Our History

From 1971 until now.

1971A big old farmhouse on the corner of May and 11th Street in Hood River was rented to house ten teenage foster children, both girls and boys. We called ourselves The Next Door and the state of Oregon granted us non-profit status. Many of the youth were placed at The Next Door directly from the mental health system. Dr. Paul Hamada, an internist in town with experience in psychiatry, was our first medical director. During our first seven years, three directors helped dozens of young people live in the house as they went to public schools in town. Even though the kids were well cared for, some got into mischief. Jim Klahre, Dana Lance, Johnny Duckwall and others served as dedicated board members.

1975—Housing for All, a separate non-profit, was formed to assist the Next Door with real estate needs. Glenn Taylor, a local real estate agent, served as the president of Housing for All’s board for many years. The old farmhouse was purchased and in 1987 it was named the Klahre House, after The Next Door’s founding Board Chair. A pillar and bronze plaque at Klahre House was installed to memorialize Jim Klahre’s contribution to youth in Hood River County.

1978—Jerry Brown took the reigns of the Next Door. He brought more structure to the program, making sure staff members were trained and youth were supervised. During this time, Colin Wood was the Treatment Director for the youth, by now only boys and increasingly referred by the juvenile justice system.

Jerry coordinated week-long hikes and camping for the youth. For two years, he also helped the youth organize a party company, Impulse Productions, which held dances at the local Elks Club to raise money for their own recreational expenses. Jerry worked to get the program accredited by the youth care association. Throughout these years, money was always scarce. Board members frequently went to Salem to lobby on The Next Door’s behalf. People from other organizations around the state would come to visit as ours was considered a model program.

1984—Services began in The Dalles. Our foster homes provided crisis shelter for runaway and homeless youth who were picked up by law enforcement.

1987—The board hired Michael Mehling as The Next Door’s new Executive Director. Michael wanted to take the program, now a 12 bed residential home for boys, to another level, not dependent solely on state funding. He wanted our agency to serve as more of a community partner. Michael began expanding services with the cooperation of the community. He added a crisis shelter program for youth in juvenile court and, in 1994, merged the Community Attention Home, located in The Dalles, into The Next Door. This was a group home for foster children with a house parent on the premises. Jim Roth, Wasco County Juvenile Department Director, provided support and supervision to this program.

The biggest move Michael made was changing the program from a residential treatment facility into a therapeutic foster care program in the mid-1990s. The program became co-ed once again. Youth began living in specially trained foster homes and coming to the Klahre House for treatment and schooling during the day. Current staff members who began at The Next Door during this time include Derryll Dexter, Ralph Kupersmith and David Dye. The Next Door Board Member, Kelly Beard, worked with them at Klahre House.

Michael was a firm believer in outdoor activities as well. He had a ropes course and taught the youth to rappel, which he used as a metaphor for change; fearing, then trusting, then acting—resulting in a clear difference from when one started at the top of the cliff. He also valued the therapeutic use of music, poetry and storytelling.

1988—Michael hired Carolyn Bondurant as a part-time Youth & Family Services Coordinator to connect families to community resources. Carolyn facilitated school groups, family counseling and community referrals for youth. At this point, all of our programs were focused on intervention for adolescents.

1991—The Next Door made a significant move toward incorporating broader programming when New Parent Services (NPS), a volunteer run program, joined NDI. This program was based on the Healthy Start model of providing home visiting for first time parents who are under stress and therefore at risk of abusing or neglecting their children. Billie Stevens, Nancy Johanson Paul, Carolyn Bondurant, Gloria Martin and Joann Wittenberg had started NPS at the OSU Extension office in 1989. Tami Russell was one of the first volunteer home visitors with NPS; she and Nancy remain today as The Next Door employees. Joann and Billie are on the NPS Advisory Board.

1995—Families First of Wasco & Sherman Counties, which had started in 1994 as a program of La Clinica del Cariño, joined The Next Door. Families First provided the same Healthy Start services as New Parent Services. Heidi Crane began as a home visitor for the program. It was around this time that The Next Door started providing Independent Living Services to foster teens.

1999—the Community Attention Home in The Dalles closed due to state regulatory requirements, and foster homes replaced the group home. This program, funded by the Department of Human Services, is still directed out of The Dalles office of The Next Door and still called the Community Attention Home even though it is no longer one home but many.

2000—Bob Johnson became the Executive Director of the Next Door. Shortly before Bob arrived, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Columbia Gorge (BBBS) began, funded by a grant written by long time The Next Door employee Tobi Kuykendall. Big Brothers Big Sisters is an evidenced-based mentoring program for children ages 6-18 with branches throughout the United States. Monte Dickinson helped start the program in Wasco County and worked with Bigs and Littles for over a decade.

2002—Mid-Columbia Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) merged into The Next Door and changed its name to Columbia Gorge CASA. CASA staff members recruit and train volunteers as advocates for abused and neglected children in court. The Next Door provided a protective incubator in which CASA was able to grow and develop until 2007. CASA now functions as a separate non-profit once again.

It was also in 2002 that Bob helped Nuestra Comunidad Sana (NCS) join The Next Door. After being a separate non-profit agency for four years, board members of NCS approached The Next Door to merge. This health promotion program had begun at La Clinica del Cariño in 1988 as El Niño Sano, one of the first programs in the country to train and utilize community health promoters to provide health and prevention services to Latino families and children. Maria Antoñia Sánchez was one of the first health promoters to work in this program. She and Joel Pelayo remain at NCS as Lead Health Promoters.

2007—NCS was combined with two other programs of The Next Door, Latino Outreach and Youth & Family Services, to consolidate health promotion and crime and substance abuse prevention work within the agency. Claudia Montaño, who began at The Next Door in the Latino Outreach program in 1999 became the Program Manager of Nuestra Comunidad Sana.

Also in 2007, Janet Hamada was promoted from Program Manager of NCS to Executive Director of The Next Door.

2010—After searching for over ten years for a building or land in Hood River where we could consolidate staff and programs scattered in three locations, we bought a building at 965 Tucker Rd. The following year was spent renovating the building and raising money to pay for it.

2011—In March, all three Hood River offices moved into the new building. Local individuals and businesses generously gave time, money, and discounts. State and regional foundations funded half of the cost. We ended up with an occupancy cost that is less than what we were paying before, a much happier staff and safer environment. Because of the community’s support, we are able to do more for the people we work with.

Now—The Next Door currently has about 80 employees, half of them full-time, housed in two offices and working in six counties. 

Janet Hamada, our Executive Director, oversees our Director of Programs, Holli Francis, who directs five main areas:

• Elaine Cummings, Treatment Services: Klahre House, Foster Care, & Community Attention Home
• Grace Parsons, Family Services, Healthy Families of the Columbia Gorge and Parenting Education
• Livia Colbert, Youth Services: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Columbia Gorge, Independent Living Program, Oregon Trail Transitional Living, Mentor For Success, Youth Connection
• Elizur Bello, Health Promotion Services and Economic Development Services

We are certainly proud of how this agency has served the people in our communities over the past four decades and look forward to many more years of providing assistance and leadership.