In a neighborhood that has been rejected by the two cities it sits between, a single dad named Miguel found himself facing a challenge that many parents know all too well—providing a place for his two elementary-age boys to grow, learn, and connect with others. Juggling the demands of work and parenthood, Miguel struggled to find an affordable and enriching environment for his sons.
The boys had been spending their afternoons at a family member's house, but the lack of interaction with kids their age left them closed off and struggling socially. Miguel noticed the impact on his older son, Jonathan, who, despite a desire to connect, already faced diagnosed social challenges.
"I wanted to find something for him to do, a place where he could interact with others," Miguel shared. "But with work, I just couldn't figure it out. It was a struggle."
Enter We Belong PDX, a nonprofit dedicated to creating safe and inclusive spaces for children to thrive. Miguel discovered this haven for his boys, and the transformation was nothing short of remarkable.
"Every time I pick up my boys, they always have something exciting to say," Miguel beamed. "It makes me feel better because I'm working, and I know they’re not bored. There's always something exciting they're sharing."
The impact of We Belong PDX extended beyond just excitement—it became a catalyst for positive change in boys’ life. The program not only provided a space for them to socialize but also recognize their potential. Jonathan, the oldest, and his newfound friend at We Belong PDX were selected to be Junior Coaches at school, spending their recess playing games with younger kids.
For Jonathan, who has a diagnosis that makes social settings a significant challenge, the growth was particularly profound. "He's improved socially so much and become more comfortable with kids," Miguel shared. "This program has made him open up more. I've seen a big difference in attitude between him and his brother."
With the absence of a strong mother figure in their lives, Alicia, the Program Coordinator, a nurturing force within the We Belong PDX Team, has filled an important gap. She gives them one-on-one time they need with a female figure. “They always want to give something back to Ms. Alicia," Miguel recalled.
We Belong PDX not only became a place for Miguel’s boys to belong but also a platform for growth, friendship, and family like figures who filled a crucial void in their lives. Miguel’s journey as a single dad became a story of resilience, support, and the transformative power of community.
We're a registered 501(c)3, reliant upon the generosity of others to continue forming these communities of belonging for children. You can help us invest in more lives and transform the mental health narrative in Portland, Oregon.
We're focused on areas of Portland where mental health issues have had a crippling affect
The kids are as young as 5 and as old as 14
Children qualify for programming if they live in the neighborhood or are recommended by the local school counselor
We partner with churches or nonprofits for the space
Group mentors are community members interested in giving at least four hours a month to invest relationally in children
We take interested volunteers through an on-boarding and training process to ensure they're well equipped
We're partnering with churches and other nonprofits to utilize their space when they're not
These community partnerships are changing neighborhoods
This is where it all began. Programming is currently run by Joseph Pauli every Monday and Wednesday.
Our second location was launched in February 2021 and is run by Evelyn Harrington every Tuesday and Thursday.
Our third location serves two groups of children, rotating days. This site launched in April 2023 and is run by Alicia Gonzalez Monday through Thursday.