Return to Neerchokikoo–a community’s dream realized
The journey home
The Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) was founded in 1974 by parent volunteers, concerned about the low high school graduation rates of their youth. They organized after-school sports and tutoring sessions to keep youth engaged in their education and their community. Over the years, with the same intention of serving their youth and community, NAYA ebbed and flowed, meeting together in community centers and church basements, “catch as catch can.”
In 1994, NAYA organized to gain its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and with grants and contracts, NAYA grew to an $8M budget and expanded programming to serve everyone from babies to elders. Moving more than once to accommodate our growing operations, NAYA “came home” when we relocated to the site of former Portland Public Schools Whitaker Middle School on NE Columbia Blvd. Envisioning a future of stability, we purchased the campus in 2009.
Our campus has historic and cultural significance–we are located at Neerchokikoo, an ancient Native encampment and gathering site. For many centuries, Native Americans from tribes throughout the area came to this land to gather, trade, and build community. At this site, NAYA serves as a sanctuary for the Native community, a space for healing and spiritual connection to the land, water, and history unique to Neerchokikoo. NAYA is a hub of cultural empowerment with community organizing, economic development, educational achievement, housing security, and health and wellness programs.
In 2019, NAYA’s Board of Directors prioritized the Return to Neerchokikoo campaign as necessary to create financial stability for the organization’s future. The goals of the campaign were to 1) relieve the mortgage debt on the buildings and campus, and 2) invest in the much-needed capital improvements to assure the old buildings will thrive for generations to come.
Fundraising began in the summer of 2019 with an initial investment of $500,000 from East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Additional support of $150,000 for in-kind improvements and an investment of $1.2M in ARPA funds helped us meet our initial goal for building improvements.
“The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District is honored to have helped NAYA leverage funding to secure a site that means so much to Portland’s Native American community,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, Chair of the EMSWCD Board of Directors.
The pandemic put a pause on the campaign while we focused our attention on supporting our community. We pivoted services to be delivered virtually, provided COVID testing and vaccination resources and clinics, delivered 2,000 meals each week to youth and families, and distributed more than $3M for rental, energy, and small business assistance.
While we were closed to the public, we continued to renovate and revitalize our campus. Throughout our main building the asbestos padding underneath the old tile flooring was removed and replaced with beautiful wood simulated vinyl tiles. We replaced the lead pipes in our main building to assure that contaminants no longer threaten the health of staff and community.
As NAYA staff returned to working in person and on campus in October 2022, a renewed effort to complete fundraising for Return to Neerchokikoo brought the campaign home. A total of $2.9M has been raised, retiring the mortgage so that NAYA now owns our property outright. The achievement of completing this crucial goal is infusing $244,000 annually back to our operations and programs, instead of mortgage payments.
Since relocating to Neerchokikoo in 2006, we have been working steadily towards this vision of a permanent home for the Portland region’s Native community. This includes bringing our community closer to NAYA with intentional place-based investments in our campus, nearby affordable housing and expanded wraparound programming.
NAYA opened Nesika Illahee in February 2020, Mamook Tokatee in May 2022, and Hayu Tilixam in December 2022, providing 165 affordable housing units within one mile of our campus. In North Portland, we are redeveloping and increasing the number of units at Tistilal Village, an existing affordable housing development that is on a direct bus line to NAYA. Also close to our campus, we are in the process of redeveloping the former PCC Workforce Development Center at NE 42nd and Killingsworth, which will include affordable housing for foster youth and early childhood learning programs.
In 2019 we tilled our soil to start a community garden. With volunteer support over the past three years, that community garden has grown to nearly four times its original size and has flourished. With a focus on food sovereignty, our garden provides First Foods and fresh produce to our kitchen as well as to the community through U-Pick opportunities and produce box distribution.
Over the next five years our plans are to create cultural spaces for our community to gather as well as to expand our garden to produce fresh vegetables and traditional medicines year-round. Furthermore, our campus at Neerchokikoo is important as one of the last natural areas in an industrial corridor. Whitaker Ponds and the Columbia Slough serve both as an environmental classroom for our high school students and a connection to our history. We are reclaiming the land.
And now, with the joyful completion of the Return to Neerchokikoo campaign, NAYA is at last securely home. No longer encumbered by mortgage payments, we can continue our investments knowing that NAYA will be here to serve the community in ever creative ways, for generations to come.
Thank you to our wonderful partners, donors and supporters for believing and investing in our vision of a safe and permanent home for the Portland region’s Native community:
A special thank you for the generous in-kind support from EC Company, Energy Trust of Oregon, Evergreen, Herc Rental, Honl Tree Care, IBEW Local 48, KPFF Architects, Masons Supply Co., O’Neill Construction, Pacific NW Council of Carpenters, Pioneer Sheet Metal, Walsh Construction, and Wood Mechanix. Investments from The Collins Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, and Oregon State ARPA funding also contributed to the $1.7 M building upgrade goal.
“We are so pleased to join forces with other funders to complete NAYA’s inspiring campaign to secure a permanent, sustainable, environmentally protective and unencumbered home for Portland’s Native American community. Our father Ned was a neighbor to the NAYA campus for many years. We think he would be amazed and delighted by all that NAYA has created on the site and in the neighborhood. It feels like coming full circle to turn some of the fund’s equity back into NAYA’s land equity.” Statement from Anna Hayes Levin and Peter Hayes, advisors to the Ned & Sis Hayes Family Fund of Oregon Community Foundation
Our mission is to enhance the diverse strengths of our youth and families in partnership with the community through cultural identity and education. We believe that traditional cultural values are integral to regaining sovereignty and building self-esteem. Offered free of charge to participants, our five programmatic areas include our alternative high school (the Many Nations Academy), Youth and Education Services, Family Services, Housing and Stabilization Services, and Community Economic Development Services.