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2024 Community Report: Celebrating more than two decades of investments

It was a novel concept in 2002: Ask Portland voters to approve a local-option levy dedicated to services for children and families.

Voters said yes and have since gone on to overwhelmingly renew the Portland Children’s Levy four times, most recently in May 2023. More than two decades since the first grants were awarded in 2003, we take a look at the impacts the Levy has made on the ground. What does it look like when a community chooses to invest in upstream programs to prepare children for school, support their success inside and outside of the classroom, and work to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in children’s outcomes?

The 2022-23 year allowed many programs to make significant progress toward pre-pandemic goals. Meanwhile, the Community Council advisory body started meeting to provide a public voice to shape the Levy’s work, especially for the large grant funding round scheduled for fall 2024.

Five youths from New Avenues for Youth sit inside a gray raft on a river in Central Oregon. They are wearing green life vests and carrying blue and white oars. A guide in a red shirt and gray baseball cap sits at the back of the raft with an oar.
Above: Current and former foster care youth in the Avenues to College program enjoy a rafting trip in Central Oregon. Photo courtesy of New Avenues for Youth

2022-23 Grants Awarded by Program Area

program grants
grant funds

Early childhood

Supporting children’s early development and kindergarten readiness

Hunger relief

Expanding access to healthy food for children and their families

After school

Supporting children’s well-being and school success

Foster care

Supporting the well-being and development of children in foster care

Child abuse prevention and intervention

Stabilizing families, building resilience and preventing child abuse and neglect

Community childcare initiative

Making quality childcare affordable for working families with low incomes


Connecting children with caring mentors who support their well-being

Small grants

Improving equity of access for smaller organizations

children served by Levy grants*
lived in homes in which the primary language spoken was not English*
lived or went to school east of 82nd Avenue*
identified as Black, Indigenous and people of color*‡
pounds of food distributed at more than 60 sites

Setting a strong foundation

The first levy featured 4 program areas: after school, child abuse prevention and intervention, early childhood and mentoring. The goal was to support children starting in the crucial early years by creating safe environments where they could thrive surrounded by nurturing adults. These four program areas are critical to children’s success and continue today.

Having a caring, professional mentor can significantly improve a child’s life. At The Pathfinder Network, which became a grantee partner in 2020, the Mentoring Inside Out program supports youth ages 7-18 who are impacted by a parent or caregiver’s incarceration. The program provides individual and group mentoring and activities, summer camp, advocacy and case management, with services offered in English and Spanish.

“We’re supporting the youth’s autonomy and walking alongside them as they build resilience by uplifting, inspiring and motivating them,” says Vic, a mentor in the program. “We don’t give up on youth here.”

photo of Jimmie (left), wearing a white shirt, sitting in a car next to mentor, Vic, in a black shirt

Jimmie (left), with his mentor, Vic. Photo courtesy of The Pathfinder Network

“Back when I first started working with (my mentor) Vic, I couldn’t see a future, I just felt like it was always going to be like this, and I just had to deal. Whenever I called him, he picked up and would ask me things like ‘if everything were perfect right now, what would it look like?’ There are so many little moments with The Pathfinder Network where I changed over the littlest things. I’m glad I am who I am right now. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Mentoring Inside Out participant

close-up portrait of Ellena Brown smiling into the camera

Photo courtesy of Ellena Brown

“When I first got into this program, I was nervous because I’m so closed off to help and think I can make everything happen on my own. It wasn’t until my third meeting with Jesse (LifeWorks advocate) that I started to open up about life, my children and the help I really did need even if I was stubborn about it. I literally looked forward to my meetings to vent, to be helped, and be ok with being helped. I want to thank everyone who reached out and helped me.”

Ellena Brown
Family and Community Alliance participant

Supporting children also requires supporting parents and caregivers so they can provide safer, more stable home environments. The Family and Community Alliance from LifeWorks NW has received funding since the start of the Levy. The program enhances parenting skills and connects families to resources by providing home visits, case management, parenting classes, outreach and more.

Thi Ri (left) in a black, long-sleeved shirt, with Shadae (right), in a gray long-sleeved shirt, sitting at desks next to each other at Ron Russell Middle School. Each student holds a latex glove with their left hand while using their right hand to fill it with an aquamarine substance in a round, tinfoil pan as part of a science experiment. A white paper cup with a light green item, a Ziploc bag and a torn packet sit in the foreground.

Photo courtesy of Impact NW

“I wish my normal science classes were like [AKA Science!]”

Thi Ri (left) and Shadae (right)
Ron Russell Middle School students

For school-age children, fun and educational activities after school and in the summer can supplement classroom learning while providing safe places for children to further develop social-emotional skills. Many programs feature hands-on, immersive learning opportunities and can expose children to potential career pathways.

