By John Boyle
"Out Of The Fire," a short documentary presented by the Seattle Seahawks, tells the story of Community Passageways, a Seattle-based felony diversion program that works with school administrators, police departments, justice officials, correctional center staff, religious organizations and families to establish healthy, happy and safe communities. Community Passageways was the recipient of a $15,000 social justice grant from the Seahawks, which in part helped support the hiring of Andrea Altheimer, whose story is told in the film.
Andrea Altheimer walked out of prison in March, having served nearly 21 years of a 40-year sentence that King County Prosecutors eventually ruled excessive.
Less than a week later, Altheimer was working with local at-risk teenagers and young women, trying to help them avoid the path that derailed her life two decades ago.
Five months later, Altheimer has taken a mentorship role in the lives of more than a dozen kids, including a 15-year-old girl named Chris'tionna. Their relationship is at the core of "Out Of The Fire," a short film that tells the story of a local non-profit called Community Passageways, a Seattle-based felony diversion program that works with school administrators, police departments, justice officials, correctional center staff, religious organizations and families to establish healthy, happy and safe communities.
Altheimer's employment with Community Passageways was funded in part by a social justice grant given to the organization by the Seattle Seahawks, who also helped back the film.
"Having something like this when I was that age would have made all the difference in my life," Altheimer said. "I grew up most of my life with a single mom of five, and she couldn't always be there for each and every one of us in the way that I needed. I found myself acting out. I was a teen mom at 16, moved out at 18, and I got in trouble with the juvenile system. Some of my trauma was in the home, so I didn't feel like I had an outlet or resource to deal with those issues. If I did have someone to talk to, had I had someone like in my position today, a Community Passageways ambassador, then it would have made all the difference.
"I want to be a resource to these kids, and especially the girls, because I felt growing up that I didn't have a voice. I didn't know how to articulate in words the things I was going through, so I acted out, but no one recognized that it was because of underlying issues. I don't want kids to go about their daily lives feeling like they're not important or that no one notices them or that no one cares. I want to be a resource."
Altheimer was 31 when she went to prison, and over the next 20 years she noticed the incoming prison population getting younger and younger. She began working with those young women while still at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, and now that she's out she's trying to keep young people from getting to that point in the first place.
"Coming out, I'm so passionate about helping these young kids out here in society to one, become whole, and two, not to populate the prison systems," she said.
"It means a lot. It's not just for show."
When Dominique Davis started Community Passageways in 2015, he didn't necessarily think his non-profit organization would get the backing of an NFL franchise.
It isn't that Community Passageways doesn't do important work, it's just that Davis didn't expect an NFL team would notice the work a relatively small non-profit was doing with marginalized local youth.
But when the Seahawks were deciding on how to distribute a social justice grant that aligned with the causes embraced by Seahawks players, Mario Bailey, the team's director of legends and player community engagement, did his research and repeatedly Community Passageways came up. The result was a $15,000 grant that in part has allowed Altheimer to make a difference in the lives of others.
"That shows me that they're not just about the game of football, but they're about community," Davis said.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has a long history of community involvement dating back to his work in Los Angeles with A Better LA, and with the Seahawks he has embraced his players using their platform to do good in the community.
"The environment that Coach Carroll has created and the environment that the players have created show that they are willing to engage with the community at a high level," Davis said, noting that while it's common to see NFL teams work with big non-profit organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs or the YMCA, "they don't really pay attention to the smaller organizations that are out here in the middle of shootings, grabbing kids with bullet holes in them and throwing them in a van and rushing them to the ER; that are showing up at shooting scenes and trying to stop the retaliation from happening. They don't talk to us like they do the big organizations that are very visible. We're not that visible, we're kind of in the shadows. But the Seahawks were very engaging.
