From Vision To Venture: The Family First Community Center
Doug Baldwin’s bond with the city of Renton began forming over a plate of teriyaki.
The then Seattle Seahawks rookie wide receiver had just moved into the Cascade neighborhood with fellow Seahawks’ star Richard Sherman in 2011 and, while dining at Mama’s Teriyaki restaurant, Baldwin noticed a group of kids doing homework. Each time he returned, Baldwin spotted the kids there.
Baldwin, a former United Way of King County campaign chair, got to know a few of the youth and discovered that Mama’s Teriyaki was their hangout, in part because the area had several schools within a three-mile radius and there was nowhere else for kids to go.
“How can I support these kids and this community who have nothing to do, no recreational facilities?” Baldwin thought to himself. “I’m just hanging out with them while they’re doing homework and I’m eating teriyaki.”
On June 16, Baldwin’s goal of creating somewhere for kids—and adults—in Renton to go culminated with the opening of the city’s Family First Community Center. The 26,000-square-foot facility will bring quality recreation, education, wellness programs and services to the historically underserved communities of Benson Hill and Cascade in Renton, Washington.
Baldwin once lived about a 10-minute drive from the site where the Family First Community Center stands and he has built ties throughout the city. His venture capital firm, Vault 89 Ventures, is located in downtown Renton. And on August 12, he and United Way will host its second Annual Community BBQ at Renton Memorial Stadium from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Family First Community Center is adjacent to Cascade Elementary School. The Center sports a gymnasium, a fitness center, classrooms, multipurpose rooms, a garden and offices. It is designed to be a one-stop shop for the community with wraparound services, technology offerings and the arts.
“This is your center; use it,” said Baldwin before a crowd of about 300 people at the Center’s entrance on June 16. Then he cut the ceremonial ribbon and watched as folks scurried in like concertgoers who had camped out to see Beyoncé.
“Obviously, it’s been a long time coming,” said Baldwin in an interview leading up to the opening. “It’s kind of strange: My mentality is similar to what I had in football. No matter how the previous play went, whether it’s good or bad, I have to focus on the next play. It’s similar in this regard.
“We’re to the point now where the doors are opening and we’re going to serve the community,” Baldwin added, “but now my mind goes to what does this look like on a day-to-day basis or a week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year basis? And are we serving the community to our best ability? While I am excited about the accomplishment of getting to this point, I’m now shifting my focus to making sure we’re serving the community better.”
To get things off to a good start, Baldwin and city officials partnered with the school district and HealthPoint, a Renton-based, community-led network of non-profit health centers, to lead the Center’s programs and initiatives.
At the Family First Community Center, HealthPoint will provide a full-service clinic with six exam rooms, two dental chairs and a laboratory that provides blood work. It will offer services that include behavioral health, diabetes education, immunizations and annual exams.
The Center will also offer free, drop-in programs for youth of all ages, including summer programs for teens from noon to 4 p.m. Center officials say that, unlike many other recreational facilities, it will not staff those programs in-house but provide spaces for local organizations already doing the work.
“We’ve done a lot of community outreach and research to figure out what people in that community, in that area want and what they want to see in a facility,” said Baldwin. “Now, we are in the process of building that out and making sure we have partners that align with our values and our vision. We have a great foundation, but once we get into it there are a lot of changes that are going to happen, a lot of learnings that we are going to have to figure out.”
Baldwin says that Renton’s Benson Hill and Cascade neighborhoods remind him much of his hometown of Gulf Breeze, FL, a small, close-knit municipality in the state’s Panhandle. All three areas are chock full of folks who care about their neighbors and kids who need activities to keep them busy. A goal for Renton kids conjured up a dozen years ago has been fulfilled.
“The important part is we wanted to serve community holistically and that was going to require us to be innovative,” said Baldwin about the Center. “The recreational component is the driving factor to get these kids in the center and bring their families into the center as well.
“I’m grateful for the leadership of former [Renton] Mayor Denis Law, who was really the catalyst to getting this ball rolling,” added Baldwin. “He understood what I was trying to accomplish. He helped me build the vision and was an integral part of the initial stages of this. Healthpoint has been an incredible partner along the way. The building is on school property, so it’s great to be a partner with [the school district] in this. Overall, I want to recognize the hundreds of folks and organizations who helped bring this to life.”