Although he no longer practices at the Valley Medical Athletic Center, Doug Baldwin is still keeping Renton his top priority.
As the Family First Community Center approaches construction, the retired Seahawk is trying to get the word out about helping them close in on the final $5 million needed.
Baldwin has been working with Mayor Denis Law and the city of Renton on this project for about five years. After leaving the Seahawks in May, Baldwin is staying busy with a number of other projects, but he said the community center is his top priority.
In an interview with Renton Reporter, Baldwin said the team is in positive conversations to get the money, but he’s trying to let folks know they can still donate to help close that gap. Either way, construction will move forward in February, Baldwin said.
The facility will be open to the public, and besides planned programs and events it will be available for families to use. The center includes a gymnasium, fitness gym, classrooms, multipurpose rooms for different programs, and a health care clinic through its partner HealthPoint. After school programs, youth sports, art classes, technology classes, group exercise, cooking classes, yoga and personal training are all planned for the center.
“There’s such a basic need for human beings to be seen and heard, and recognized in this world,” Baldwin said. “There’s not a lot of facilities, programs that offer that experience. That’s what this space is about, for everybody to feel safe, to explore who they are, for kids to be kids. It’s important to me because that was the foundation for me growing up, and I know the impact it had on me. It created a community within a community.”
Baldwin said the community center in his hometown was a foundational part of his life and he still works with them to this day. He wants this new building to be the Renton community’s second home.
Less than a mile from where the community center is being built next to Cascade Elementary School, Baldwin found kids congregating at a popular, local teriyaki restaurant. He said everyone from police officers to kids studying were there, it was a hub for the community.
While Baldwin would eat, he’d think about how the high school kids and families hanging out at the restaurant needed a facility like the one he had back home. He then approached Law with the idea, who welcomed the chance to work with Baldwin on the center and made the process a lot easier.
“I can’t speak enough about Mayor Law and his passion for the community,” Baldwin said. “This is his last year as mayor and I am going to severely miss him, and I know the community is as well.”
When he was thinking about the facility, he took some lessons from back home on how to draw folks in. The recreation would excite kids, and then families would follow when they learned about the free services offered there.
The goal is to increase the health and well being of the community, in an empathetic way that examines the needs of the whole person. The center will do this by offering families, who wouldn’t have easy access to care otherwise, to dental, medical and mental health services.
The center will have Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) classes, possibly a nod to the STREAM program at a community center in the Highlands.
Other programs also focus on high-need, young kids in the Cascade community, including those below the poverty line, 14 years and younger. Baldwin said through working on this community center, he’s learned the area is diverse both in ethnicity and in economic status.
Baldwin said that the program has been extremely daunting, in terms of trying to meet the needs for the variety of folks in the area
Once this center is running, it will be something Baldwin can show other cities, to prove that it works, and continue developing these types of community centers. Baldwin sees the community center not only helping families with services, but create a lasting effect on the economy of the area as well.
On a personal level, he believes that community centers are a place that can help the next generation foster empathy for others in a divisive world. He said his wife Tara Sabourin has also been a catalyst; enhancing his vision of this project and helping him focus even more on how someone will feel when they walk through the doors of the community center.
“Even outside of this facility, that’s the kind of life I want to lead, making sure I look outside with an empathic lens,” Baldwin said. “If I can build a physical location that forces me to practice (empathy), I hope that permeates, not only to the families in this community, but also as they go out it permeates and changes the world in some way.”
Donations can be made through the Renton Regional Community Foundation website, rentonfoundation.org, and hit “donate now.”