“They actually care and they’re actually doing the work. I didn’t know, prior to my exit from prison, that that Seahawks were a supporter of this type of work. You see players feeding people in homeless shelters during the holidays, or giving bookbags for back to school, but for them to get behind and support an organization that’s working with marginalized kids and kids of color, it’s pretty amazing that they’re doing this work.” Andrea Altheimer
"I am super proud that the Seahawks are acknowledging a small community-based black-run, black-owned organization that is concentrating on dealing with kids that are facing serious criminal charges and changing and altering their lives and the trajectory of their paths. The Seahawks partnering with us, their funding, that gave us the ability to hire an individual who served 20-plus years in prison, they gave us an opportunity to bring her onto our team, pay her a living wage, and put her in a position to go out and be an asset to the community. She's sitting in the same courtroom she once sat in, advocating for young people. The Seahawks had a lot to do with that."
Altheimer was equally impressed to find out that the Seahawks have backed Community Passageways, both through the initial grant and the film that tells her and the organization's story.
"It means a lot," she said. "It's not just for show. They actually care and they're actually doing the work. I didn't know, prior to my exit from prison, that that Seahawks were a supporter of this type of work. You see players feeding people in homeless shelters during the holidays, or giving bookbags for back to school, but for them to get behind and support an organization that's working with marginalized kids and kids of color, it's pretty amazing that they're doing this work."
"We're doing damn good work. We are changing lives."
The Seahawks have a history of community involvement that dates back to the beginning of the franchise, but social justice has become a particularly important pillar of the organization in recent years. In 2017, players announced the Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund "in an effort to create lasting change and build a more compassionate and inclusive society." Since its beginning in September of 2017, the Seahawks Players Action Fund has given out two rounds of grants to a total of 15 different organizations. The first wave of grants targeted local organizations focused on education and leadership programs addressing equality and injustice, while the grants announced last season went to groups focused on homelessness, criminal justice and bail reform and education. The Action Fund also teamed with Pearl Jam to support the band's effort to fight homelessness with last year's "Home Show" concerts.
"I was kind of taken aback by how involved everyone was in the community when I got here," Seahawks tackle Duane Brown said when the second round of grants were announced last year. "It really shows that guys aren't just talking about it, everyone is putting things into action, putting money behind it. As players in our position, we're obligated, I feel like, to help the community. Everyone is pretty passionate about it in these different areas—homelessness, criminal justice and education—they're things that can really, really affect our future.
"I've been on record talking about my thoughts on criminal justice and social justice in general, and to be a part of an organization that supports and backs its players the way the Seattle Seahawks do, it's definitely awesome to be a part of, because it just kind of fits right in line with who I am and what I'm about."
So when it came time for the Seahawks as an organization to give out a social justice grant, they needed to look no farther than the locker room for guidance on the type of non-profit to help.
“I was kind of taken aback by how involved everyone was in the community when I got here. It really shows that guys aren’t just talking about it, everyone is putting things into action, putting money behind it. As players in our position, we’re obligated, I feel like, to help the community. Everyone is pretty passionate about it in these different areas—homelessness, criminal justice and education—they’re things that can really, really affect our future." Duane Brown
"We can just look at our players," Bailey said. "Our players are passionate about similar stuff."
In particular, a focus when deciding how to distribute this grant was the effort to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, a cause championed by, among others, safety Tedric Thompson, who chose that cause last year for his participation in the league’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative.
"For us as an organization, we want to be a part of what our players are doing, we want to do different things to make a difference," Bailey said. "The Seahawks name can stretch the globe, so we want to bring attention to programs that are doing great work."
And Community Passageways is indeed a program that is doing great work. According to Davis, their work with local kids and young adults has led to 120 years of prison and jail time being diverted, which has also saved taxpayers more than $10 million in jail stays and court costs. More important than the numbers, however, are the lives Community Passageways has helped get back on track.
"We are doing damn good work," Davis says late in "Out Of The Fire." "We are changing lives. We're opening up these doors and building these relationships for young people to take responsibility for their actions and make better decisions. And when you fall and stumble, we're going to be there to pick you up and dust you off and say, 'Let's start again. We're still here.'"
To learn more about the work Davis and Community Passageways are doing, and to make a donation to support their mission, visit CommunityPassageways.org.