JKDCC Housing History
For decades, Portland Alumnae Chapter has been involved in numerous activities that target minorities, such as conducting workshops and seminars on physical and mental health, tutoring children, and working on affordable housing issues. In the late 1980s, members of the sorority wanted to establish a more permanent home in Portland, and over a dozen of the sorority sisters donated $100 each to initiate a search. Through the efforts of June Key, a member of the sorority, the organization purchased an old ARCO gas station and convenience store in 1992. The 15,090-square-foot property, located at 5940 North Albina Street in North Portland, sits in a culturally diverse neighborhood with a mix of residential and commercial uses. It is located on a prominent corner, not only for the locals, but for those visiting Portland’s Peninsula Park Rose Garden.
Upon purchasing the site, the Neil Kelly Construction Company, which has a showroom a few blocks away, donated survey work and created a blueprint for the property.
The building was painted and patched up through voluntary efforts, put into immediate use as a meeting site for the group, and became the nucleus of its community outreach activities. The building itself was maintained on a shoestring budget until funds could be raised to realize a more inspiring vision, which started to be explored in earnest in 1997.
From the outset, the main vision for the building was for it to function as the sorority’s headquarters and a hub from which community outreach and tutoring services could be provided. Planning and development committees were established in 1999 to explore new ideas, as well as to ensure that the existing property was maintained. More formal development steering committees were set up in the early 2000s, and funds were raised to help the sorority lay the groundwork for property development.
As early as December of 2002, members of the sorority met with representatives of the City of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development to explore ways of making the project more sustainable. The simple goal was to create a vibrant corner with an innovative building that could act as a demonstration project for other nonprofits to follow. A Delta House Construction Committee was founded at the end of 2000, and in the spring of 2003, students from the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture prepared and presented several green designs, of which one laid the foundation for the site’s future development.
As noted by the project coordinator, Chris Poole Jones, the vision that evolved was that of an innovative community green building demonstration project that would breathe new life into the community and provide a safe, nurturing environment for children and senior citizens who might otherwise not have a place to gather for academic, mental, and social development. Following Delta’s program thrusts, the facility was envisioned to include activities such as after school mentoring and educational development programs for middle to high school teens, low- or no-cost meeting space for neighborhood and community organizations, as well as support for the physical and mental health needs of the community.
One key challenge to the vision early on was the growing interest in the property and repeated offers from developers to purchase it. The quandary was whether to take the funds and put them back into the sorority’s programming, or to retain the central location in the community and move forward with its vision. Once the decision was made within the sorority not to sell and to stay the course, the group unanimously moved forward.
The June Key Center is named for the Delta soror who first came up with the idea in the early 1990s and pushed for it among the local community (as well as city and regional government bureaus and nonprofits) (she died before this happened).