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'Feels like a close-knit family': African youth organization opens new building in Southeast Portland

Last winter, the African Youth and Community Organization was displaced with nowhere to go. Now they're growing together in a new building.

PORTLAND, Ore. — An organization that supports over 10,000 students each year has a new building in Southeast Portland thanks to generous donors. The African Youth and Community Organization is a nonprofit focused on supporting diverse and immigrant families through mentorship, economic development and youth services.

“I would come to AYCO just to get some help with homework and then just stay around and hang out with the friends, because everybody was the same as me," said AYCO student turned intern Abdinajib.

But many of these students didn't have a place to go last winter. AYCO scrambled to find a new location after their lease was not renewed and their last property became a site for new development.

"25,000 community members we serve each year ... we’ve been displaced, so we have to run around and fumble to figure out a space," said Jamar Dar, founder and executive director of AYCO.

About six months ago, they settled on a building in Southeast Portland on 82nd Avenue — the new Dream Center.

“We completely paid off the $3.65 million and own it 100%," Dar said, thanking the Meyer Memorial Trust, the Collins Foundation, the Murdock Trust and many organizations who helped make it possible. 

Students already fill the space, playing ping pong, studying and grabbing snacks. But Dar said that this building is much more than just a place to hang out. 

“When the students, they come to you and they say, 'My friend got shot and died last week but what makes me safe and be different is I come here every day. I got my service here, I got my sports program here, I got my snacks, I enjoy, I eat my lunch here,'” Dar said. 

High school senior Ro-Suhana Hafic agrees, even though she's newer to the program.

“I would even call AYCO my second home. It really feels like a close-knit family here," Hafic said.

Even though the Dream Center is already in use and bringing people together, it's still unfinished. AYCO is hoping to add offices and meeting rooms that will be open to the public. 

AYCO is holding a fundraiser inside the new building on September 28.

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