Making Life Better in Portage

Chris Buckley has two stories he likes to tell when sharing his passion for the Portage Community Center.

A few years ago, a woman stopped him on the street and said, “I’m back on my feet now,” and proceeded to tell Chris that when she lost her job right before the holidays she didn’t know where to turn, but stopped in to PCC. She didn’t really know what she needed, but told a staff member that she had a daughter to care for and needed help.

The staffer sat down with her and talked through how PCC could help. The free clothing bar provided winter clothes for her daughter and an outfit for her to wear to job interviews. They also found a family to “adopt” them for the holidays, so the two of them received a variety of useful presents. She told Chris that assistance helped her through the rough period until she found another job.

His other story is about an area high school student who took an after-school job at PCC as a fill-in custodian while the regular custodian was on vacation. He was a hard worker, and was doing the job well, but it soon became apparent that he couldn’t read. Following his two-week stint, they paired him up with a tutor. He graduated from high school and landed a job he enjoys. 

Buckley has been executive director of PCC since 2014, coming from professional executive positions with the local Boy Scouts of America.

Providing Basic Needs

PCC is 42 years-old and is the only human services organization in the City of Portage, delivering emergency assistance, youth development, and a variety of programs hosted in their building on East Centre Avenue. Their location is nestled in the heart of the Portage City Center, within walking distance of City Hall, Portage Senior Center, Portage District Library, and Portage Public Schools’ administration building.

PCC’s motto is “Making Life Better,” and their mission is providing assistance with basic needs, youth development, healthcare, education and supportive services. Located within their building is Headstart and the Portage Branch of the Family Health Center. Buckley is quick to add that, while they are a partner and receive some funding from the City of Portage, they are not a city agency; they do rely on donations. 

“We battle the myth that there is no poverty in Portage,” says Buckley. “In fact, one in four students attending Portage Schools qualifies for free or reduced breakfast and lunch. Meanwhile, the number of Portage households living at the poverty level is up two percent, and the median income for Portage residents is down nine percent.”

The Food Pantry is a satellite of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, and is the most requested food pantry in the county when people call KL&F asking for assistance near their location. More than 20 families a day pick up basic foods there, a 22 percent increase in the past three years.

Youth Development

Buckley enjoys telling how PCC began, which explains why they’re heavy into youth development. “Back in1976, two Portage Northern students wanted a place to go after school. They started in a house focused just on youth activities, but over time that morphed into the human services agency it is today.”

Youth development programs include an after-school program with Community High School and the middle schools, a summer program for middle school students, “Shop with a Hero” experience, and scholarship assistance for Portage Parks and Recreation programming.

Visiting PCC

In addition to food and clothing, people visit PCC for assistance with transportation, evictions, medications, personal care, eye exams and glasses, utility shutoffs, youth programs and holiday assistance. They also make referrals as necessary when they can’t help someone.

PCC has meeting space available to rent for parties and meetings and provide holiday food baskets, back-to-school supplies, senior commodities and volunteer opportunities for both youth and adults. They also host programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), blood drives, immunizations, free legal clinics and tax counseling, pre-school vision and hearing tests, and self-help and support group meetings.

“Our programs are making a difference,” says Buckley. “We take pride in the personal service we’re able to provide to each person who walks in our door. We make sure that all clients leave here knowing how to best proceed with their situation.”

His parting thought was, “We would love to put ourselves out of business, but as long as there are people at the end of their rope, or those like the woman who lost her job and didn’t even know what she needed, we’re here to help.”

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