Various neighborhood “advancement clubs” existed in Portland in the early 20th century. The Sunnyside Push Club was established on February 19, 1908. One of its actions was to advocate for the purchase of 40 acres from the Ladd estate to create a large “Sunnyside Park”. Eventually the city purchased about 20 acres of land, although the name favored by the Push Club was evidently not retained (hint: it’s Laurelhurst Park). A more successful “name fight” was won by the club when the idea of renaming Sunnyside School for one of Portland’s early pioneers was rejected early in the process.
Fast forward to the 1960’s. President Johnson’s plan for a Great Society expands the federal government’s roles in reducing poverty. In Portland, a Steering Committee is established to foster the creation of Neighborhood Committees. By 1966, the Oregonian notes that “in Portland these committees are strongly peopled with actual poor people”. The Sunnyside Community Improvement Committee is put in place in 1966 and quickly advocates for the creation of a Neighborhood Service Center to provide residents with easy access to various social and employment services. Similar committees in the Richmond, Buckman and Brooklyn neighborhoods eventually join forces under a newly created non-profit organization called Portland Action Committees Together (PACT). Three districts are created in SE Portland: the Brooklyn District, the Buckman District and the Richmond-Sunnyside District. By 1967, the Richmond-Sunnyside Neighborhood Center was up and running at 3525 SE Hawthorne Blvd in the Douglas Building, under the supervision of a local Board made of Richmond-Sunnyside residents.
By the end of 1967, more federal money is expected under the Model Cities program. However, program restrictions mean that its reach is limited to the Albina area. PACT advocates for the effort to be expanded to SE Portland and finds support from City Commissioner Francis Invancie and eventually Mayor Terry Schrunk. The SE Uplift Project is officially launched with the goal of doing “most of the work within local revenues, but using federal money when necessary and when it can be utilized without stringent regulations”.
By 1970, the underwhelming results of the War on Poverty and pull back of federal money under the Nixon administration call for change. To improve efficiency, PACT’s governance is restructured in favor of a single board that oversees all programs. To maintain neighborhood involvement, the Buckman Neighborhood Association is formally organized in December 1971, followed by Richmond and Sunnyside in early 1972.
On Monday March 6, 1972, “about 50 residents of Sunnyside and neighboring communities in southeast Portland unanimously approved the formation of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association”. Next year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our neighborhood association, let’s be thankful for the work of all of those neighbors that came before us. Let’s also celebrate the fact that both SE Uplift and PACT are still with us today. PACT was renamed Impact NW as it expanded its services outside the Portland Metropolitan area. It still runs its Seniors & Adults with Disabilities Services here in Sunnyside at 4610 SE Belmont Street.