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“A place to be me”: Eastside Community Center Open House Event

Above: one attendee presents her message about why she supports the Eastside Community Center. 

Members of the Tacoma community gathered on May 18th, 2016 to explore the latest schematic designs for the up and coming Eastside Community Center. The open house event was attended by approximately 80 people, which was a great turnout for such an important community event.

Below: Students presented information to attendees, showing their care and dedication to the project.

In the spirit of fun, Metro Parks provided props for attendees to take selfies. Some of these props included various musical instruments and even some snorkeling gear!

Check out these fun photos below.

We encourage all Tacoma community members to take a selfie with your favorite props and post it to your own social media, using the hashtag #ImagineEastside.

Stay updated with new information about the Eastside Community Center by visiting

Please donate to the Imagine Eastside Campaign at



Matt Driscoll: Shalisa Hayes and the human story behind the East Side Community Center


Tacoma City Councilman Marty Campbell gets choked up thinking about the first time he met Shalisa Hayes.


Not long before that first encounter, which took place at a candidate forum on Tacoma’s East Side, Hayes’ 17-year-old son, Billy Ray Shirley III, was shot and killed at an after-hours party in Nalley Valley. He’d gone there innocently, with friends, intending to give someone a ride home.

For a kid remembered as a selfless social butterfly with a strong compassionate streak — a jokester and protector always looking to lend a helping hand — it shouldn’t have ended the way it did.

Shirley’s 2011 death is the definition of a “wrong place, wrong time” story. Senseless violence erupted, shots were fired, and Hayes wouldn’t see her oldest son again until he was in a casket.

“For 10 agonizing hours I sat around waiting for the final news,” Hayes, now 40, says, describing the excruciating experience of waiting for her son’s body to be identified. “Deep down you know it’s true, but you’re holding on to that last ditch of hope.

“Finally I got the call. My heart sunk.”

At Shirley’s memorial service, drawing on a conversation she’d had with her son earlier that year about East Side kids having nowhere to go and the need for a community center, Hayes first spoke of Billy Ray’s vision of building one.

The moment of grace amidst overwhelming grief galvanized an East Side community scorned by what Campbell describes as a history of “disinvestments” — including the 2010 closing of the Boys & Girls Club on East 64th Street and the loss of the Swan Creek Library the following year.

“When I got that dreadful phone call about him being dead, two days later my mind just says, ‘community center,’ ” Hayes explains. “I think the reason why my mind was saying that is because subconsciously I think maybe if he had (a community center) to be at, he wouldn’t have been at the space he was.”

In response, almost immediately, a group of 15 to 20 kids — friends and classmates — took up the community center cause under the Team Billy Ray name. They started with a humble car wash that raised just more than $700, and the effort grew from there.

Hayes and Team Billy Ray used the candidate forum to highlight the need, asking the local leaders in attendance, including Campbell, to agree to fight for it.

“She gets up to speak, and she was having a hard time. I think this was within a week of the funeral,” Campbell recalls.

“She was in a raw state.”

The message resonated. Soon, leaders from the city, Metro Parks Tacoma, the Greater Metro Parks Foundation, Tacoma Public Schools, the Boys & Girls Club and Tacoma Housing Authority had all bought in, working together in partnership to help bring the vision of an East Side Community Center to reality.

They realized the obvious: The need is real. And Hayes isn’t the only person capable of articulating it.

Will Moncrease, who manned a tank in the U.S. Army and today serves on the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound board of directors, grew up at 68th and McKinley.

Now 35, Moncrease vividly remembers losing three childhood friends to violence, and tells stories of being shot at more during his time growing up on the East Side than during his stint in the Army.

“No joke,” he says when asked if it’s an exaggeration. “It sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

Moncrease also remembers the crucial role the now-closed Boys & Girls Club on East 64th Street played in helping him become the person he is today.

“There are times when I really thought my life was destined to be taken by the streets,” Moncrease says. “I could have been that kid if I didn’t have an outlet. That’s the difference I see between myself and my friends that passed away. I had a safe place to go; they had the streets. While I was learning how to be a productive adult, they were learning how to survive.”

