Stepping off the 62 bus after a long commute, I clumsily navigate around the historic naval barracks of Magnuson Park.
I stop to stare at an abandoned church with rotting wood, questioning if I arrived at the correct location. As I find my way and walk inside the Magnuson Community Center, however, I am greeted by the curious faces of a cluster of students, with calm yet bustling energy ready to be released. I make my way down the dimly lit hallway into a cramped office corner to meet Cliff and Marc, program coordinators for Rock the Park (RTP).
Offered to students ages 5 to 18, RTP promotes active, healthy lifestyles and creates a supportive environment through outdoor activities and fun events including bowling, sailing, rock climbing, field trips and barbecues for these students – all with the support of local agencies, businesses and community members. The program also trains teenage participants to become mentors to younger students. These “junior counselors” lead the activities under the supervision of a professional staff and receive a sweet stipend for their work.
Oftentimes, these students have few resources and opportunities to explore and experience Seattle themselves, whether it be playing soccer with friends or attending the Seattle Art Museum. Cliff explains that “they just want someone to offer them some type of option to go out and explore the world. And that’s what we do.” In fact, the excitement amongst these students is almost palpable, as they wait eagerly for the vans that will take them to Arena Sports. Here, they will spend the afternoon playing dodgeball, soccer and capture the flag.
And of course, let’s not forget jumping around in the bouncy castle.
But RTP is more than just a fun enrichment program for kids with lots of free time in the summer. It is designed specifically to create a fostering environment for children who may have faced trauma and instability in their early lives. “The kids are given a safe place that’s warm and inviting,” says Cliff. “We open our doors to a cozy place for people to hang out and relax – where they’re not judged or criticized – with people that care about them.”
And the program affects the coordinators just as much as the students:
“I would say the program means … family. We open the doors and we have the kids come in. A lot of times we get invited to graduation and birthday parties. It’s like we’re part of the family. And the best part of this job is that at the end of the day, at the end of the year, I know I really made a difference. It’s an incredible feeling. I hope that when I’m long gone, the things we’ve taught the kids they can look back on and say, ‘You know, I think that was a pretty great experience that I can provide to my kids.’”
As rewarding as the job may be, it definitely isn’t easy. Ronaldo and Lex, staff members at RTP, dedicate an immense amount of time and care along with Cliff and Marc to ensure the best experience for their students. Despite the occasional scuffling among the students, these coordinators always manage to serve as incredible role models, allowing the students to channel their energy into something much more positive.
Cliff and Marc thank their wonderful partners at Arena Sports, Cascade Bicycle Club, The Mountaineers, Sail Sand Point and Tennis Center at Sand Point, who make all the events possible for their students. They explain that without them, “We wouldn’t have these incredible activities in and around the park.”
During the school year, Magnuson Community Center runs afterschool programs for neighborhood residents, from fitness and dance, to nutritional shopping, to game and movie nights. Thanks to Rock the Park and Magnuson Community Center for the many ways you support our Sand Point Housing community!