“Continuous efforts - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.”

~Winston Churchill
Vol. 19, No. 6 • Mailed monthly to over 12, 400 homes in the Gateway & Parkrose Communities Free • OCTOBER 2003
FEATURE ARTICLES Memo Calendar Memo Pad Business Memo's Loaves & Fishes Letters Home
A Mid-County school where starting over and second chances are the norm
Crime prevention program change irks neighborhoods
Gateway Program Advisory Committee votes for lower building heights on 102nd Avenue
Portland Neighborhood Crime Prevention Program: a turbulent history
Kickin’ around Parkrose
Rossi Family shares with neighbors at Harvest Festival

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A Mid-County school where starting over and second chances are the norm

Innovative program combines academics and a personalized program to give kids a second chance


(from left) Stevie, Chuck, and Anthony playing kickball at recess.
Adam puts his foot in it.
Anthony (left) runs to his position so Stevie can pitch the ball.
Davik receives instruction from Matthew Werres, Mrs. Sawyer’s Program Assistant.
Stevie smiles after being complimented on the quality of his homework by his homeroom teacher Pat Sawyer.
Stevie pitches the ball to his classmates.
Eight year Serendipity staff member Pat Sawyer answers Anthony’s question about his assignment.
Webster’s defines serendipity as the faculty of discovering desirable or valuable things accidentally or unexpectedly. Here is another definition, unique to Mid-County.

Close your eyes. Imagine you are 8 years old, or 11, or 16. You have been labeled a failure at a handful of public schools. Teachers have lost patience with you. Your classmates don’t understand you.

Now imagine you are in a new school. The staff is overflowing with teachers, counselors and staff who believe in you and have the skills to address your needs. The other students have faced many of the same struggles as you and are thriving in this new environment. Open your eyes. Welcome to Serendipity Center.

Established in 1979, Serendipity Center, 14815 S.E. Division St. (Site of the former parochial school St. Joseph’s), provides an atmosphere of growth and support for students who have had a history of educational, social, emotional and behavioral problems in their neighborhood schools. Often by the time a student arrives at Serendipity, they have met with repeated failures in the traditional school setting and have believed they cannot succeed. At Serendipity Center, they soon recognize that they no longer stand out. Their fellow students all have some kind of disability. Not being different empowers most students, allowing them to make strides they’ve never before experienced. “There is a drive in kids to learn”, according to Executive Director Belinda Marier.

Development director Rita McClellan says going to school is a normal part of a child’s life. For these kids, that has not always been the case. McClellan stresses that because the focus is on being in school, that students are there to learn and because the building looks like a school, it soon begins to feel normal. As simple as this concept may seem, it makes a big difference to kids who may equate teasing or ostracism with school.

An accredited school, Serendipity Center, combines an academic environment with mental health professionals to meet the needs of a diverse population. Schools from throughout the Portland metropolitan area refer children to Serendipity, which offers education and support from kindergarten through high school graduation if needed. Students may arrive with difficulties ranging from learning disabilities, poor social skills, anger and aggression problems, or family problems. Every student has not only a core teacher, but also a coach who spends time with the student each day discussing goals, and a case manager whose job it is to act as a liaison between the student and the classroom, the home and the community.

Each classroom includes instruction in reading, writing, math and social sciences as well as instruction in problem-solving, social skills and self management. Class sizes range from 7-14 students, depending on academic performance level and social /emotional needs. Striving to be a “strength based program”, the staff at Serendipity Center works with each student to design a personal program that will allow that student to succeed. Lead Clinician Jackie Trussell says Serendipity is “a place where kids are able to evolve and develop based on individual needs.”

Serendipity staff reports that when students are provided with a supportive environment that will address issues promptly, kids then begin to seek ways to help and nurture one another as well as their community. This too may be new to kids who come from families who have multiple and complex problems.

This school quietly serves a very specific and important role in our Mid-County community. If you have time and the inclination, volunteer opportunities that range from working directly with students to program support positions are available.

Serendipity has changed and grown to meet the changing needs of students referred there. With the changing times and changing economic climate come new challenges. Serendipity is able to rely less on public funding and now turns to the community for support. Sunday, October 12 is the date for the Center’s third annual dinner auction. Held at the Gray Gables Estate in Milwaukie, this event will include a silent as well as oral auction. Additionally, four Northwest artists have been invited to attend the event and create an original work to reflect the theme of the event - “Unlocking the World for Children”. These original pieces will be offered at the oral auction.

It is serendipitous for Mid-Multnomah County that Serenity Center is located in our community, they are doing worthwhile and meaningful work with these children. Please help support the fine people whom work and volunteer at Serendipity in anyway you can.

For more information or to offer a donated item for auction, please contact Rita McClellan at 503-761-7139. E-mail Rita at rita@serendipitycenter.org. Or visit Serendipity Center’s web-site at: http://www.serendipitycenter.org.

Serendipity Center Staff to Student Ratios
Current Student Body 77
Teachers 8
Classroom Assistants 8
Case Workers 4
Interventionists 4
Psychiatrist 1
Nurse 1
Management Team 5
These numbers translate to 1 dedicated, professional adult for each 2.5 students enrolled at Serendipity Center.

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