Like Hayes, Moncrease believes building a new community center will save lives. “Children are still being taken on the East Side,” he says. “There’s a ton of work to do. … This community center is going to be the heart and soul of the healing process, of things coming back together.”

Recently, representatives from nearly every involved entity shared with The News Tribune the progress and good news: The $29 million facility — which at this point includes plans fora basketball court, swimming pool, a training kitchen and a recording studio, among other amenities — is scheduled to break ground in December on the campus of First Creek Middle School, with hopes of opening by 2018. It will serve every facet of the community, with an obvious emphasis on youths. An open house at 6 p.m. at the Salishan Family Investment Center on May 18 will give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the final design.

While the momentous task continues, and there’s significant fundraising yet to do — some $10 million is still needed, including an endowment for sustained youth programming — you can’t help but get the sense the East Side will not be denied.

“The core group of people who have formed around this and the work that they’re doing, I don’t think they could be deterred at this point,” Campbell says. “I’ll go out there with a shovel and dig the holes if I need to.”

And Hayes, through a mother’s grief and determination, deserves a lot of the credit.

“I think that her involvement has been essential in bringing us to where we are today,” says Bryan Flint, executive director of the Greater Metro Parks Foundation.

Billy Ray would surely be proud. But to hear his mom tell it, this is bigger than one story of heartbreak.

“I did this for my son, but he’s not here to enjoy it. This is really about those kids who are here, and how do we keep them safe and give them options,” Hayes says.

“If I can prevent one family from going through what I went through,” she continues, pain still fresh in her voice, “I did what I was supposed to do.”


A Tacoma woman’s loss becomes inspiration for a $29 million community center

A Tacoma woman’s loss becomes inspiration for a $29 million community center

 Q13 TV news story POSTED 5:26 PM, MAY 12, 2016, BY UPDATED AT 05:38PM, MAY 12, 2016



Cautious optimism warranted on Tacoma’s East Side

MAY 7, 2016 3:25 PM

No neighborhood in Tacoma needs and deserves a full-service community center more than the East Side, fraught with its hard-luck history of gun violence and poverty.

A proposed $29 million neighborhood hub is now getting a public rollout. It promises a Shangri-La of attractions worthy of its Twitter hashtag, #ImagineEastside.

The plan, with heavy lifting by the city, the school district, the Boys & Girls Club and Metro Parks Tacoma, would provide a sanctuary for kids, families and senior citizens.

It would place a gym, aquatic center and social hall – plus more unusual features, including a recording studio and a teaching kitchen – on the campus of First Creek Middle School. It also would tap into the trails and wetlands at nearby Swan Creek Park, which is suddenly enjoying a renaissance.

What’s not to like about that?

East Siders know better than to pop champagne corks just yet. They’re entitled to be wary after what happened in 2010, when the Boys & Girls Club closed its dilapidated 50-year-old branch on East 64th Street.

It was announced with little advance notice to the city, and with little chance for residents to be heard. Families were told the organization would start busing their kids across town for activities.

"The East Side is being abandoned,” City Councilman Joe Lonergan said at the time.

“We have lost out once again,” added Lynette Scheidt, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Advisory Council.

Mindful of that regrettable history, sponsors of a new community center have prudently taken their time to go public with their big, bold plans. They’ve scheduled an open house for May 18 at 6 p.m. at the Salishan Family Investment Center, 1724 E. 44th St.

Neighbors will be asked “what, thematically, do you want (the community center) to look and feel like?” Metro Parks recreation and community services director Dave Lewis told the News Tribune editorial board last week.

While the center would be open to all ages, the primary beneficiaries would be youth. As many as 250 kids a day would be served, well above the 100 who now fill Bethlehem Baptist Church for after-school, holiday and summer activities.

Bethlehem admirably stepped up to provide space for Boys & Girls Club programs when the East Side club closed six years ago, but the church is stretched to capacity.

The school/community center hybrid is modeled on the Metro Parks STAR Center, which co-exists on the grounds of Gray Middle School and the Boys & Girls Topping HOPE Center. The campus of shared facilities has helped bring more recreational vitality to South Tacoma.

