Isha shows her flexibility and strength in anticipation of the gymnastics camp, which will be offered through the new sports program.
Isha shows her flexibility and strength in anticipation of the gymnastics camp, which will be offered through the new sports program.
Children in the Kateri Park community in Southeast Portland have limited access to organized summer sports because of program costs and the need for transportation. Lack of proper gear, facilities and training also poses safety risks and missed development opportunities.

The hallways, lobby and community room at Kateri Park, a low-rent housing complex, have served as makeshift gymnastics arenas. Determined to gain new skills, kids have even used an old mattress from a dumpster as their crash mat.

Claire McIlwain, Catholic Charities’ resident services coordinator, created the Kateri Park Sports Program with a grant from the Nike Community Impact Fund and the Rippey Foundation. The funds will allow coaches from the Portland area to work with kids in selected sports and provide transportation to practice facilities.

One child jumped at the idea of a skateboarding camp, telling McIlwain: “What are we gonna learn? Kickflips? Ollies? Do you think we’ll go to skateparks?”

“The coach will decide; I take it you’re excited?” McIlwain responded.

“Obviously,” the student said. “Can you make it the first camp? I’m going to be the best [skateboarder] when summer’s over.”

There are many mental health benefits of physical activity, including its ability to help heal trauma and allow kids to express their frustrations in a positive way.

McIlwain said it also gives them something to talk about when they go back to school.

“Most students go back and write stories and share what they did over the summer, but low-income kids often have little or nothing to share — no big vacations, no camps, just a few random things they did around Portland. It can be pretty stigmatizing,” said McIlwain.

The hope is that the sports program will lead to permanent solutions that allow children to participate more fully in organized sports.

The Kateri Park Sports Program has begun securing commitments from coaches and has scheduled the first round of camps to start in early June 2020.

Catholic Charities