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The Key to the City... Or At Least One Small Part

The key to the City... or at least one small part of it.
The key to the City... or at least one small part of it.
Back in February I posted a blog entry titled "Our Neighborhood Needs a Rec Center." Guess what? We got it! Or, we got it back, I should say. The building has been locked up for five years (or more, depending on whom you ask) and on Tuesday I GOT THE KEY! Three years ago I peered in the windows and imagined that the wall of empty cabinets would one day be filled with craft supplies and this week I started filling them. For the next few weeks I will organize and arrange the space and on September 3rd the City will launch Club Teasdale - a daily after school enrichment program serving the Talbot Hill neighborhood.

For years I lamented the empty rec center with my neighbors. Twice I made calls inquiring about the building but hit brick walls both times when I was told (first) that the city simply had no money to operate it but (second) I could rent the space for $1,500 a month. It wasn't until I started working at the community center that I started connecting with the right people. Within this past year I've taught a "Teen Sewing" class, an "Eco-DIY Craft Camp", and a popular "Learning with Mother Goose" series of preschool classes. It was in a brainstorming session with my boss Jennifer Spencer that I shared my vision for the Teasdale Rec Center. She promised that if I could convince her bosses at City Hall that our community desperately needed a program like this, then she would help me make it happen.

With her encouragement, I took on the challenge. I researched the after school program options in our area and questioned working parents about their struggles to find quality care for their children - the hours they needed, the price they could afford, and activities in which their children were interested. With this information, I developed a daily schedule of activities that included snack time, free time, organized recreation, craft time, and homework help. Rather than having a free drop-in program like the the rec centers in the Highlands offer, I devised a financially sustainable fee-based daily enrichment program that was competitive with the for-profit options in our area. Most importantly, I started talking about my plan with anyone who would listen - neighbors, parents, teachers, and administration at Talbot Hill Elementary. I called my one connection at City Hall, Norma McQuiller, the Neighborhood Coordinator who awarded me the grant to install a mosaic in our neighborhood park last summer, and asked for advice on how to proceed. I presented my proposal at the "Fixing Renton's Future" February Meetup  sponsored by Rely Local, submitted suggestions at the Open House held by the Department of Community and Economic Development at City Hall, and shared my proposal at the Benson Hill Community Development meeting.

It was my blog post on the Patch though that got my proposal noticed. The day after it was published online I got a call from Norma that Terry Higashiyama, the Community Services Administrator for the City of Renton, wanted to meet with me. I had heard this name several times as the one to talk to and knew that this would be a very important meeting. It was. I got the chance to speak on behalf of my neighborhood (which her office windows overlook) and pitch my proposal for our long-empty rec center. She listened intently, grilled me with questions, explained the financial obstacles, and thanked me for standing up for my community. Best of all, she scheduled another meeting.

Many more meetings followed with Recreation Director Tim Williams and Recreation Manager Kris Stimpson where we hashed out how an after school program might happen in the Teasdale Rec building. I was asked to draft a survey that the city sent out to the Talbot Hill neighborhood to gauge interest an after school program and when the results came back showing strong support for the idea, that's when I finally got a YES.

And now I have the key. And next month we will have Club Teasdale.  Signups for 5, 3, and 2 day enrichment programs begin August 27th through cyber signup.org on the the City of Renton website and the program begins September 3rd.  If everything proceeds as planned, soon the Teasdale Rec Center will be full of kids doing crafts, playing games, getting help with homework, and enjoying a safe and fun environment to hang out in while their parents are at work. This scenario is way better than an empty, dormant building, that's for sure.

We're starting from scratch though, and could use some supplies. Craft supplies, recreational equipment, non-perishable snack donations - you name it, we need it. Ikea has generously donated some furniture and rugs to get us started, but it's still pretty bare in there. Does your company have something it would like to donate? Do you have any craft supplies collecting dust in a closet? Would you like to buy us a few Frisbees to throw around? Contact me at kb.kokoleo@gmail.com to discuss. You can help us make this happen.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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