The East Side likely wouldn’t be capturing its own lightning in a bottle today if not for the work of Shalisa Hayes, a neighborhood mom.

Her son, Billy Ray Shirley III, mentioned to her offhandedly in 2011 that he’d like to help open a community center. Months later, he was shot to death after he went to a party to give someone a ride home. Team Billy Ray was born, money was raised, and a 17-year-old boy’s dream is getting closer to fulfillment.

The effort calls to mind the Zina Linnick project, a community collaboration that restored a park and built a playground in Tacoma’s Hilltop area so children would have a safe place to play. That project was sparked by the abduction and murder of a 12-year-old girl in 2007.

Perhaps someday, the death of children won’t be the impetus for fulfilling big dreams in struggling neighborhoods.

The East Side center team has secured nearly two-thirds of the construction funding. With groundbreaking planned for December, the leaders of the project are seeking federal funds and private donations for the final $10 million needed to build and open in 2018.

They’re also fundraising for an endowment to run the youth programs, and keep them running, at an estimated annual cost of $600,000.

Caution would advise that they lock down at least five years of operations money before turning the first shovel of dirt.

For residents of this resilient Tacoma neighborhood, it doesn’t take much prompting to imagine the East Side as a place of boundless opportunity.

But it takes much less for them to imagine being abandoned again.


A Community Engaged

When asked what they wanted in a community center on the Eastside of Tacoma, one of the things the community clearly wanted was a teaching kitchen. 

Taking a page from the Zina Linnik project, we asked the kids how the kitchen should be designed.  Our “From the Ground Up” educational partnership provides an opportunity for our youngest citizens, with the help and mentorship from higher education students and local professionals in the field, to come together to design specific spaces for Tacoma’s new community & aquatics center on the Eastside.

Students participated from local schools throughout Tacoma’s Eastside - many of whom also attend the Eastside Boys & Girls Club, the organization that volunteered to host the learning project. The youth have been meeting once a week to learn about different types of food, cultures and kitchens. On field trips to Clover Park Technical College’s School of Culinary Arts, they toured the campus teaching and commercial kitchen and full service restaurant.  Students from the Culinary Arts program prepared beignets and sushi for the students. For most, it was the first time they had ever had either of these dishes!

Returning to the Eastside Boys & Girls Club, the younger students went to work on creating their designs.  Working in small groups and a variety of mediums, they developed their vision for the teaching kitchen at the Eastside community center.  Some took to sketch drawing, some used 3D miniature models, others used appliance boxes to layout their designs on the floor, and a few used…marshmallows (though more marshmallows may have been eaten then used in the designs).

On their 2nd week of building their designs, Congressman Denny Heck, State Representative Jake Fey, Metro Parks Commissioner Jessie Baines, and Tacoma Public School Board member Catherine Ushka visited the Imagine Eastside kitchen design project.  After a briefing for the Congressman, everyone joined the students while they worked on the kitchen designs.

Each of the teams had a chance describe their designs and what they felt was important about them - including one student who felt the heart she drew on her design was its most important feature.

Students then got to ask questions of the adults who were visiting them. One student, Gigi, asked if the adults have fun in their work, and each one went around the room to say what is fun about their work. A good reminder for us to stay focused on what is important!

One young man, Branton, asked Congressman Heck if he had ever met the President. The following conversation ensued:  Congressman Heck: “Yes, I have.”, Branton: “The President of the United States?”, Congressman Heck: “Yes, many times”, Branton: “You need to tell the President to come here.”  At the end of the session the Congressman pulled out his phone and showed Branton a video of the Congressman asking the President to support one of his bills in Congress.  Branton was glued to the video the whole time and when it was over Branton said “Remember to tell the President to come here - the President of the United States.”

Once their designs are complete, the students will take another field trip. This time, the trip is to the University of Puget Sound to meet with Communications students there. Together, they will develop their talking points and learn public speaking tips in preparation for their presentations to the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners on April 25th.