeting with caseworkers, access to computers, and laundry and shower facilities to assist them in preparing for job interviews. 

A storage facility exists on the basement level to hold the many donations Catholic Charities needs.  Along with helping homeless women furnish an apartment, Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement services furnishes apartments with household items and furniture when the agency moves a refugee family from war-torn parts of the world to the Portland area. School supplies and clothing are also important resources for low-income families served through all of the agency’s 25 programs.

Donations for Elizabeth Services, which supplies items such as diapers, car seats, cribs, and clothing for babies and women in crisis pregnancy are always in critical need.  For the first time, Catholic Charities will have storage space on site for easy access.

Most program staff will work in open spaces on the third floor and fourth floors. The vital work of the agency is done, however, in the 14 conference rooms located in this space. 

“Catholic Charities old locations were often inadequate for our client needs,” said Keenan. “There are significant benefits of the Clark Family Center including improved confidentiality and safety for vulnerable clients, more dignified and adequate counseling and conference meeting spaces, a bright play area where waiting children can be supervised, security systems that ensure the safety of everyone.” 

To illustrate the point, Doug Alles, social service director, tells of a client who once arrived to speak to a caseworker from Project UNICA a domestic violence prevention program. She was followed by her abuser and with only one entrance/exit in the building, not only the client but the entire staff was at risk. 

“The Clark Family Center was designed to ensure that our clients and our staff have the most effective and protected space possible,” says Alles.

In addition to some program staff, the top floor of the center houses Catholic Charities administration. While the organization is very efficient, 92 cents of every dollar goes directly to client services, with more than 180 employees the need for accounting, human resources, technology services, development and executive management is important.  The new center allows these services to be more readily available to the program staff. 

The staff of Caritas Housing, a division of Catholic Charities that develops and operates housing and resident services for low-income families and seniors, disabled persons and persons with chronic mental illness, is also located in the Clark Family Center.

A unique feature of the top floor is the Regence Life Learning Center. Internally, the large room will be used for board of directors meetings and employee gatherings.

“For years we have had to rent space at other facilities to have all our employees gather for staff meetings and training,” says Bridget Martinez, Director of Human Resources. ”It is amazing to have adequate space in our own facility.”  

The large meeting space was designed for client use also. Within the first few weeks in the building the room was the site of an adoption workshop. Prospective adoptive parents and those who have been through the process, together with birth moms and Pregnancy Support and Adoption staff, had the opportunity to learn about the life-changing services of Catholic Charities.  Utilizing curriculum designed by Mercy Corps Northwest, plans are in the works to create opportunities to assist clients in creating their own small businesses.  Other classes such as parenting skills, relationship development, citizenship test preparation and English classes will be taught in the facility.

Within an intimate area of the Regence Life Learning Center is a unique space – an oratory dedicated to the Holy Family donated by Mark and Leslie Ganz.  This chapel-like space, with beautiful sculptures of the Holy Family and the risen Christ, offers the opportunity for quiet reflection for the staff during what can be challenging and stressful daily work.

A significant component of the complex is an empty second floor. This space allows for the development of new programs in the future.

“It is our hope that the Clark Family Center will transform the work of Catholic Charities as a resource for poor and vulnerable people and as an agent of change and opportunity for families in the greater Portland area,” said Mary Clark, for whose family the building was named.

In designing the Clark Family Center, Catholic Charities recognized the need for a daycare center in the area.  A partnership with Grandma’s Place Child Development Center was exactly what Catholic Charities was looking for. Grandma's Place program is based on the philosophy that families are the primary and most important providers of care and nurturing for young children. Grandma's Place offers options in care for infants at least six weeks old, toddlers, preschoolers and before and after school care for children up to twelve years old. “We are elated with our new facility,” says Amy Clouse, Director of Grandma’s Place.  “It has been such a pleasure to work with the architect, the builder and especially Catholic Charities.”

The Clark Family Center was designed by Lundin Cole Architects and incorporates many green features including sun shades to sunlight, electric car charging stations and permeable pavement.  A principal feature of the design was to create a flexible work space that fostered collaboration among the programs while allowing for future growth of Catholic Charities. R&H Construction was the builder. Construction was completed in only 12 months. “The building was on time and on budget,” says Dennis Keenan, “and provides an incredibly efficient space for Catholic Charities now and for the future.”