The AKA Science program from Impact NW provides science enrichment classes after school and in the summer on topics like chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, environmental science and more, along with supply kits for experiments and lessons.

Responding to emerging needs

Community input on emerging needs prompted the Levy to add foster care in 2008 and hunger relief in 2012 as new program areas.

For many foster care youth, the time transitioning out of foster care into the early adult years can prove challenging. At New Avenues for Youth, the Avenues to College program helps current and former foster youth access and succeed in college. The program discusses various college and university options, assists youth in navigating financial aid and scholarship opportunities, as well as providing support for basic needs like housing.

Portrait of Brittany Dillard, wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt with white stripes on the sleeves. Brittany has bright red hair and wears black, thick-rimmed glasses.

Photo courtesy of Brittany Dillard

“Avenues to College has been a tremendous aid towards my educational success. This program assisted me during my process in applying for Portland State University, taught me the fundamentals when it comes to writing a scholarship essay, and provided me with much needed support during difficult times. I couldn’t ask for a better program to be a part of my educational journey!”

Brittany Dillard
Avenues to College participant scheduled to graduate

Helping children and families meet basic needs like food spurred the creation of the hunger relief program area. Children who have regular access to healthy food do better socially, emotionally, physically and academically.

In Southeast Portland, a small team at Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center packages food bags and recipes that are distributed monthly to students and families across all POIC and Rosemary Anderson school campuses and community-based programs. Staff work to provide food bags in a timely manner, like immediately before a winter storm, and to feature seasonal food, like Thanksgiving meal ingredients in November. POIC also provides emergency food at three school pantries.

“I appreciate being able to give food out,” said DeShaun Knuckles, associate program coordinator for the POIC Youth Services program. Knuckles graduated from Rosemary Anderson High School in 2020 and previously participated in the school’s Levy-funded mentoring program. “I hope to inspire somebody just like others inspired me to come back. It’s great.”

DeShaun Knuckles (left) and Lynn Mangum (right)

“We’re happy to be able to do this. It’s just the smiles on their faces. It makes a big impact on the lives of the kids. They’re excited. ‘We got to eat!’”

Lynn Mangum
Youth Services Director at POIC

Coming full circle

Investments made in the Levy’s early days, especially in children’s early years, can make a lasting impact, sometimes across entire families.

All four of Hilda Ku’s children participated in the Listos Para Aprender (Ready to Learn) child development program offered by Morrison Child & Family Services, which has received funding since the Levy started. The program serves Latino children from birth through age 5 and their families, the majority of whom live east of 82nd Avenue. Services – all provided in Spanish – include home and virtual visits, parent-child groups, child development screenings, parenting assessments and other family support services.

Ku signed up for the program when she was in the hospital with her first child, Mayel Interian-Ku, who is now a freshman at the University of Oregon. Ku felt “very happy, very emotional, proud – and old” as she watched her eldest daughter graduate from Parkrose High School in 2023. Ku’s youngest, Matias, also featured in a Levy video in 2019.

Over the years, Interian-Ku watched her younger siblings participate in the same program she did herself as a young child and remembers attending program events.

“It was interesting to see (my siblings) collaborate with other kids and playing,” Interian-Ku said. “The home visitations were still happening. (Staff) would always bring different books that had just come out. It was interesting to be reading to my little siblings and seeing how they react to the pages. They really loved learning.”

Above: Mayel Interian-Ku (center) graduated from Parkrose High School in 2023 with the support of her parents, including mother Hilda Ku (right). Photo courtesy of Mayel Interian-Ku

“My favorite part of the program was setting goals. (Morrison staff) always told me I needed to have goals and would ask, ‘Are you working toward your goals?’ They made me feel successful. It was a feeling that you can accomplish something, and I learned what I’m capable of. Whatever goal I have, I learned that I can accomplish it. That feeling is worth it.”

Hilda Ku
former Listos Para Aprender participant

Building a more equitable future

In response to community feedback, the Levy in 2020 developed a small grants program to provide a more equitable pathway for smaller nonprofits to access Levy funding for the first time. Nearly all small grants also feature disability inclusion goals to better serve children with disabilities, like the after school program at Portland Tennis & Education.

Pedro’s Story

Carlos’ Story

Promises made, promises kept

A complete list of current grantee partners can be accessed on the Portland Children’s Levy website.

For more information, download the 2022-23 performance data slide deck and appendix.

Stay tuned for next year’s community report to learn more about how voter investments make a difference in the lives of Portland children and families.