Holiday ‘Jail Party’ delights at-risk youth

Discover why this isn’t merely a “hand-out” – and how these kids earned the right to attend this festive celebration …

Community Transitional School kids run from the bus, ready to enjoy the annual Holiday Party put on by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office at their Inverness Jail.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

For many children who attend Portland’s Community Transitional School, chances of having a “Happy Holiday” are bleak.

This special school’s mission is to provide kindergarten through eighth grade education to the children of families who are homeless, in transition, or experiencing poverty-related crises.

But, thanks to the staff of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) – administrators, command staff, and law enforcement deputies – again this year, 82 children from this school were given special Holiday party they’ll long remember. It included lunch, lively entertainment as only BJ the Clown can present, a visit with Santa Claus, and gifts.

Wilson High School Leadership students form a “welcome arch” in the hallway.

On the morning of December 18, busses pulled up in front of Multnomah County Inverness Jail in the Parkrose neighborhood of outer East Portland, and the Community Transitional School students excitedly came spilling out.

Inside, as they walked toward the large meeting room, previously colorfully-decorated by the jail’s female inmates, they were welcomed by members of Wilson High School Leadership Group in the hallway.

MCSO Program Supervisor Liz Daily and Program Administrator Katie Bulrgard say that, after a marathon wrapping session, gifts are ready for the students.

As the kids were entering the room, MCSO Program Supervisor Liz Daily introduced Program Administrator Katie Bulrgard and said, “After many years of coordinating our event, I’m handing the reins to Katie!”

As many as 200 staff members contribute to the annual party, Bulrgard told East Portland News. “This includes people who have donated gifts, and managers and command staff who are helping directly with the party, as well as other things like wrapping gifts, or decorating and supervising the female inmate crew who decorate this room every year.”

Each child gets two gifts, each one especially chosen for them, Bulrgard pointed out. “They’ll get a toy they say they hoped for, and a delightful article of clothing they need.”

The party started this year with the MCSO Honor Guard bringing in the colors, led by sheriff office’s own bagpiper.

Community Transition School Principal and teacher Cheryl Bickle receives a check from Wilson High School Leadership Students Makenna McMillan and Claire Swearingen.

The Wilson High School Leadership Group presented a $1,000 check to the Community Transitional School from a grant they’d received, and were joined by MCSO staff as they led the children in a Holiday carol.

This unusual chorus was comprised of law enforcement, volunteers, and students – gathering to lead the singing of Christmas carols.

Community Transitional School students present their giant hand-made “Thank You card” to their benefactors.

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton gladly swears in the students as Junior Deputies, as the party gets underway.

“This is the 26th year we’ve held a Holiday party for Community Transitional School students,” said Sheriff Dan Staton. “And, this event makes it the best time of year for me.

“As corny as it may sound, when you look at these kids, you realize they will be adults in not very many years,” Staton went on. “We will be depending on them to lead the way. So, showing them kindness now is the most important thing that I can think of doing.”

With a helper from the audience, BJ the Clown gets ready to start making wildly entertaining balloon animals.

Again this year, BJ the Clown entertained the young audience. Looking around the room, this family entertainer shows why he continues to be a favorite at parties and events – all the adults were also laughing and playing along with his hysterically amusing antics.

Volunteers serve pizza provided by Gateway Izzy’s Pizza and drinks and snacks provided by Aramark and the Keizer Elks Lodge.

While the students were dining, Community Transition School Principal – and also classroom teacher for the second grade through fifth grade students – Cheryl Bickle talked about how she views the party from her perspective.

“These kids hear about this event from other kids,” Bickle said. “So, it’s really an important day to them. All of our kids here today know that they had to earn the right to come to this party, by being good ‘self managers’ as well as students.”

Here comes Santa!

In addition to being lots of fun, Bickle said the celebration is also an enriching experience for them. “It is something really special. I think of it as part of their education, to show them the possibilities of what life could be like in the future.”

None of the kids seemed to mind that Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury other County Commissioners weren’t able to attend, but instead sent along a “message of hope and giving as it brightens the childrens’ Holiday”.

Sitting in a sleigh of his own construction, Santa Claus speaks individually with each student who comes to the party.

After years of experience of producing this celebration, organizers learned long ago that the last event of the party should be Santa’s appearance. As Santa Claus (in this case, MCSO Deputy Don Bryant) comes into the room, the kids cheer, and line up for their turn to sit and speak with the Jolly Saint Nick – as their photo is snapped for them to take home as a remembrance.

Let’s roll the credits for this year’s MCSO Party! The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office thanks:

Izzy’s Pizza Gateway restaurant ~ Aramark
Keizer Elks Lodge ~ Jack Dellert/Portland Trail Blazers
Wilson High School Leadership Group
Multnomah County Corrections Deputy Association
Local 88, Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judges
Crowd Management Services ~ Washburn family
BJ the Clown

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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