Early in their NFL careers, Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman shared a house in Renton not far from Seahawks headquarters, and it didn't take long for them to recognize a need in the community.
Baldwin, remembering how important the Southern Youth Sports Association was to him as a child growing up in Pensacola, Florida, wanted youth in his new hometown to have a similar resource available to them.
So after a conversation with then Renton Mayor Denis Law, Baldwin began the decade-long process of working with the City of Renton to build a community center. For almost the entirety of a Seahawks career that saw him become one of the best receivers in franchise history, and in the years that have followed his retirement, Baldwin has worked tirelessly, giving countless hours and a considerable amount of his own money to make the Family First Community Center a reality.
And on Friday, Baldwin and so many others who brought the Family First Community Center to life will celebrate its grand opening before it opens its doors to the public later in June.
"My mindset is very similar to when I played, I'm still focused on what's in front of me, being as present as I possibly can, because there's still so much work to do," Baldwin said. "My mind doesn't really go towards celebrating the opening. This is where the real work can begin. I'm anxious to get these doors open and get the community in there. We're opening right when school ends, so it's a good time for us, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
Friday's grand opening will feature appearances by Seahawks Dancers, Blitz, DJ Supa Sam and Blue Thunder, and to support the Family First Community Center going forward, the Seahawks have pledged $250,000 over the next five years through the Players Equality & Justice for all Action Fund.
The Family First Community Center will be a place for area kids to hang out, have fun and learn, but it will also be a place where entire families can seek health services. Partnering with HealthPoint, a local nonprofit organization, the community center will also provide general medical, dental and mental health services. It's a model believed to be the first of its kind in the state and perhaps beyond.
"And as far as we know, this is the first one of its kind in the state of Washington, and we're still doing our due diligence, but we also believe it's the first of its kind in the country," Baldwin said. "Our hope is that this can be a model for municipalities, cities, communities all over the country, where you can build something that's for the community, that's impacting community in a healthy way, and doing it collaboratively with both public and private dollars and partnerships.
"More than anything, I want the community to feel like this is their space. This space was built with them in mind. It's a place for kids to be seen, be respected, be loved for who they are That's what I got in Florida at the community center I grew up in, so that's what I want for this community. But more so than anything, the crux of this is providing a space for these kids to just be kids. That to me is the most important thing, that when kids walk through those doors and into this facility, that they are free to be curious, just to be kids really. There's so much going on in the world, there's so many distractions, there are so many things pulling on our attention, and when we can be in a safe space and be present with other folks who are like-minded and care about our health and wellbeing, that's when we have the opportunity to thrive."
That was the type of atmosphere Baldwin thrived in at the SYSA in Pensacola, and one he realized Renton needed after he moved to the area more than a decade ago.
"It was everything, really," he said of his time at the SYSA. "That was the place where I spent most of my time. I had great role models, mentors, teachers, coaches, teammates. My grandparents were really involved in that program. It's a very significant place, and there are a lot of memories from my history, so it's very important to me.
"That was like my second home. It was the place where I was first introduced to sports, where I had mentors and tutors and folks who really breathed life into me to become the man I am today. I wouldn't be standing here before you if it wasn't for those folks in the community center."
While Baldwin is the public face of the community center, he is quick to note he was far from being the only one to make this happen, highlighting, among others, the City of Renton, the Renton School District, HealthPoint and the First Financial Northwest Foundation.
And now on Friday, the hard work and patience of all of those organizations and individuals will culminate in a grand opening celebration of a space that is sure to help shape the lives of Renton youth for years to come.
"If I'm speaking to the community, thank you for being patient. It's been a long time coming," Baldwin said. "It's not going to be perfect at the start, I don't think it'll ever be perfect, but that's part of why we're doing this. Nothing is perfect, and we need to invest and support our communities that are innovative and creative, and this is one way to do it. I'm just really appreciative of the community being patient with us, because it was a long time coming."
The Family First Community Center, a program that provides education, wellness, and recreation services to families, held its grand opening on Friday, June 16, 2023.