Where We Live: The legacy of Albertina Kerr


Albertina Kerr Centers was founded in 1907

A historical photo of Albertina Kerr. (Courtesy Albertina Kerr Centers)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hundreds of Oregonians with mental health issues and developmental disabilities are getting help from one of Oregon’s oldest and largest non-profits. How the Albertina Kerr Centers began is unique to Oregon and a compassionate part of where we live.

Near Northeast Portland’s Alberta Arts District, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities create amazing art. “Portland Art and Learning Studios” is just one way Albertina Kerr Centers give hope and help.

An undated photo of William MacLaren. (Courtesy Albertina Kerr Centers)

“Organizations like Albertina Kerr—we are the social safety net for the most vulnerable in our state,” said Jeff Carr with the Albertina Kerr Centers. “It’s really about how do we help folks have a better quality of life, whether they face a developmental or intellectual disability, or they have a mental health challenge.”

Albertina Kerr Centers was founded in 1907 by Free Methodist Minister William MacLaren to help homeless men attracted by Portland’s Lewis and Clark Exposition. MacLaren established the Portland Commons Mission, and a year later, The Louise Home for women and children. The Louise Home eventually expanded into the organization’s 9 acres in what’s now Gresham.

Historical photo of the 9-acre campus in what is now Gresham. (Courtesy Albertina Kerr Centers)

In 1910, Alexander Kerr, of the Kerr Canning Jar company, married homeless children advocate Albertina Sechtem.

She died of typhus a year later in 1911, so to honor her, Kerr donated the family home to be used as a nursery.

He and his third wife, Ruth, went on to buy property and raise money for what became the Albertina Kerr Headquarters off Northeast 22nd and Sandy. When the state’s Fairview Training Center for People with Developmental Disabilities closed in 2000, Albertina Kerr took those clients and eventually expanded services to people with mental health challenges.

Today, Albertina Kerr serves 1,500 children and adults. Most of those clients are in 24-hour residential care. With 70 locations in the tri-county and Marion County area, 55 group homes, 750 employees, and hundreds of volunteers, they are now expanding facilities to deal with Oregon’s mental health crisis.

“Suicide is the number 1 cause of death for adolescents in our state,” said Carr. “So mental health is a huge, important issue.”

From Kerr bikes, raising money, and creating jobs, to making a different through art, Albertina Kerr Centers brings mental health in Oregon out of the shadows and into the light.

Albertina Kerr’s “Portland Art and Learning Studios” is having their holiday art show and sale starting December 7.

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