Metro Parks will transform community centers with the help of the public

Let people decide how they want their community centers to serve them.

That’s the idea behind a series of collaborative sessions between the public and staff at Metro Parks Tacoma who operate People’s, Eastside, Norpoint and STAR Community Centers.

This may seem like an obvious concept, but People’s/East Coast Supervisor Antonio McLemore said those running the centers are not always in the same room as the public when crucial decisions are made.

“My people want to provide responsive programming that reflects the need or the want or the desires of the community,” McLemore said.

The year-long public meeting series is called “Co-Create to Recreate” and begins March 23 at the People’s Community Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Each meeting offers icebreaker games, art activities and a chance to meet and collaborate with staff.

The first Co-Create meetings at People’s and Eastside will be served by food trucks. STAR and Norpoint will also offer free food.

“We want to hear from everyone in this community,” says Meagan Kula, supervisor at STAR and Norpoint. “We want to connect with people, hear ideas about what they would like to see and how we can be better at what we do.”

POST-PANDEMIC RESET

When COVID-19 shut down community centers, it gave Metro Parks staff a long look, Kula said.

“It provides an opportunity to reimagine what these centers can look like and what our programs can look like,” she said.

When they reopened, Metro Parks offered free membership to everyone 18 and under. It’s something they will continue to offer until at least 2022, Kula said.

As a result, youth membership has increased by 44% compared to pre-pandemic figures.

Adult membership is $25 per month. It allows members to visit one of four centers – a new feature since reopening.

Metro Parks does not seek to modify the basic structure of the buildings. Swimming pools will remain in place along with fitness centers, rock climbing walls, playgrounds, kitchens and other features.

That’s how these can be used with new programming that audiences can have a say in, Kula and McLemore said.

STAR Center, although there is no swimming pool, there is a playground,” Kula said. “And it’s often rented out for all events, even weddings.”

Classes offered at the centers range from fitness to cooking.

MORE THAN JUST MEETINGS

Meetings will not be glorified suggestion boxes, Metro Parks said. If a quick fix can be made or an idea implemented immediately, it will be.

“But, if it’s a broader recommendation, we can dig into that and get other people at Metro Parks or other partners,” Kula said.

Already on the program this year at People’s Center are four community events. A Black History Month festival was held in February. Next is Spring Fling followed by National Night Out and Harvest Fest.

One of the goals of Co-Create meetings is to involve citizens in the planning of these festivals, McLemore said.

“The goal is to create these big community engagements,” he said.

Citizens recruited by the center can also be involved in larger district-wide events, including the new annual ethnic festival, now called MOSAIC: Tacoma Arts and Culture Festival. The free event will take place July 23-24 at Wright Park.

There’s even a need for community help with hiring, McLemore said. “Everyone has hiring issues,” he said. The centers will need to hire about 100 summer staff, he said.

Metro Parks partnered with a local high school teacher to review their hiring process. The teacher found this unnecessarily difficult for a seasonal hire.

“It’s really hard to get entry-level positions from a 15, 16-year-old when the process is the same for the CEO,” McLemore said.

The public will also have a say in budgeting, which begins in the summer, Kula said.

Ultimately, Kula said, people should feel like they own their centers.

“I think our community center should be a place where people call home and it’s their center and it’s there,” she said.

Community Center Meeting Calendar

People’s Community Center: 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 23.

Eastside Community Centre: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. March.

Star Center: 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 5

Center at Norpoint: 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 12

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune since 1998 as a writer, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and other Nevada and California newspapers. He graduated in journalism from San Jose State University.

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