Officer working with local youth program that provides safe spac - KPTV - FOX 12

Officer working with local youth program that provides safe space for young immigrants

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

A local youth program is working to provide young immigrants and refugees a safe place to hang out on the weekend, off the streets and out of the reach of Portland gangs.

The group is now also getting some new inspiration from one Portland Police Officer.

Every Saturday night, leaders of the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization Africa House take watch over a growing group of kids. Young African immigrants, now living in Portland, the group shuttles in by the van load to rotating community centers across town.

"It's very critical on Saturdays," said IRCO Africa House Director Djimet Dogo. "We don't want kids to go to Lloyd Center, or Holladay Park creating trouble, so we bring them here."

At the community center, they're out of harm's way.

"It puts me in the community with people that were in the same tribe as me," said program attendee Iman Abei. "I get to play basketball with them and it keeps me out of trouble. I come here to stay out of trouble."

Beyond playing ball, kids in the City Parks Program get help with homework and learn about important cultural and social differences in Oregon. Differences that include who to trust.

The city funded program is so popular there's now a waitlist to get in.

"We came from a society where we were so scared of law enforcement that we don't know the difference between a police officer, between a soldier, or between the army," said Dogo.

Portland Police Officer Khalid Ibrahim is now working to bridge that divide. Ibrahim also comes to the program every Saturday at the beginning of his shift at the North Precinct.

"When I first came here they're like, 'oh who is that guy,'" said Ibrahim.

Now, they all know the officer by name.

"As time went on, they started coming up to me and saying, 'hey give me a sticker, hey let's do this, let's play basketball,'" Ibrahim added.

"It's very critical, especially with the executive order, there's so many of our families that are so scared of police, thinking police and ICE are all the same," said Dogo. "We want to make sure they understand the police is different than ICE. They have nothing to do with immigration and they're not going to detain them."

Officer Ibrahim seems to be easing those fears once kids get to know something about him.

"I came from Egypt, I was born in Somalia and the civil war broke out, so we ran from there and migrated to Egypt. We lived there a while and then I came to the states in 2006," said Ibrahim. "I came here and went to Wilson High School on the very first day, I spoke no English, it was pretty tough."

Ibrahim says he worked hard to get through school, went on to study criminal justice at Portland State University and recently became a Portland Police Officer.

A powerful story for these kids to hear.

"We've been waiting for this for so long, it's a great opportunity for the African community to see they have a police officer in the community and also to see that other children also can follow his path to become a police officer and come back to help the community," said Dogo.

"I want to prove that there's a relationship between police, the kids and the community," said Ibrahim. "I want to do this to make them feel better, to make them feel like I'm one of them."

Week by week he seems to be making a difference.

"It puts family at ease when they see an officer coming here and playing with children," said Dogo.

An officer who's been where they've been, now seen as an inspiration.

"I tell them 'hey you can do the same thing, don't give up, push yourself, go to school and stay away from gangs,'" said Ibrahim. "You can do what you want you can be a doctor, a police officer, or whatever."

IRCO tells FOX 12 they help some 30,000 people every year and more than 11,000 of those immigrants are kids involved in their after school programs.

A lot of those programs are based on donations. For more information visit: https://irco.org/

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