‘Renton doesn’t realize what they’ve lost’ — Parents upset over loss of art program

Tomato Tomato Creative classes move to Maple Valley

The craft explosion that was the inside of the quiet building at Kennydale Lions Park is no more.

Tomato Tomato camps have moved to Maple Valley, as creator Kelly Affleck tries to reinvent the programs after losing the Renton Kennydale Lions Park Building in late April.

The preschool summer camps, called Tomato Tots Day Camps, are now being held at Papa’s Tree Farm.

Affleck began her time with the city of Renton in 2015, when she asked to do her art classes out of the park building. She managed and ran her own program, including purchasing supplies for every craft class, planning the lessons and taking care of her classroom.

As the years continued, Affleck sort of “ran her own island” out of the building, being away from the city and recreation center.

After going through her options when she lost the park building, she realized her parents owned 12-acres of Christmas trees. So she took the day camps over to their farm, surrounded by evergreens and horses. They use the area where there’s a large space, meant for the pre-cut trees in the winter.

Affleck said the amount of space creates a whole other element of exploration for the kids, who go on trips with the horses, play with water, and at the camp Wednesday, June 26, made apple pies in honor of the Fourth of July.

“We’re having so much fun,” Affleck said. “We get to do all the things we did in Renton, but we’re outside all the time.”

Hannah Bergeron’s daughter attended the June summer camps at Papa’s Tree Farm, and she said that it’s set up perfectly, with sensory activities and exploration. She said it’s an interesting and positive environment for the tots.

Other programs are very expensive, so she was glad Affleck landed in time for the camps.

“I told her, we would follow her anywhere,” Bergeron said. “She’s a genuinely kind, honest person.”

While the tot camps moved over seamlessly, Affleck is still working on a new space for older kids workshops and classes.

Last year, Affleck hosted her Makers in Action program, for 11 to 14 year old girls learning to sew, craft and make money, according to a previous article from the Renton Reporter. Right now her boxes from that program sit in her basement.

“They have been so dedicated and hardworking, I can’t fail them,” Affleck said.

Casey Baddeley had a 7 year old and 12 year old in Affleck’s programs. Her oldest daughter has been part of the Makers in Action group since it started. Baddeley said she was in the car with her oldest daughter, and they were both devastated when Affleck told them the news.

Both of Baddeley’s daughters are athletes so it’s hard to find time to make it to Maple Valley. They’re trying to figure out a way to make it work since she’s a big part of their lives. And they’re still hoping to find out where the Makers in Action program will continue.

“No amount could be paid for her showing me who my daughter was, and so many other kids, showing parents what their kids were capable of,” Baddeley said.

At first Baddeley had her youngest in one of Affleck’s programs, when she was four. At the time, it was hard to get her to do any sitting activities or focus. Baddeley was wondering if her daughter might even need to be homeschooled.

When she started the parent-child art class at Kennydale Lions Park, Baddeley would always try to steer her daughter into following the assignment Affleck wanted.

Baddeley said Affleck intervened, and told her to allow her daughter to create what she wants. “Let her be her,” Baddeley remembers Affleck telling her.

When Baddeley took a step back, and Affleck let her daughter explain why she would choose to draw the way she did, it brought tears to her eyes.

“I realized (Affleck) saw my daughter the way I needed to see my daughter. Instead of trying to put her in this box of who I thought she should be at four years old,” Baddeley said.

Baddeley said many other families had similar stories with the classes.

Gina Fuentevilla has had a son in the program for three years, and is going to have him in the tot summer camps in Maple Valley.

Fuentevilla said Affleck gave children the crafting tools and allowed them to create for themselves.

She said allowing the kids to choose their own end result of a project makes them feel safe. When there’s strict rules, and a kid can’t handle that, it can feel like you’re setting them up for failure.

Fuentevilla remembers how Affleck celebrated her kid’s work even when it wasn’t how the project was meant to turn out. Now that he’s in preschool, Affleck’s work with her son made him have something to always fallback on when he’s overwhelmed— art.

“A lot of children find that somewhere, but not normally at the age of three,” she said.

Bergeron had her daughter in the programs at age 3, doing the cooking classes and summer camps, over two years ago.

The cooking classes helped Bergeron understand what her daughter was capable of, and Affleck’s kid-friendly recipes allowed kids to explore.

She said all the parent’s rave about the classes, and that it was even hard to register sometimes.

So what happened?

Affleck was terminated by the city at the end of April. She said this was following several months of trying to negotiate a new pay contract after the pay structure changed for her as a part-time employee.

City Recreation and Neighborhoods Director Maryjane Van Cleave stated in an email that the city was unable to comment on the separation, since it is a personnel matter.

The city is currently cleaning and repairing several of the park buildings, including the Kennydale Lions Park building, Van Cleave stated in an email. After that, they will connect with Neighborhood Program and nearby schools to find programming for the space.

The summer recreation guide included the Tomato Tomato Creative classes, as she was terminated after the program was put together. The city then contacted parents letting them know the classes were cancelled, refunding the costs, according to several parents.

Affleck said she was concerned about this at the time she put her classes in the guide, in case the summer camps didn’t end up happening.

“The parents don’t care about city hall, they want to know why their kids can’t have arts and crafts with Miss Kelly,” Affleck said.

Parents were upset hearing her program’s were ending. Affleck first announced it through social media.

For children who are struggling, Fuentevilla said it was hard to tell your kid the camps were canceled, because some really depended on those classes. Now many other summer camps are full.

When Affleck told her the summer camps were happening in Maple Valley, it saved them, Fuentevilla said.

Baddeley believes that Affleck can’t be replaced, and that it’s been hard for her family without her creative outlet. She said there are no words for what Affleck means to her daughters, and that she’s hopeful something will be worked out somehow.

“She’s so important to so many Renton families,” she said. “I think Renton doesn’t realize what they’ve lost. She’s irreplaceable. I don’t think people really came in and saw what she was doing.”

What she was doing, Baddeley and other parents said, is helping parents see what their kids are capable of.

Affleck said she’s sad to lose the community, but she hopes to end up being crafty again.

More information on the Maple Valley classes, and signups, are at tomatotomatocreative.com.