Should the beleaguered Youth Opportunity Center tell the feds to hang on to the $10 million they're planning on sending to Portland?
At least one civic leader says it should be considered. "Unless there's some way that we can do it right, let's send the money back," says Portland Parks Director Charles Jordan, who sits on a community board that advises the center.
Jordan's comments come two weeks after an article in Willamette Week showed that the YO Center and its parent agency, Worksystems Inc., have so far consumed $10 million in federal funds but helped only 63 youths land living-wage jobs (see "Salina Worrell Was Robbed," WW, July 3, 2002). Another $10 million in federal grant money is scheduled to arrive during the next three years.
The advisory board is expected to make a recommendation to Worksystems next month, according to board chair Mildred Ollee, the executive dean of Portland Community College's Cascade campus. Ollee would not disclose how the board members are leaning, but she hinted that the YO Center's survival may depend on cutting its ties from Worksystems. "I think there's substantial feeling that Worksystems should not be in direct services," says Ollee.
While some Worksystems employees voiced disappointment with WW's critical assessment of their pet program, at least one had reason to celebrate. Upon reading the article, Director of Youth Services Jim Wernsing reportedly exclaimed, "My name's not in it! My name's not in it!" while executing a dance step reminiscent of a slaloming skier.
Wernsing is now on vacation and could not be reached for comment.