By Karen Hery

Belmont Street Fair is in its 21st year attracting over 10,000 people to the streets of Belmont between SE 33rd and Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. The fair got its start in 1996 as a REACH community improvement project. This year’s event is Saturday September 10 from 11 am – 7 pm.

“You wouldn’t think a street fair could make that much of a difference, but the staff at REACH knew that getting people out in the streets in their own neighborhood made a lot of difference in civic pride,” says John Barker.

In 1982, in response to neighbor concerns about deteriorating housing conditions in SE, REACH began buying up and managing older homes and apartments, growing over the years to a portfolio of over 2,000 units of affordable housing located all across the metropolitan region.

Under the strong leadership of director Dee Walsh, (who has since moved to the Housing Partnership Network), the staff at REACH recognized just owning and improving housing in a neighborhood wasn’t enough to turn decaying neighborhoods around.

Improvement projects were developed for struggling business districts in the neighborhoods their most needy clients were struggling to live well in.

It’s hard now to think of the business blocks of Belmont as part of a struggling area.  Different times have different challenges.

With Portland growing exponentially over the last few years, there is added pressure on many to make ends meet and on everyone to figure out how to best get along.  Longtime community volunteers like John Barker are still fired up about the power of community events to bring us all together.

Walsh and REACH inspired Barker and many others to take leadership roles that brought Sunnyside to where it is today.

Barker stewarded the Belmont Street Fair for nine years in a row while serving as an active board member and eventually as president of both the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association and Belmont Area Business Association.

These days he’s content to be that one guy who knows how to put the big, long street fair banner up across Belmont, happily leaving all the rest of the hard work of event organizing to a younger generation.

That younger generation includes many REACH housing recipients, who proudly give back to community in many ways, including a grateful REACH housing resident who has been a key organizer every year for several years running, of the annual sunflower street repainting at SE 33rd and Yamhill.

Anyone reaching and rooting for community can connect to this Sign Up Genius link for this year’s street fair volunteers:

Volunteers receive a free t-shirt and slice of pizza from Straight From New York Pizza in return for pitching in to set up, steward, take down and clean up the event.

You won’t see REACH at the fair this year but they are, in their own way, still part of the “Proud Past. Bright Future” motto of Sunnyside.

Consistently voted one of the top 10 non-profits in Oregon to work for, REACH is focused now on promoting greener building technology for new housing projects and upgrading places like Bronaugh Apartments, originally built in 1905, one of the oldest remaining apartment buildings in downtown Portland.