Friday, September 23, 2011

Magnuson Community Center Needs Your Support

Reprinted below is the letter I wrote on Sept. 20th in support of Magnuson Community Center, after reading all the details of Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and Mayor Mike McGinn's proposal and ratings system for drastic cuts to Seattle Community Center 2012 budgets.

This photo (taken by Jr. Nature Explorer Program parent Kevin Boyd) shows children harvesting fresh produce for local food banks, during the Fall Harvest Celebration co-hosted by Magnuson Community Center and Magnuson Community Garden, on Oct 2nd, 2010

Dear Councilmember Bagshaw and Mayor McGinn,

I'm writing today with the hope that a concerned citizen can still make a difference in the 2012 Community Center budget proposal that you released last week. I would be very grateful if you can take a few minutes to read this letter.

I imagine that it was difficult to create the system to collect the data used in order to assign each community center a rating, which then determines their 2012 hours and staffing, and I appreciate the effort involved. However, in looking over the many documents I downloaded from the Parks Dept. website, I found what I consider some major flaws in the entire data collection and points system in regards to Magnuson Community Center, which is the one I treasure the most. In my opinion, Magnuson Community Center is unique among all others and deserves to be considered "in 3-D" - not just on paper- because of the following facts:
  • It is the only community center in the city that is inside one of the largest public parks in Seattle (at 350 acres, it is 2nd only to Discovery Park) and able to utilize the entire park for its programming, including a host of natural areas with exceptional diversity of wildlife habitat and a 4-acre Community Garden.
  • Since its beginnings in 2005, Magnuson Community Center staff seized this opportunity and have created nature programs that are comparable with what Seattle's higher-budget Environmental Learning Centers offer, and that are far more substantial than any other community center-based nature programs in the city.
  • Its partnership with Magnuson Community Garden has led to programs that demonstrate and teach hundreds of children and families about the value and fun of growing your own organic food, preparing healthy meals with fresh produce, donating extra produce to local food banks, and other sustainable gardening practices.
  • Its partnership with the Brettler Family Place permanent low-income housing within the park has led to a series of free programs specifically tailored for the children and youth from the 51 formerly homeless families who live there. No other community center in the city has this degree of access and opportunity to reach out with positive messages and programs to families such as these who live within a public park, and whose actions and use of the park have the opportunity to be an asset or a problem.
Magnuson is a young community center and and not one of the high-profile ones, so I would not be surprised if all the info above was previously unknown by you or your staff, or even the people on the Community Center Advisory Team. In the data-collection, points and rating system that was created to fit all 27 of Seattle's community centers, Magnuson Community Center received a "2b" rating, the lowest possible, which would result in a drastic cutback of open hours and staff time. Realistically-speaking, these cuts will undoubtedly mean in an end to many (if not all) of the unique programs above, as I simply can't envision a "skeleton-crew" of 4 half-time staff could possibly do much in the way of any special events or programs. I believe that the chart is inadequate for assessing a unique community center like Magnuson, and therefore its point total and resulting rating on the chart does not reflect its actual value as a city-wide resource and community asset.

Besides the information above, please consider the following:
  • Magnuson Community Center has a very small amount of actual building space to use in its programming, because the Seattle Musical Theater controls the Auditorium inside their building, and the Magnuson Park headquarters administers the use of all other buildings within the park. The staff of Magnuson Community Center has overcome this by using many other areas within the park for their programs and special events, including other buildings, the natural grass amphitheater, parking lots, and the natural areas mentioned above. Magnuson Community Center's special events and programs in these park areas are a huge part of its annual programs and draw families from all over the region. They are some of the largest, well-attended events of any community center in the region, and serve thousands of people from all over Seattle and other communities, not just from the NE part of the city. Many of these events simply could not be done anywhere else in the city, because of the space and facilities required. The data that was compiled to make this points rating chart doesn't appear to recognize or count this at all! Here are just a few of the Magnuson Community Center's fantastic FREE special events and family programs that I have attended: Friday Family Concerts and Outdoor Movie Nights in the Amphitheater, Celebrate Urban Nature event, Matinee Movies in the Auditorium, Historic Walking Tours, and the Fall Harvest Celebration. They also host many low-cost events such as Family Wetland Walks, Bike Mania, Family Fun Runs, Chinese New Year, Family Nature Explorers classes and events, Leprechaun Hunt, winter break "Showtime" concert, spring break "Carnival", and many more than I can list here.
  • By the numbers on the points/rating chart, I see that Magnuson Community Center received a zero in the scholarship column, even though it has been running FREE programs for the new Brettler Family Place permanent housing. None of these low-income, formerly homeless families can afford to pay for any type of programs, and so as soon as Brettler Place opened this past spring, Magnuson Community Center immediately reached out to the 51 resident families with multiple free programs for over 100 of their young children and teens, to help them grow into positive contributors to the community and good stewards of the park. These programs have been a big success with tangible results for the families, the youth, and the park. If the attached points chart had considered these free, customized Brettler Family Place programs as being equal to scholarships, Magnuson Community Center would have had one of the highest scholarship points totals in the city rather than a zero! Magnuson Community Center also reached out to Brettler family Place immediately upon its grand opening, to host a special "welcome to the park" event for them, something that no other parks entity did.
  • Last but not least, the Nature Programs offered by the Magnuson Community Center are an important part of the Magnuson Community Garden's annual activities and maintenance, and a drastic reduction of the community center's special events and programs would have a drastic effect on the Community Garden's sustainability, especially the Children's Garden. The children who attend Magnuson Community Center's Nature Explorers camps, Fresh-from-the-Garden classes, and School Field Trips, have helped maintain and enhance the Children's Garden from spring to fall each year since 2005. Volunteers from the Community Center's Nature Docent Program are a big reason why the Children's Garden Committee and Master Gardeners can host FREE garden activities during the Community Center's special events. As one of the volunteer Co-Chairs of the Children's Garden Committee, I know that if the Community Center's special events and programs have to be cut back drastically because of the "2b" rating, there is no doubt in my mind that the Children's Garden annual activities will also have to be cut back, and all the TLC that children in the Community Center's Nature Programs give to the garden during their camps and classes will be in jeopardy.

But more than just relating all these specific reasons, I have to tell you that as a 34-year resident of this great city who values our parks a great deal, and as a volunteer who has given my time and energy to parks and programs in all 5 regions of the city that are covered by this new community center ratings system, I think that the long-term effects of your 2012 budget decision on our community centers deserves more than just a total from the data and numbers that were gathered for your proposal.

Magnuson Park is very near and dear to my heart, as I have watched it be transformed over the past 30+ years from a barren peninsula to a verdant, life-filled park, and I been moved by the effort and community involvement in its growth. The creation of Magnuson Community Center in 2004 was a brilliant decision by the Parks Dept. and City of Seattle, and a vital ingredient in the park's transformation. It is my strong and firm belief that all the work done by Magnuson Community Center has tangible benefits for all citizens of Seattle and nearby communities who count on Magnuson Park to be a fun, safe, and enjoyable place for families and children to learn and grow. If Magnuson Community Center's "2b" rating stands and is therefore part of the final budget voted on by the Seattle City Council, the loss will be felt deeply, and across the city.

Please reconsider your ratings system decision, and restore Magnuson Community Center to at least a "2a" rating, which would give it the best chance to preserve the majority of its wonderful programs and special events listed above, and to continue to be a great asset for this great city.
Thanks for your time,
Emily Bishton