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City threatens cancellation of Brooklyn Park summer program

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A longtime and loved city program for the Brooklyn neighborhood may be at its end

RITA A. LEONARD - Brooklyn activist Ben Tarne, wearing the hat at the table, spoke at the April 18 Southeast City Budget Hearing meeting to plead for retention of the Brooklyn Park Summer Program. In March, Craig Montag, the Park Director at Brooklyn Park for nearly 40 years, received notice from Portland Parks & Recreation that the 2017 Summer Playground and Free Lunch program might be eliminated, due to the low rates of free lunches (about 16) being consumed there. Loyal park-goers vigorously objected, remarking that since the Brooklyn neighborhood has no Community Center, no Library, or even a general neighborhood school, the 60-year-old Park Program offered a positive model and a safe place to hang out for generations of kids.

PP&R's notice continued, "Playground programs are affected by a realignment of 'Summer Free For All' funds. We propose to align our Summer Playground program with sites that offer free summer lunches. Now that Brooklyn no longer qualifies as a free summer lunch site, we are also proposing to eliminate the playground program [there], along with four other non-lunch sites."

Responses to a Facebook "Support Brooklyn Park!" site created by Jeremiah Johnson poured in. David Stalnaker said, "Some of my best childhood memories were because of this park. . . It will be a huge loss to the community and its children if this program is discontinued." Many former park-goers now even bring their children and grandchildren to Brooklyn Park to enjoy the same activities.

Many expressed outrage that their park program would be decimated, just because the minimum of 50 free lunches per day consumed was not reached. Some said they would be happy to go and eat a free lunch there just to maintain the program, if that's what was needed, although that would be a ridiculous way to assure the Playground budget.

A special meeting of the Brooklyn Action Corps neighborhood association (BAC) and the nascent Greater Brooklyn Business Association held on April 12 to discuss the matter with Portland Parks drew some fifty people. While many had thought the meeting was to brainstorm ideas to save the program, the 3 PP&R reps attending made it clear that the cuts were in progress, and that they were there merely to explain why and how – a decision which was made strictly by the lunch numbers.

Neighbor Darryl Phillippi remarked, "When quizzed as to the cost of the program in Brooklyn Park, they gave a number of $10,000. One neighbor asked, if a check could be written for $10,000, would that save the program. The answer appeared to be, NO." Neighbor Denise Chapman said, "This is [Brooklyn kids'] summer camp. Not everyone can afford to pay for camps all summer long. If Pioneer Square is the city's living room, this park is Brooklyn's family room...It's the heartbeat of our neighborhood, and without it, you will have just another park for the homeless to hang out in, and dog owners to use. The children are becoming an afterthought." Brooklyn neighbors, businesses, and the BAC are ready to raise funds to support the program, but would need to work with the City for use of the park. Neighbors were directed to attend yet another meeting – a Public City Budget Hearing at Mt. Scott Community Center, on April 18 – to voice their support. That meeting drew over two dozen Brooklyn neighbors waving pro-park program signs. Ben Tarne spoke eloquently to save the program, citing its importance in focusing neighborhood spirit.

BAC Chair Eric Wieland received notice from Commissioner Amanda Fritz April 14 saying in part, "Many community members have written . . . to express their concerns with this issue. I am working with Parks staff to asses all possible options that would mitigate negative impacts...and also address budgetary needs. I will provide a final response once we have reviewed this issue more thoroughly."

Montag is also in communication with the superintendent who sent the notice, indicating that the neighborhood is not in need of a lunch program – just the playground program, which began in 1957. Many youths visit the park in off-lunch hours specifically to enjoy crafts, games, leadership, and the famous summer water-slide that attracts visitors from all over the city and has often been featured in newspapers and on TV for the delight that it brings the community on 90+ degree days.

Those interested in maintaining the Brooklyn Park Program are urged to contact City Commissioner Amanda Fritz (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and Mayor Ted Wheeler (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), or call 503-823-4127. You can also contact the Director of Portland Parks, Mike Abbate (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Brooklyn has already offered to provide some funding for Brooklyn's Summer Program, as long as it survives under the aegis of PP&R.